The business of free-from beauty is booming from department stores to supermarket shelves – particularly when it comes to the world of hair care. The most recent ingredients to be put under the microscope? Silicones. So, is your regime better using a silicone product or going silicone-free? I’ve found out.
What are Silicones?
In terms of the pros, it will be difficult to find a factor that serves as many immediate cosmetic benefits as silicones do. It is not shocking that they are one of the most prevalent ingredients of hair care. Many of them can be used in conditioners, as well as in serums, oils, and even shampoos. Their properties make them very good at doing many distinct jobs for a number of different types of hair, according to trichologist Iain Sallis. More precisely, they can:
1) Absorb and maintain air moisture (particularly good for dry hair)
2) On the scalp, leave a lightweight coating (popular in smoothing and anti-frizz products)
3) When heated up, leads to an increase in size (‘perfect for fine hair as it gets under the cuticle and then inflates it out to’ puff ‘and make it look thicker,’ Iain explains).
Why go for Silicone Free products?
It’s hard to see why anyone would choose to go silicone-free. A glimpse of the fascinating history of silicones and the items that put them in the spotlight, however, could serve as a useful first port of call. “When silicones were first brought into hair care, they were being used in all-in-one, time-saving shampoos,” explains hairstylist and GTG Expert, Paul Edmonds. But over time they built up on the hair, making it lank and difficult to do other services such as color or peeking. So they began to get a bad reputation.
Products containing silicones developed, as did the knowledge around them regarding the best way to use them. However, long-term worries still lingered. “When John Frieda brought out Frizz Ease Serum, it revolutionized dealing with frizzy hair,” says Paul. “However again, it could produce build-up and it also hid from view damage that was happening from heat and wear and tear by making it look shiny. So when it wasn’t used, the hair felt and looked terrible.”
Today, silicones still receive a bit of bad press, however, many appear to be much more sophisticated than they were before. “Nearly all of them are shampoo soluble so there is no build-up,” says trichologist and hairdresser Guy Parsons who, while developing his own My Hair Doctor line, saw first-hand how hard it is to replicate the benefits offered by silicones. “Having worked extensively with my chemist, we have found that it is impossible to make a similar product without a silicone variant within it – the performance is just not the same,” he tells us. “They are also used in reasonably minute quantities in most circumstances. They are essential for performance, you just don’t get the effects without them.”
A ‘too much’ mentality usage-wise could also be a reason behind the current negativity surrounding silicones. “They can be overused and make the hair dull, greasy, and lifeless,” says Iain, also highlighting their ‘man-made’ roots as an aspect that consumers hold against them. “We have a real aversion to putting anything that is not ‘natural’ onto our hair or skin because we think the chemicals are bad for us,” he says. “However, silicones are completely inert and cannot harm our skin or our hair.”
Another possible cause for concern on the horizon is their potential environmental impact. “A negative against them is that many believe that they are too harmful to the environment because they do not break down that easily and are therefore more difficult to dispose of,” says Guy. “There are rumblings that some countries and nations are considering banning them. It’s early days, but the momentum will likely gather.”
Who would benefit most from going silicone-free?
In deciding whether to use silicone-free products, hair type is a key consideration to bear in mind. The experts I asked agreed that those with fine hair could benefit most from using products with lower levels of silicones in them. “As they are reasonably large molecules, they have an inability to penetrate deep into the hair so can lie on the surface – therefore finer hair may become heavy and weighed down quickly,” explains Guy. “Ultimately the thicker, coarser, or rougher the hair is, the more it will benefit from silicone to tame, smooth, and maintain,” he says.
In terms of what to look for in your ingredients labels, anything ending in ‘cone’ is a clear indicator. “The three mainly used ones are dimethicone (D), trichomethicone (T) and dimethicone copolyol (DC),” says Guy. “The difference between them is viscosity, density and thickness. DC is the thickest and the most viscose, D is in the middle and T is the thinnest and lightest which may not even adhere to the hair under hairdryer conditions.” He adds, “If a product ending in ‘cone’ is high up on the ingredients list, there will be more of it. It often depends on what the product is designed to do; in a serum it may appear second or third on the list whereas in a conditioner or shampoo it might be further down.”
Looking at the concerns that a product claims to address could provide a useful first sign that silicones may be in them. “For people with fine hair, hair that is easily weighed down or gets greasy quickly, avoid products that promise shine/smoothing/to keep you frizz-free,” recommends Iain Sallis. “They will all contain the same type of ingredient that sits on the cuticle and reflects light or smoothes down cuticles, but this will also weigh down the hair quickly or make it look greasy.”
THE BEST SILICONE-FREE SHAMPOOS AND CONDITIONERS
Silicone-free shampoos and conditioners are launching by the bottle-load at the moment, but which ones really deliver? If environmental concerns or hair type are the main reasons why you’d prefer your products to be sans silicone, one or more of these could be promising new bathroom shelf staples.
Color Wow Color Security Shampoo, £9 (75ml) – £16.50 (250ml)
Leaving colored hair gently cleansed, fine to medium thick hair types will love the airy bounce and body this silicone and sulfate-free cleanser provides.
Windle & Moodie Ultra Nourishing Treatment Shampoo, £23 for 250ml
Free of both sulphates and silicones, this nourishing shampoo enriched with antioxidant-rich white tea and softening monoi, baobab and babassu oils worked brilliantly for those with fine and thicker hair types in the office.
Living Proof Restore Shampoo, £12 (60ml) – £24 (236ml)
For damaged hair types looking for a fortifying first step, this gentle yet effective shampoo scrubs up very nicely indeed. It leaves lengths fresh and not weighed down or greasy.
Herbal Essences Crimson Orange & Mint Volume Shampoo, £1.98 for 400ml
With a refreshing scent that sets it apart from its counterparts, this volumizing pick’s uplifting in more ways than one.
Tresemme Botanique Nourish & Replenish Shampoo, £4.99 for 500ml
If you like your scents tropical, thicker hair types will drink up this budget beauty cocktail containing a hydrating combination of coconut milk and aloe vera.
Living Proof No Frizz Conditioner, £10 (60ml) – £22 (236ml)
This pick has earned plenty of praise for its ability to help tackle humidity or coloring-causing frizz. Expensive, yes, but surprisingly good for a silicone-free formulation that suits medium-fine to thick hair types.
L’Oreal Paris Botanicals Camelina Smooth Ritual Conditioning Balm, £7.99 for 200ml
The camelia, soya and coconut oils in this high street pick left my naturally wavy hair tousled, but manageable, to offer up a great alternative on days when I’d prefer to go hot tool-free.
Living Proof Restore Perfecting Spray, £13 (50ml) – £27 (236ml)
For a lightweight multitasking alternative for fine hair types, this moisturising mist complete with UV and heat protection helps detangle as well as add shine and suppleness. Again, pricey, but only a few spritzes are needed to cover lengths.
Tresemme Botanique Nourish & Replenish Conditioner, £4.99 for 500ml
Ideal for thick and curly hair types, this replenishing post-cleanse smoothie acts as the perfect partner to the accompanying shampoo.