Silicone in skin care

What do you think of when you hear silicone? Silicone comes in many forms and has several application. Silicone in skin care provides increased slide and slip to a cream, lotion or serum which is appealing. Silicone also helps give a smooth appearance to the skin, they are used a lot of primers to help fill in fine lines and skin irregularities.

Where does silicone come from?

To understand silicone we must first understand what silicon is. Silicon is a chemical element with properties similar to those of a metal without actually being one. In its pure form it has a metallic luster. It’s the second-most-abundant element, after oxygen, making up nearly 26 percent of the earth’s crust.

Silicon is present in water, plant and animal sources, it is impossible to avoid. Silicon is thought to be important for both collagen and bone synthesis. One study showed improvement in the skin and nails when silicon supplements were used.


silicone in skin careSilicon along with oxygen makes silica, an example is quartz rock. When rocks are broken down, small silica particles can cause lung damage. According to OSHA, “Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal. The respirable silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, thus reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.”

Finally onto silicone. Silicone is a synthetic (man-made) substance that is created when silicon is paired with carbon.

As a plastic surgeon I am familiar with the concern that silicone breast implants cause breast cancer. In fact the FDA had removed silicone breast implants from the market but lifted the ban on 2006 when no associations were found.

Silicone in skin care

Silicone in skincare acts as an emollient. An emollients allows skin care products to “glide” over the skin. Silicone leaves a velvety smooth touch to the skin, this is why it is a common ingredient in may personal care products. Silicone in skin care also acts as a lubricant and an occluder. How can we recognize silicone in skin care?

Silicones mostly have names that end in -cone or -siloxane. Some examples of silicone in skincare include, cyclomethicone and dimethicone. Dimethicone has a rating of 3 by EWG’s Skin Deep. Cyclomethicones tend to evaporate quicker than the dimethicone, this is why dimethicone is more popular in foundation. It will last longer.

Does our skin absorb silicone?

First, know there is a difference between penetration and absorption. A molecule can penetrate  the skin, that is it can make its way through the epidermis and into the dermis. This is different than absorption through the skin where a molecule can makes it way into the bloodstream.

There are several factors that can affect absorption rates. If there is an open wound then the skin is violated and cannot offer much protection, there will be a higher absorption rate. Some skin care products contain ingredients that will increase penetration. This is why we use an exfoliant before a serum. We want the active ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin as the exfoliant helps shed the dead outer skin cells. Denatured alcohol will do the same thing, it allows other ingredients to penetrate deeper.

Silicone molecules are too large to absorb through the skin.

Silicone in skin care and moisture loss

Silicone can be occlusive, it lies on top of the skin. Occlusive products not only help prevent moisture loss they can also help protect our skin from pollutants.  While silicone molecules are too large to penetrate the skin they do help with moisture loss. Silicone can form a permeable barrier that works to prevent moisture loss from the skin and preserve our acid mantle. 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology,” Avoid moisturizers containing mineral oils and petrolatum, which may feel too heavy on acne-prone skin, Alternately, products containing silicone oils, such as dimethicone, are good choices.” Silicones tend to have low allergen occurrences, most people do not react to silicone.

Silicone in skin care and acne

Can the occlusiveness of silicone trap bacteria in a pore and make acne worse? Theoretically this is a possibility but the studies do not support this.

Is silicone in skin care safe?

Yes, the studies support that silicone is safe for the skin although the amount of silicone that can be placed in personal care products is limited.

Although the FDA and the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel )considers silicone safe there are others who disagree. Siloxane is a type of silicone that has made the “dirty dozen” list.

Silicone may not be safe for the environmental. According to the Cosmetist , “it seems to take them 400-500 years on average to decompose”. Both Canada and Europe are investigating silicones effects on the environment. One type of siloxane has been phased out over time. This is an interesting article if you want to read more about it.

Silicone in skincare products are washed down the drain when the face or hair is washed, this is a concern for marine life.

Are there silicone substitutes?

Yes, several ingredients are thought to mimic silicone. Some of these ingredients include micronized wax and esterified oils.

Do silicone substitutes work as well as silicone?

I will let you know. This weekend I will be in the lab formulating with silicone and recreating the “silicone feel”

What do I think of silicone in skin care?

The bottom line is that I am not sure. The literature supports that silicones are safe for us but I know that they are not safe for the environment. If  I do use silicones It will be at low percentages or I may offer just one eye product with a low percentage of silicone and the rest  of my products will remain silicone-free. As a society we are used to our skin care products having a certain feel and when these ingredients are removed we can feel the difference.

I would love to hear your opinions on silicones in skincare and whether or not I should formulate with them.

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