Silicon dioxide a/k/a silica is a trace mineral that is crucial to the body’s ability to develop strong bones, hair, skin and nails. It is naturally found in many foods including almonds, peanuts, grapes, apples and oranges and is the primary component found in rocks and sand.
Silicones are polymers that contain silicon atoms which occur in nature primarily in silica (sand) or silicates (minerals comprising silicon, oxygen and metals). Silicones were introduced to the cosmetics industry in the 1950’s in the form of dimethicone, a silicone fluid recognized for its ability to prevent water loss by creating a protective yet breathable barrier on the skin.
Silicone: fact or fiction
In an effort to further their agenda and ease entrance to an over saturated market, many “natural” or “mineral” cosmetic companies have touted products that are “silicone-free”, claiming that silicone is a “pore clogging” ingredient that can trigger breakouts and/or skin allergies. These claims are unsubstantiated and factually incorrect. In fact, in a Skin Research and Technology study, it was determined that dimethicone has the ability to not only soothe irritated skin but also through the protective barrier it forms on the skin, reduce the risk of skin irritations and infections. For this reason, dimethicone is often used in skin products and sunscreens that contain potentially irritating ingredients such as AHAs, BHAs, titanium oxide, zinc oxide and avobenzone because it allows ingredients to glide easily and evenly across the skin while minimizing the risk of skin irritation.
Silicone does not clog pores
Silicone is a chemically inactive ingredient that is unable to penetrate skin due to its unique molecular structure comprised of large molecules that have wide spaces between them. To create a mental picture, visualize a piece of cheesecloth, linen or other fabric that has the ability to create a barrier that is breathable, allowing air to flow freely between the open spaces in the fabric. Silicone in cosmetics operate in this same fashion, most notably in silicone based makeup primers and lightweight foundations that have the ability to “fill-in” skin imperfections, even out skin tone and yet still feel light on the skin.
The use of silicone in cosmetic products has revolutionized the longevity of cosmetic products, especially in extremely humid conditions. Silicones are also used in cosmetics to increase water resistance and resist transfer of cosmetic products onto clothing. Silicone based cosmetics are the recommended products for those who prefer a dewy or luminous complexion that softens the look of fine lines or other skin imperfections.
Silicone: The bottom line
Silicones including dimethicone, cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane provide numerous benefits to the cosmetic and personal care industry and have been studied by the FDA, CIR and cosmetic experts throughout the US, Canada and Europe and found to be safe and effective for use on the skin. Silicone polymers act as emollients, skin protectants, conditioners, pearlizers, film-formers, moisturizers, thickeners and emulsifiers. Dimethicone and cyclomethicone are also used in hair products because they have the ability to fill cracks in the surface of the hair and not only repair the signs of damage but also return water resistance to damaged areas and prevent new damage from occurring.
Slicones have been used in burn units for years because of their unique healing, protecting and breathable properties. Quebec chemist, Yves Lanctôt, keeps abreast of current industry research and is often contracted by cosmetic companies during product development for his expertise in the industry. Lanctôt acknowledges that silicones are not natural ingredients however, “they are non-toxic and very friendly for skin. They are safe to use even around the eye area. There are no studies I’m aware of to show that silicones represent a danger to human skin.”
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