Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What are Silicones?

Silicones are ingredients commonly found in our personal care products. They are derived from silica, or silicon dioxide, a naturally occurring substance. They are added to skin care products to provide a slippery, non-greasy, and non-sticky base. Aside from skin care products, silicones may also be added on topical drugs to make them more aesthetically appealing to the patients.

Before silicones became common, many of the topical products available are formulated with petrolatum or mineral oil. While petrolatum provides a protective layer on the skin, it does not appeal to many users due to it's thickness and greasy feel. Nowadays, we can find a lot of  topical products containing silicones in several different forms. Just like petrolatum, silicones also provide a protective layer on the skin. It seals in the moisture beneath the skin, and makes the product easier to spread across the skin.

They can also act as temporary fillers on the skin, making the skin appear smoother. That is why many foundations, primers, concealers, eye shadows, BB creams, and so on, contain silicones. Without silicones, the pigments will collect in the skin's creases and lines, making wrinkles even the more noticeable.

Silicones are synthesized in many different forms, with differing volatility and thickness. Whichever type of silicones is used depends on the product's purpose. Common examples of silicones are dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, methicone, and cyclohentasiloxane. If you wish to know if your product contains silicones, look for ingredients ending in "-cone," "-siloxane," and "-conol."

Silicones are inert substances. They act as carriers for active ingredients. When applied topically, silicone forms a film that sits on top of the skin. Silicones are said to be occlusive, meaning they can trap everything underneath the skin, thereby suffocating the skin like a plastic wrap does. Imagine the sweat, dirt residue, and bacteria all being undesirably trapped inside. When this happens, skin becomes irritated, and acne breakouts occur.

It's because of it's occlusive nature that makes an increasing number of consumers shy away from silicone-containing products (Note that other sources, however, claim this to be untrue). While silicones are declared safe by the FDA and CIR Expert Panel, it can be an irritating substance to some people.

But if silicones form a film on top of the skin, how can the active ingredients or all the good stuff from the formulation get through the barrier? According to Dow Corning's paper:
Thus, depending on the active, the skin penetration could be increased, decreased or unchanged. The film forming properties of silicone and the solubility in the skin was thought to play a part in the drug release mechanism.

In other words, silicones can be a great vehicle to promote better absorption of actives, but it would have to depend on the type of formulation for this to occur. This is useful for topical drug application. Some formulations containing silicones, on the other hand, discourage absorption, allowing the actives to merely stay on top of the skin and remain there for a long time, even when subjected to rubbing. This rub-proof characteristic makes silicones an essential ingredient for cosmetics and sunscreens to last long.

So, do you really have to stay away from silicones or not? Health-wise, silicones do not pose any significant risks on our body. So if you don't have a sensitive skin, go ahead and use your favorite silicone-containing products. But beware, silicones are non-biogradable and their wastes will accumulate in the environment. If this concerns you, you wouldn't want silicones to be in your products. 

My opinion is, I wouldn't completely stay away from silicones. They are important ingredients that make our skin care products more appealing to the skin. They also make it possible for the UV filters in sunscreens to last long, which is important to have better protection. I wouldn't mind it if I find silicones to be present in my sunscreen and BB cream. I will, however, avoid SILICONE-based products, meaning, the first ingredient listed is a silicone instead of the usual water solvent (which is my most preferred solvent due to my oily skin). I've used a serum which happened to be silicone-based, and my skin got irritated after frequent application.

On a side note, here are my personal tips when using skin care products with silicones:

  • Since silicones may be occlusive, make sure that your face is thoroughly cleansed before applying a silicone-containing product.
  • Wash your face every after sweating.
  • Some sources suggest applying the silicone-containing product last, in order to prevent other actives from being blocked.
  • Use an effective cleanser/makeup remover to remove your silicone-based  or silicone-containing cosmetics and sunscreens at night.

Meanwhile, if you wish to know more about silicones, here are some interesting materials:

Are you using products containing silicones? What do you think of silicones?

Last updated: July 3, 2015
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