What's in Shampoo - About Silicones

Several people have asked me about silicones in shampoo and hair products so I therefore to give silicones a post in this mini-series about shampoo and other lathery products.

Below is a short guide to the most commonly used silicones in commercial shampoos and hair products. 

Please note: I don't use silicones in my products, and am therefore unable to share any personal experiences I have had with any of these ingredients.

Meet the 'Cones'


Dimethicone is an 'old staple' in the world of silicones for shampoo and cosmetics use. It has been around for about 50 years. 

Dimethicone forms a film on hair and skin that increases the feeling of softness. (Proponents say this film is protective, even helping to keep moisture in). 

Used in shampoo, it enhances shine, aids in combing out (both wet and dry hair) and helps reduce static electricity. You will also find it in creams and serums (for example in fluid foundation and make-up primers). 

Dimethicone is not water soluble and will therefore initially float, and eventually adhere to soil/sediment when it enters the environment. > 80% is removed during the sewage treatment process. It has no hazard warnings that I can find (aside from the obvious 'dumping barrelsful of concentrated dimethicone into streams and waterways isn't environmentally wise').


Has many of the same properties as dimethiocone (helps combing out, increases shine) but has a chemical makeup that allows it to deliver any active ingredients, then evaporate. In doing so, it helps your hair dry faster. 

When I checked for biodegradability, I kept running into 'no data available'. I have not come across any hazard warnings for cyclomethicone, although there seems to be 'the beginnings of' some discussion on how it may effect the environment.

Phenyl Trimethicone 

You'll commonly find this silicone in styling products because it offers heat resistance and helps enhance gloss for hair. 

Phenyl trimethicone is also popular in lip balms and lipsticks where it helps improve 'slip and glide' and water repellency. 

Despite a concentrated effort, I am unable to find any information on whether or not this particular ingredient comes with environmental warnings and have not been able to find any information on its biodegradability.

About Silicone Build Up on Hair

Silicone build-up happens to your hair when you compound the use of silicone-containing products (example: shampoo, conditioner and styling products) without taking a break from them. 

This results in heavy, flat, lifeless hair.

I've read a few frightening accounts of people who were convinced it was necessary to try and scrape off silicone build-up with scissors (!).

Reality check: scraping your hair with scissors (or knives or anything else) is never a good idea unless you are trying to do some serious damage to it.

The chemists and likewise knowledgable folks I have checked with seem to agree that regular use (about once a week) of a clarifying shampoo will do the trick if your hair has build-up.

They also tell me that a good clarifying shampoo will not strip your hair of it's oils and doesn't have to contain the harshest of surfactants in order to work.

Silicones in The Environment

Face it, the very word silicone smacks of dangerous synthetic materials and brings hair-raising images (pun intended) of all sorts of biodegradability problems resulting in biohazards, death, destruction, and the end of life on this planet as we know it. I have therefore spent a fair amount of time trying to find information about environmental concerns for the 3 silicones listed above.

It's still inconclusive.

Some testing has been done on how (some of) these ingredients break down in air, water and soil. How extensive these tests were (or are), I couldn't say. 

It looks like dimethicone is environmentally in the clear. The other 2 'cones' are keeping strangely elusive in the environmental info department. Please note that I have seen the scare sites that warn of cancer, death and destruction from these ingredients. Sorry, but this kind of 'information' counts as misinformation in my book.

If you have any links to information on the environmental breakdown of cyclomethicone or phenyl trimethicone, please feel free to post a comment below!

But Are Silicones Bad For Hair?

If I had uncovered any nasty secrets and could reveal a world conspiracy amongst commercial shampoo manufacturers to poison us all, I promise I would have told you. But the fact of the matter is, from everything I have researched, I am honestly unable to say that silicones are bad, unhealthy, or in any way dangerous for hair.

Whether or not you want to use products with silicones is entirely up to you. I do not use silicones because the products I make are all about plant-based ingredients, and silicones – as we all know – are anything but.

The Plant-Based Alternative

There is a very efficient plant-based alternative to dimethicone that I use in some of my products. I will get into details in the next installment.

Stay tuned.

More About Hair Product Ingredients on This Blog

What's in Shampoo - Should We Care?

What's in Shampoo - About Surfactants

What's in Shampoo - Surfactant Guide


Anette said…
Du gør mig SÅ meget klogere, Lise. 1000 tak.
LisaLise said…
Du er så velkommen. Det er dejligt at folk for alvor begynder at kigge på ingredienserne. :)
Anonymous said…
With all the hype on all natural products and no to sulfates, silicones, mineral oil, parabens, and other "bad" ingredients, I would like to know what's your take on it. What "bad" ingredients do you think aren't so? It just frustrates me that the claims aren't based off of credible sources. Thank you so much for this article and the ingredient library. Your blog is a great resource. :)
~ Cass
LisaLise said…
Hi Cass- I understand your concern and confusion- it is almost impossible to know what is truth and what is scare tactics when it comes to cosmetics ingredients these days. I encourage you to browse around the blog for information about parabens (see Topics, under preservatives), and reading the rest of the whats' in shampoo series will give you a bit of insight into surfactants.
There are links to the sources on many of the ingredients posts.

Thanks for your kind words!