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Does silicone damage hair? What does silicone do to hair and what are the signs of silicone build-up on hair?

a headshit of a black and white long hair dog with frizzy fur hiding his face completely

In this article I'll be looking at the use of silicone in hair products and what it does to your hair. I'll also be recommending some great silicone free shampoos, conditioners and hair styling products. You can also find out how to spot the signs of silicone build-up on hair and how to get rid of it to get more volume and to start to improve the health of your hair. You can also find out about how saw cut tooth combs and professional hair brushes can help you get naturally healthier, thicker and longer hair.

What are silicones?

Silicones are a group of oils, resins, rubbers and other compounds obtained from silica. Silica is abundant in nature, for instance sand is a silica.

Silicones appear all over the place in skincare, make-up and hair products. They smooth, improve spread and give a silky feel to products such as primers, make-up and moisturisers. They are hugely popular in hair care products and 95%+ of hair care products on the market use silicone in them to temporarily mask damage to the hair. This means shampoos, conditioners, blow dry, styling and hairspray products.

What do silicones do in hair products?

Silicones create a protective layer around the hair shaft, smoothing the cuticle for shine and protecting the hair from heat damage and humidity. They also help de-tangle the hair.

Is silicone safe to use in hair products?

There don't appear to be any serious health safety concerns about the use of silicones in hair products and they are not classified as a skin irritant. There are however concerns that some silicones are not fully biodegradable and that they may accumulate in wildlife over a period of time.

Does silicone damage hair?

Is silicone bad for your hair? In a word, yes. Your hair might feel better when you use a silicone based shampoo and conditioner but this is just a 'false' feel. The silicone is actually damaging your hair further because it is sealing the hair shaft itself and preventing any moisture getting through.

What does silicone do to hair?

Silicone coats each hair strand like clingfilm, basically smothering it so nothing can get through, even moisture. It is no coincidence that some of the most effective head lice treatments contain silicone as it is so effective as a barrier that it suffocates the head lice.

Why is silicone bad for your hair?

Regular use of hair products containing silicone dehydrates the hair and weakens it. In the worst case, over a period of time your hair may start to look dry and dull and break more easily. This is because the repeated application of non water soluble silicones has coated the hair so well that no moisture is getting through. Often when this happens people start using more and more products containing silicone to try and 'condition' the hair believing it to be dry, but in fact this is just making the situation worse.

Silicone build-up on hair

We've all had this problem. You get a new shampoo and conditioner and it works like a charm, great shine and volume and lots of good hair days. Then suddenly your hair is flat and greasy looking and bad hair days are the norm. What's going on? Well, probably silicone build-up.

What are the signs of silicone build-up on hair?

  • difficulty in styling the hair (continual bad hair days)

  • flat clumpy hair

  • heavy hair with loss of volume which can often look greasy

  • changing shampoo and conditioner doesn't seem to help

How to remove silicone from hair

This is very easy to do, you just need to wash your hair in a silicone free shampoo and use silicone free conditioners and styling products.

There are clarifying shampoos out there that help remove silicone but many of them are quite harsh on the hair. Because you don't want to be totally stripping your hair when you remove the silicone use an SLS free shampoo. SLS, or sodium lauryl sulphate, is in most shampoos and can cause an itchy scalp and in severe cases, hair loss. There have been reports that a lack of rinsing off a shampoo with SLS in it properly can cause hair growth to slow down dramatically as it blocks and dries out the hair follicles. (Read more about the ingredients that you should avoid in your skin and hair products).

For a great natural silicone free build up remover shampoo, try Sukin's Deep Cleansing Shampoo.

Types of silicone in hair products

How to tell if there is silicone in hair products

There are many different types of silicone. You can spot them in the ingredients list on your hair care products as most of them end with the letters 'one' such as dimethicone, or with 'siloxane' such as cyclohexasiloxane. Silicones can range from heavy to light. A light type of silicone such as cyclomethicone is water soluble and gives minimal build up on the hair. Heavier silicones such as dimethicone or amodimethicone can build up quite rapidly on the hair causing loss of volume and flatness, particularly on fine hair.

