Real Simple April 11, 2024

Real Simple


Are Silicones Really Bad For Your Hair? Here’s What Stylists Have to Say


Spoiler alert: It’s not really a clear-cut answer.

There’s perhaps no beauty ingredient that has more of a notorious reputation than silicone. There’s also perhaps no ingredient that’s surrounded by more controversy than silicone. Still, at the end of the day, the fact of the matter is that silicones are incredibly popular in personal care products—and hair care in particular. But why the bad rap? Is it warranted? What should you know about using products with silicones? We asked top stylists to set the record straight. Here’s what they had to say.

What Are Silicones and What is Their Purpose?

First, let’s understand what we’re even talking about. Silicones are substances that are synthetically created and are largely used to retain moisture, explains hair expert and colorist Lauren Paglionico, founder of LRN Beauty in New York City. They’re used in many beauty products, most often in hair care as well as makeup, she says.

As it pertains to hair specifically, silicones work by coating the cuticle, the outermost layer of the strand, says Jenna Spino, Stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. It’s a fairly simple mechanism of action, but one that makes this class of ingredients applicable and useful in a wide array of products and with a wide array of benefits. For example, silicones are often found in conditioners because they help lock-in moisture, leaving your hair softer,  Paglionico notes. Spino adds that they also add slip to the hair, making it easier to detangle it. You’re also likely to find silicones in anti-frizz products: “Because they coat the hair they act like a raincoat, blocking out the humidity that causes frizz,” Spino explains. They’re common in shine-enhancing products, again, because of the coating that they create on the cuticle, allowing it to better reflect light so that hair has a healthy sheen.

Types of Silicones

So, why all the controversy surrounding this category of ingredients? Both experts we spoke with attribute it to the fact that not all silicones are created equal. Like many ingredients, silicones have their pros and cons—and how they affect your mane really boils down to the type of silicone and your hair care habits.


If you guessed that these do not dissolve in water, you’re correct. Non-soluble silicones can only be removed from the hair with surfactants (the cleansing ingredients in shampoos). “Ones that are non-water-soluble can leave a build-up or residue on the strands that’s hard to wash out,” says Spino. “This can end up blocking moisture from absorbing into the hair, ultimately leading to dryness and damage.” They can also weigh down your hair, especially if it’s finer to begin with, making it look and feel flat, adds Paglionico. Common ones: dimethicone, dimethiconol, stearyl dimethicone, cetyl dimethicone, cetearyl dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, behenoxy dimethicone.


On the flip side, this type dissolves in water, so it easily washes clean from the hair. Water-soluble silicones are more than okay to use. These are great for all hair types, because they add shine and condition, but are still lightweight and much less likely to build-up on the hair, she says. If you want the shine-boosting, frizz-controlling benefits without the buildup concerns, stick to water-soluble silicones. Common ones: amodimethicone, stearoxy dimethicone, dimethicone copolyol, dimethicone PEG-8 phosphate.


This type evaporates from the hair as it dries. Common ones: cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and cyclomethicone.

How to Use Silicones

Steer clear of the non-water-soluble ones; common ones include dimethicone, cetyl dimethicone, cetearyl methicone, dimethiconol, stearyl dimethicone, cyclomethicone, amodimethicone, trimethylsilylamodimethicone, and cyclopentasiloxane, Spino advises. Instead, look for the water-soluble alternatives: dimethicone copolyol, stearoxy dimethicone, and behenoxy dimethicone, are a few good ones, she adds. 

While both stylists agree that the latter group is totally fine for all hair types, Spino does point out that those with coarser, frizzier textures will benefit most from their frizz-fighting, smoothing, shine-enhancing abilities. Regardless, just make sure to wash your hair thoroughly, especially if you are using a lot of stylers that contain them.

Silicone Alternatives

If you’re still feeling a little wary, there are some other ingredients that offer similar, silicone-esque benefits.

Bamboo Extract

Bamboo extract is derived from the stalk as well as the leaves of a bamboo plant. Spino says bamboo extract is a nice option for detangling, as it gives the hair lots of slip, and comes with the added benefit of offering antioxidant protection, too. Antioxidants work hard to fight off and neutralize free radicals to keep hair strong and healthy. Additional bamboo benefits include: soothing the scalp, increasing blood flow to the scalp, and reducing dandruff.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is another option, one that’s very conditioning and adds shine, she says. Rich in fatty acids and antioxidants, it can be nourishing to the scalp plus add softness and hydration to strands. Those with dry, coarse hair can use it as a weekly treatment while those who want to smooth frizz can use a few drops to tamp down fuzz. FYI: If you have an oily scalp or super fine, grease-prone hair, you might want to skip this one.

Silicones don’t necessarily deserve the bad rap they’ve gotten. However, stylists do caution against using non-water-soluble silicones, as they can build-up on the hair, potentially leading to damage and dryness, as well as weigh down your strands. But water-soluble silicones are great for adding shine, smoothness, and leaving your hair feeling conditioned and soft.