The Truth about Silicones - 5 Facts to Put your Mind at Ease

One topic in the skincare world that is full of misinformation is silicone.

 

A variety of silicones make up a large group of really versatile ingredients in the cosmetic chemistry world.  You'll find many of these silicones found in body and face moisturizers alike.

 

And unfortunately, silicones have been given quite a bad rep.  While many people believe silicones are a threat to their skin, scientific research shows otherwise.

 

What is silicone?

Lots of people believe that silicones are a purely synthetic substance. So naturally, when someone finds out silicones actually begin as the mineral silicon which then bonds with oxygen to form silica, they might be surprised.

 

 

Chemists can then take what began as a natural ingredient and create the various synthetic silicones we see in skincare products. 

 

Silicone in skincare will have different functions depending on the type of silicone. There are two primary types of silicones used in skincare, volatile and non-volatile. 

 

Although volatile silicones may sound scary, they aren't irritating to the skin, they are called volatile because they quickly evaporate from the surface of the skin and in science this process of evaporation is known as volatility.

 

Examples of this type of silicone are cyclopentasiloxane and cyclohexasiloxane, which are in lots of facial serums.

 

Non-volatile silicones (or linear silicones) include the commonly used dimethicone skin protectant.

 

Dimethicone is quite enthralling (if you're a science nerd like me!) because it's a polymer (a substance made of large molecules) that can be found in a variety of thicknesses and each type has skin benefits like:

  • preventing water loss
  • creating a water and air permeable barrier
  • evenly spreading key ingredients

 

People are always asking if dimethicone is safe. Yes it is.

 

Dimethicone is thought of as one of the gentlest emollients available in cosmetic chemistry. When paired with glycerin, it's even used as an FDA-approved skin protectant for wounds and burns. 

 

Now that we know a little bit about what silicones are, let's dig a little deeper into the beliefs some people have about silicones.

 

1. Silicones clog your pores and don't allow your skin to breathe

Silicones have a molecular structure that is water and air permeable. They don't interfere with product penetration, a person's ability to sweat or not allow your skin to breath.

 

Their structure renders them incapable of clogging pores on their own. Additionally, there are dermatology studies that have shown silicone can be helpful for people with acne in alleviating dry, flaky skin.

 

Although there is a possibility when people aren't careful about washing their face properly for smaller remnants from silicone to potentially build up in the pores and prevent the flow of sebum, this also can happen with many other emollients and oils regularly used in skincare.

 

If you wash your face properly and regularly, this situation shouldn't present a problem.

2. Silicones are just filler ingredients 

Silicones are not just fillers. They directly affect the skin's hydration, therefore, boosting the ability to benefit from other important ingredients like antioxidants and other skin protecting and replenishing ingredients.

 

Some silicones also help to blur the appearance of pores, fine lines and wrinkles and all silicones affect the texture and finish of skincare products.

 

3. Silicones hinder exfoliation

While it's true that some silicones are more occlusive than others, they do not disrupt the skin's natural exfoliation process. That is not how silicones work.

 

Lighter-feeling siloxanes leave a sheer covering on the skin when they evaporate. Heavier-feeling silicones like dimethicone create a permeable barrier on your skin. Neither get in the way of the skin's natural shedding process.

 

4. Silicones are toxic

There has been substantial safety and toxicology testing done on silicones proving that no type of silicone is toxic when applied to your skin.

 

Many silicones including dimethicone and other common siloxanes have repeatedly shown to be non-irritating and non-toxic on all skin types.

 

5. Silicones cause acne

Studies have shown silicones do not cause or worsen acne.

 

In fact, as stated above, there are dermatology studies showing that the permeable characteristics of silicones make them helpful in alleviating dry, flaky skin as well as smoothing the rough texture often associated with acne or acne medications.

 

Dimethicone actually even reduces TEWL (transepidermal water loss). TEWL can cause a damaged skin barrier, which in turn causes more aggravation to the skin and skin conditions like acne and aging.

 

Overall, silicones are safe and effective in skincare products.

 

There is no research that shows you should avoid skincare or makeup containing silicones. They do not pose a risk to skin and they don't make any skin issues worse. In fact, as we've discussed some here, scientific studies consistently show this group of ingredients are helpful and effective in products like moisturizers while additionally providing aesthetic and touch benefits.

 

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