Best natural sulphate and silicone free shampoos by hair type

  • COLOURED OR DRY HAIR: Green People Intensive Repair or Neal's Yard Nurturing Rose

  • FOR VOLUME & SHINE: Green People Quinoa & Artichoke or Sukin's Natural Balance

  • THICK OR FRIZZY: Green People Moisturising or Josh Rosebrook Nourish Shampoo

  • FREQUENT USE: Green People Daily Aloe or Neal's Yard Revitalising Orange Flower

  • FINE HAIR: Yarok Feed Your Volume or Sukin' Volumising

  • OILY HAIR: Neal's Yard Rejuvenating Geranium or Josh Rosebrook Balance

Sukin have recently closed their UK website but their products are still available online in the UK at Holland Barrett and other good online beauty retailers.

Best natural sulphate and silicone free conditioners by hair type

  • COLOURED OR DRY HAIR: Green People Intensive Repair or John Masters Organics Lavender & Avocado Conditioner for Dry Hair (read my review on John Masters Conditioner)

  • FOR VOLUME & SHINE: Green People Quinoa & Artichoke or Sukin's Natural Balance

  • THICK OR FRIZZY: Green People Moisturising or Yarok Feed your Moisture Masque

  • FREQUENT USE: Green People Daily Aloe or Neal's Yard Invigorating Seaweed

  • FINE HAIR: Yarok Feed Your Volume or Sukin's Volumising

  • OILY HAIR: Neal's Yard Rejuvenating Geranium or Josh Rosebrook Balance

Sukin have recently closed their UK website but their products are still available online in the UK at Holland Barrett and other good online beauty retailers.

Organic and Silicone Free Hair Styling Products

Sukin do a great Hair Volumising Thickening Spritz which is sprayed all over the hair from root to tip and gives a light hold. For extra hold, especially on shorter hair when you want boosted volume, rough dry hair after applying the hair spritz and then section hair and spray another burst into the roots whilst blow drying.

Green People hair care products are organic and silicone free and their Quinoa and Avocado Hair Serum is a light hold gel which I apply before blow drying. You can also use to to create more definition on dry hair.

I've also tried a range of organic hair products from John Masters Organics hair care range ( I absolutely love their Leave in Conditioning Mist with Green Tea and Calendula which is detangling, smooths cuticles to lessen frizz and flyaways and provides lightweight hydration for the hair. Perfect for holidays!

John Masters Organics Scalp Follicle Treatment and Volumiser is also extremely good, packed with herbs, essential oils, Irish moss and white tea extract to help improve the condition of the hair follicles and encourage hair growth. When I used this product I did start to see more hair growth around my hairline.

John Masters Organic Hair Spray is also very good but you need to spray it from a distance and make sure you don't touch your hair for a few minutes to allow it to dry. I also spray the hairspray on my hands and use it as a texturising product to pinch on the ends of my hair and run through the lengths for volume, and it works well.

I have tried quite a few of the John Masters Organics shampoos and conditioners as well and loved them all, their range is definitely worth trying. If you have thick or unruly hair then read my review of John Masters Organics silicone free hair oil, or Lyonsleaf Mane Tamer.

The best thing about all these products is that they are silicone free, and they all rinse out completely with no build up.

The best nearly natural silicone free shampoos and conditioners

It might be that you want to go silicone free but don't want to use completely natural products because you don't feel they are giving you great hair. I hear you! I have coloured hair and love the Green People Intensive Shampoo and Conditioner but need some big guns now and again in the styling department when it comes to getting some volume into my hair.

If you have very dry, badly damaged, heavily coloured or very thick hair you might feel that the natural products just aren't working for your hair and be tempted back to silicone hair products. But wait!!

