everything I've learned about growing, maintaining, styling, and loving long hair

silicones in hair products

 (written by Laura Jane from The Long Hair Site)
Ok, the whole silicone thing… I have a B.S. in biochemistry, so I do know something on the subject…

Silicones are polymers (long, stringy molecules made up of similar pieces all strung together) made of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and sometimes other elements (e.g. carbon).  (Note the difference between the element SILICON, the compounds called SILICONES, and SILICA which is SiO2 the compound that makes up both sand and glass.  The vast majority of people don’t know there’s any difference, let alone which is which, but they’re really quite different things.)

As far as hair is concerned…  Silicones coat the hair shaft. This often provides a smoothing effect, but depending on the type, they can build up and cause drying and tangling in the long run.  There doesn’t really seem to be a consensus on whether
they’re bad for everyone.  Personally, they don’t work well for me, but I know people who swear by them.  As with so many other things, it seems to depend a lot on hair type.

Certainly some are less damaging than others.  Whether they’re more or less hydrophobic (literally "water-fearing", as opposed to hydrophilic which is "water-loving") makes a big difference.  All other things being equal, silicones that are more hydrophilic will wash and rinse out more easily, causing less buildup.

Sticking to all-organic products will not necessarily be best for your hair, although there are some excellent all-organic products out there.  I’m personally a big fan of Aubrey Organics, not for ingredients reasons, but because they work well FOR ME.  (This doesn’t mean anything about how well they’ll work for anyone else, of course.)  There are plenty of organics that would be bad for your hair.

Things to avoid, in general, are strongly alkaline substances (this is a big one!), and chemicals that tend to build up on the hair
shaft.  To be used in moderation are detergents (which can strip hair of oils or even damage the proteins if overused, but which must be used to clean the hair unless a soap is being used) and oils (we all know, of course, that too much oil is yucky!).

A few words on detergents, since this is a big topic in lots of long hair discussions, and so much misinformation exists.  Detergents are not necessarily bad.  Actually, they’re quite useful.  To remove excess oils and dirt and so on from hair, it’s necessary to use either detergent or some form of soap.  They serve essentially the same purposes, and have
essentially the same effects in a general sense.  Soaps tend to build up more than detergents (or, to put it another way, detergents tend to rinse out more completely).  This is actually why detergents were originally developed – to counteract soap scum.  Detergents are often more effective than soaps at removing oils and dirt, which makes them easier to overdo it with (leaving your hair stripped and dry and possibly damaged).

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS, more properly referred to as sodium dodecyl sulfate or SDS) is a detergent.  Contrary to much misinformation out there, it is not dangerous (check with NIH, for example – the claims that is causes cancer are just so much nonsense!), nor is it necessarily harmful to your hair or skin.  Like any other detergent, it can be drying if overused, but so can soap.

Personally, I use castile-based shampoos by Aubrey Organics.  This is not because I think soap-based shampoos are necessarily superior to detergent-based shampoos, but because I’ve tried them and they work well for me.  (They’re also convenient, don’t make my allergies act up – a real challenge anymore, since I have so many – and smell nice without being
overpowering.  For me, they’re cost-effective, because I don’t have to wash my hair as often as I used to, and it doesn’t take much.)

In the end, what’s most important is, of course, what works for you.  The few hard-and-fast rules I’d suggest are watch out for strongly alkaline (basic) chemicals and watch out for peroxides.  Be careful if you choose to use silicones, and keep an eye out for buildup, which may or may not be a problem for you.  Some alcohols can be drying (some aren’t – it’s not really a simple "alcohols are drying" situation, in spite of what you may hear).

Laura Jane
who probably told you much more than you wanted to know


2 responses

  1. Sanacchi

    Thank you for the article, though I am probably more confused now than ever 😀
    I live in Germany at the moment and it’s difficult for me to find good hair products and even with organic products, my skin breaks out heavily wherever my hair touches (I even get painful breakouts on my scalp).
    Do you know which ingredients I should avoid in that case apart from what you mentioned above?
    Any hellp is really appreciated. Thank you in advance and have a nice Sunday! 🙂

    February 5, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    • I have to be careful about body soaps and shaving products because I get rashes from them. The ingredients that seem to give me the most trouble are synthetic fragrances and preservatives. I look for products that have as few chemical ingredients as possible. I sometimes buy hair and body products online because natural/organic ones that work for me can be difficult to find here too. The best results for me (for avoiding allergic reaction) have been with home made products. However, the home made shampoo or conditioner type things don’t always work as well as store bought ones, and they’re definitely not as convenient. If you’re interested, I can send you some more information through email.

      February 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm

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