Why You Only Want to Use Water-Based Silicones on Your Hair

Photo: Getty Images/nikkimeel
Just like with your skin care, it's important to know what's on the ingredient lists of your favorite hair-care products. And sometimes it can be hard to know which chemicals and compounds are A-okay for your locks—and which ones are not. By now, you're probably aware that sulfates, parabens, and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are common ingredients to avoid in hair and skin care. But what about silicone, another popular buzzword found on product labels? Is silicone bad for your hair? As it turns out, the answer is not so simple.

What is silicone and how is it used in hair products?

"Silicones are a diverse family of specialty, high-performance materials that includes reactive silanes, silicone fluids, and silicone polymers, which are widely used in a variety of consumer and industrial products," according to The American Chemistry Council, which says that silicones used in beauty and personal care products are considered safe and don't pose risks to human health.

Experts In This Article
  • Ryan Trygstad, celebrity hair stylist and owner of Mark Ryan Salon in New York City

Most often, you'll find them in serums, leave-in treatments, conditioners, and hair masks. The purpose is to seal in moisture and smooth or defrizz your strands.

Is silicone bad for your hair?

So while no silicone in hair-care products is toxic—that doesn’t mean some don’t have negative side effects. Specifically, you want to stay away from those that aren’t water based or water soluble because they can cause dryness and lead to buildup overtime, which can be hard to remove, according to Ryan Trygstad, celebrity hair stylist and founder of Mark Ryan Salon in New York City. These include silicones like cyclopentasiloxane and dimethicone, he says.

Instead, you want to stick to silicones like dimethicone copolyol and stearoxy. “These water soluble silicones thankfully will not build up," says Trygstad. "They call these silicones ‘breathable,’ which means they are not coating nor damaging to the hair." In fact, these types of silicones may even help your hair since they can deliver shine-boosting and strengthening effects.

Which silicone hair products to avoid

Besides avoiding silicones that are not wate- based, Trygstad says to stay away from hair products with lots of different types of silicones because it's tricky to figure out which are water-based and which are not. And if you don't want to deal with the hassle of deciphering which ones to avoid, opt for silicone-free, plant-based products instead. “These products will work similarly and provide hydration and conditioning while leaving the hair detangled and offering frizz control," says Trygstad.

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