Until the recent era, most black hair care products were primarily made of mineral oil, petrolatum, animal fats and other questionable chemicals. In fact, traditional hair products targeted at black women have been known to contain some of the most toxic ingredients used in beauty including harsh endocrine disrupting ingredients that are linked to infertility, fibroid overgrowth, and breast cancer. It’s taken time for most of us in the natural hair community to understand that these products often didn’t contribute to the health of our hair or bodies but rather existed to tame curly, coily and tight-textured hair into being more manageable for styling.
Throughout the last several decades, styles have evolved from afros to relaxers to naturally defined curls and so have the chemistries. The heavy use of mineral oil and petrolatum that was once found in many classic black hair products in the 1970s-80s was eventually replaced by silicone ingredients, silicone elastomers and polymer science chemistries.
We’ve all often heard that silicones are taboo in the natural hair community, but why? Let’s break down our understanding of silicones and learn the pros and cons of various ingredient categories used to make hair product.
What are Silicones?
Silicones are a classification of chemicals that are synthetically created and derived from silicon (a mineral sand element). Silicones are used across hair care to provide shine and lubrication, and they also provide glide, slip, conditioning, and detangling benefits in products. Some commonly known silicone ingredients are dimethicone, cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, amodimethicone, PEG-12 dimethicone, dimethiconol, phenyl trimethicone, and dimethicone copolymer to name a few. Most silicones can be generally recognized by names ending in “-cone” or “-oxane.” Chances are if you love the silky texture of a hair product and love the way it feels in your hair, you can attribute that feeling to the use of silicone.
Silicones have evolved over the decades; some are safe, some are known for causing silicone buildup on hair and disrupting natural curl patterns, and many others are just simply questionable. It’s important to consider the role of silicones in natural hair products and how they have evolved over the years from being the active ingredient in black hair type products to make the hair appear silkier, to now where they can work as a marginal ingredient to achieve aesthetics and slip.
Today, there are thousands of types of silicones used in over 50% of all hair care products in the market in levels as low as 0.01% in shampoos and conditioners all the way up to 85% in your average anti-frizz hair serums.
As the beauty landscape moves towards cleaner formulas with better safety, the role of silicones has also shifted. We now have a better understanding of our curl types, our hair densities and how to properly take care of our lovely hair strands. The style of frizz-free, almost plastic-looking hair is now dated. As a community, our shift towards healthy, natural hair has pushed silicone chemistry to also evolve with a new generation of water-dispersible silicones that when used in moderation can play a role in the curly hair agenda as we flow from protective styles to fros to blowouts, or to simply defining our curls. In short, silicones can get the job done when it comes to cutting down detangling time. Ultimately, it’s a preference and depends on what is best for your hair type.
Cyclic and Non-cyclic Silicones
While silicones can be controversial in hair care, there are 2 types of silicones—some deemed ok (non-cyclic) and some that are not ok (cyclic).
Some silicones are acceptable to use at a marginal level to get the desired performance while others are questionable in both performance and safety. These questionable silicones are known as Cyclic Silicones. Cyclic Silicones are under restriction in Europe and Canada for Environmental Toxicity and include cyclotetrasiloxane (D4), cyclopentasiloxane (D5), cyclohexasiloxane (D6), and cyclomethicone. There has been data presented that indicates that some of these chemicals may have reproductive toxicity and/or endocrine disruption concern. Cyclic Silicones have also been deemed unfriendly to the environment resulting in buildup in the waterways. PATTERN steered clear of cyclic silicones when formulating our products and sourced non-cyclic silicones such as Amodimethicone to meet our safety and performance criteria in a few products.
Commonly used in hair conditioners, Amodimethicone is a super lightweight silicone offering good conditioning performance to the hair while easily dissolving in water rinse-outs.
Going Beyond Silicones
It’s important to go beyond the ingredient story and look for what is tried and true for curly and coily hair. There are many new products touting 100% natural and silicone-free products, but consumers often face the burden of expensive trial and error. Curly hair can be hard work when products don’t perform how they should.
As PATTERN evolves, our product development teams will continue to strive for the right recipe of impeccable performance mixed with cutting edge ingredients to allow healthy hair to thrive in ways that are best for our natural hair and for our environment. As a brand, we are committed through our ingredient policy to find that perfect balance and eventually move beyond silicones as technologies advance. We are at a golden crossroad where curly hair products are evolving in both natural ingredient technologies and performance. And with our Research & Development team, we are here for the long haul to evolve formulas and take them to new heights.
Helm, J. S., Nishioka, M., Brody, J. G., Rudel, R. A., & Dodson, R. E. (2018, April 25). Measurement of endocrine disrupting AND asthma-associated chemicals in hair products used by black women. Environmental Research. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118301518
Europen Comission. Opinion on Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4) . https://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_sccp/docs/sccp_o_035.pdf
- Powell, David E et al. “Bioaccumulation and trophic transfer of cyclic volatile methylsiloxanes (cVMS) in the aquatic marine food webs of the Oslofjord, Norway.” The Science of the total environment vol. 622-623 (2018): 127-139. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.237. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29223074
- European Chemicals Agency. Agreement of the member state committee on the identification of octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (d4) as a substance of very high concern. https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/680ea46d-b626-1606-814e-62f843fe2750
- European Chemicals Agency. Proposal for a restriction. https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/13641/rest_d4d5d6_axvreport_en.pdf/c4463b07-79a3-7abe-b7a7-5c816e45bb98