Understanding Haircare Silicones - Groomer to Groomer

Understanding Haircare Silicones

Groomers will find liquid silicones in everything from their shampoos and conditioners to styling products such as foams, mousse and specialty serums. In fact, silicones make up a vast sub-category of cationic hair-conditioning agents all to their own.

Some who know me think I enjoy poking the bear on social media a bit too much. But honestly, I would never intend to anger or hurt anyone—especially when advocating for science and groomer education. However, it can get uncomfortable when moving beyond any status quo. I typically won’t hesitate to stick my neck out or dodge a few arrows along the way when there’s a learning opportunity on the line.  

For example, many of us have observed “silicone-free” being called out in a thirty-second TV ad by some familiar haircare brand we may or may not use. Doesn’t it strike you as peculiar how such claims are never explained, as if they assume the viewer understands the concerns being thwarted?

Such a claim for some could imply that silicones are not so good or perhaps even dangerous. From time to time, companies intentionally malign hair and skin care silicones as fake, plastic, environmentally-threatening or toxic. As a result, some groomers may feel the urge to stop using a product based on these assumptions. But that’s misleading.

Let me be your guide down the rabbit hole in an attempt to sort through the hubbub some find alarming about silicones in today’s grooming liquids. I promise to make it worth your while and take just few minutes of your time…

Generally speaking, silicones are a family of specialty, high-performance materials found in a wide range of consumer and industrial goods. Did you know they are mineral-based, derived from the elements silicon and oxygen?

Please allow me to get nerdy for a  few paragraphs…

More than 90% of the Earth’s surface is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust next to oxygen.1 When silicon is linked up with oxygen, it often forms the mineral compound Silicon dioxide (SiO2), known as Silica,2 which is merely quartz sand.

Synthetic polymers are formed when two or more compounds are added together.3 Adding oxygen and other varying compounds to silicon creates silicone polymers. Solid and liquid silicone polymers have been used in everything from non-stick baking pans, lubricants, car parts and smart phones, to name a few. Healthcare, digital communications, transportation, construction and personal care are just a few of the industries that pass down the benefits of this technology. 

Groomers will find liquid silicones in everything from their shampoos and conditioners to styling products such as foams, mousse and specialty serums. In fact, silicones make up a vast sub-category of cationic hair-conditioning agents all to their own. Why then are silicones so controversial to some in the pet industry?

For some, going silicone-free is a matter of personal choice, not wanting to use synthetic ingredients on the body. Let’s be honest; silicones don’t exactly fit the narrative professed by today’s trendy “natural” product claims. Since silicones are clearly manmade, they simply don’t meet the criteria for being completely natural ingredients. That’s understandable…or is it?

Herein lies the rub: Aren’t most cosmetic and hygiene ingredients derived from Earth’s natural resources altered or processed through some form of extraction, distilling, refining or manufacturing?

The answer is “Yes”—granted, some more than others. Surely they don’t grow a ready-to-mix shampoo formula… 

Please understand that haircare chemistry vastly differs from that of food and culinary chemistry. Formulating shampoo surfactant mixtures isn’t like making a salad. Even today’s trending USDA-certified soap bars and liquids (saponified oils) are basic chemical surfactants altered by man. Arguably soap is less synthetic by comparison, but just because silicone is more synthetic than other ingredients doesn’t mean it’s more dangerous and shouldn’t be used on you or your dog’s hair. 

Did you know that silicone can be infused into soap and some bar soaps use synthetic detergents instead of saponified oils? Things are not always what they appear to be!

Even though haircare silicones are non-toxic, some prefer avoiding them all together and say the real issue with silicones is that certain types build up on hair, leaving a residue that blocks moisture from penetrating the hair strand. Using the wrong kind of silicone can in fact foster undesirable finish effects. For example, many old school hair silicones like Dimethicone can leave an oily residue and weigh down or flatten hair. Some people claim it dehydrates and causes static.

Bear in mind that silicone technology is always evolving and never stagnant. Not all silicones are created equal; some act entirely different than others. Truthfully, more and more are water friendly and wash away easily. Today’s hair silicones are much lighter and offer way more benefits than not. 

Here’s what silicone conditioners can do:4

  • Act as a superior sebum replacement that repels oil rather than attracting it.
  • Bolster tensile strength, protecting hair from further brush and tool damage.
  • Help manage the hair’s porosity by closing lifted cuticle scales.
  • Rehydrate, moisturize and extend manageability.
  • Fill in and repair damaged surfaces like split ends.
  • Enable force dryers to be one’s electronic brush, reducing coat damage and physical effort.
  • Safely release tangles, mats, and shedding undercoat in the tub and while drying.
  • Decrease drying time and reduce static.

Some still say the impact that producing silicones has on our planet is the reason they must be avoided. Silicon and oxygen are the most abundant resources on the Earth, so that can’t be it. Yet others insist it’s the emissions from manufacturing silicones and siloxanes that must be considered. However, research has concluded that the use of silicones actually reduces the carbon footprint of many essential products and services.5 In other words, the benefits they bring to society—be it home life, transportation, farming, manufacturing, production or even pet grooming—now have smaller carbon footprints thanks to silicones.

What if you still want to opt out of silicones altogether? Aren’t there a few plant-based, silicone-free alternatives available to groomers? 

While efforts have been made in the haircare industry, there honestly isn’t anything that comes close to liquid silicone polymers. Please be weary of products making such claims. They may not be as natural as portrayed, have limited applications and ultimately fall short of all that silicone polymers bring to the grooming table.

Silicone liquids are products of science, and that’s not a bad thing. They are merely large molecules formed by chemically connecting a succession of building compounds together, not unlike everything else that surrounds us. They are mineral-based, derived from the Earth’s silicon, refined and physically processed in a plant. The end product is a highly-engineered, man-made ingredient offering profound benefits. Better yet, their science is progressively evolving in technology and proficiency, currently outpacing the pet grooming industry.6

Silicones benefit grooming in so many ways. Fortunately, most grooming liquids today safely intertwine sustainable, natural and synthetic ingredients like silicones together, providing the best of science and nature. 

I challenge you to take a look at other claims and opinions out there concerning pet grooming liquids such as “parabens,” “sulfate-free,” “preservatives” and “fragrances.” You might be surprised at what you’ll learn by doing some fact checking on your own. I wholeheartedly encourage healthy debate over such topics—provided one can base their views on informed opinion and facts, rather than pseudoscience and hearsay. 

Surely the topic of silicones can be confusing, but that does not mean they should be dismissed all the same or in spite. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to make their own choices. Silicones may or may not be the right choice for you, but please determine whether your references are based on fear, misinformation, or science when choosing whether to support or avoid using silicones. Then you’ll know what’s best for you and your dogs. ✂️

References:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/science/silicon
  2. https://www.britannica.com/science/silica
  3. https://www.britannica.com/summary/silicone
  4. https://paragonpetschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/CONDITIONER.pdf
  5. https://www.silicones.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/SIL_exec-summary_en.pdf
  6. https://groomblog.blogspot.com/2014/08/silicones-quest-for-truth.html?fbclid=IwAR2QO0zuIq72uVxmY_swt_f7adWjfNXJX74ZXNYM8LJ9hHVrN60YGLQif48
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Dave Campanella

Dave Campanella is a PGC Educator, entertaining seminar speaker, popular podcast guest, and industry columnist. He is Best Shot Pet Products sales and marketing director with over 30 years of pet industry wisdom. He and his wife Tracy co-owned a full-service pet salon and self-wash in Ohio prior to relocating with Best Shot to Kentucky over 17 years ago. Together they enjoy exhibiting at grooming shows, being industry ambassadors, dog breeding and showing Kerry Blue Terriers along with their Samoyed and Lowland Polish Sheepdog at AKC events.

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