If this is the case then I recommend that you try Michael Van Clarke silicone free hair products - I'm totally obsessed with them and currently have the best hair that I have ever had! Michael Van Clarke is a famous London hairdresser with over 30 years experience and has been developing silicone free hair care products since 1988.

Whilst they want their products to be gentle, healthy and nourishing and they prefer natural ingredients they don't let rigid views stop them from including other ingredients. Most of their products are over 90% naturally derived and are silicone free. LifeSaver pre-wash treatment repairs and conditions hair and helps repair broken bonds. They even have a and an Ultra Intense version. They have a whole range of silicone free shampoos, conditioners and styling treatments and I love their UV Leave-In styling treatment which is a fabulous leave in conditioner that also protects extremely well from colour fade.

I currently use the Green People Intensive Repair Shampoo and Conditioner as well as the full range from Michael Van Clarke, the Life Saver Pre-Wash Treatment (not every day), the Cashmere Protein UV Protective Shampoo and Conditioner, the UV Leave-In Styling Treatment, the Volumising Mousse, the Thicker Quicker Blow Dry Spray, the 10 Second Transformation Holding Balm and the Holding Spray (not neccesarily all at the same time!) - result - great hair!

Another great company that I have used for silicone free hair products is Living Proof and their Perfect Hair Day 5-in-1 Styling Treatment is light-weight, deeply hydrating and volumising and you don't need much at all, less if definitely more in this case. I also use Living Proof Vanishing Oil (big bottle, lasts ages) which is a game changer, tackling frizzy ends and adding a fabulous shine along with volume at the same time - and all without any silicone so it not only conditions the hair, it washes away without any build up as well .

You might be interested to read my reviews about other silicone free hair care products:

How to remove silicone build-up from hairbrushes and combs

Another tip is to regularly clean your styling tools such as blow dry brushes and combs. If you are using silicone based styling products you can get a build up on tools as well which can then come off onto your clean hair when you use them. Just wash them regularly with hot water, washing up liquid and a nail brush - you'll be really surprised at the difference it makes!

Going silicone free in your hair care products

Just remember that depending on what type of silicone you have been using and your hair type it may take a few washes to get rid of the build up and a few months to get the condition back - but persevere - it will be so worth it! With all the fabulous silicone free hair products available now there really is no reason not to have luscious locks - take the plunge and break free from silicone hair products and see just how great your hair can be!

If you are thinking about using a raw, live and pure shampoo and conditioner, maybe read my review of the Body Deli Living Hair Shampoo and Conditioner first!

Extra tips for fabulous hair

One final thing if you want great hair. Apart from going silicone free with all your shampoos and styling products, you should also get a saw cut tooth comb and a professional bristle blow dry brush.

Benefits of a saw cut comb

A saw cut comb means that the teeth of the comb don't have any nasty sharp bits to snag and cut the hair. You don't always notice it but cheap plastic combs (and some expensive ones) are harsh on the hair, cutting into the hair shaft and causing the hair to become more fragile and likely to break. The saw cut teeth on a professional comb glide through the hair shaft and protects the cuticle preventing damage. Michael Van Clark do a great saw cut tooth comb as do Kent and a lot of the Kent range are available on Amazon.

Benefits of a professional hair brush

You might think you have a great blow dry brush but try a professional blow dry brush and see the difference. Cheap brushes can damage the hair and cause wear and breakage, again making it fragile and more like to break.

A professional brush is usually hand made and has smooth bristles that are correctly spaced to give the perfect tension when you blow dry your hair and glide over the hair cuticle preventing damage. Michael Van Clarke do a good range, I use the natural bristle Round Styling Brush for medium to fine hair.

Benefits of a Dyson supersonic hair dryer

I scoffed when Dyson brought out it's hair dryer, so much money - what a con! Then I got to use one and oh my days, I was a convert! The Dyson dries and styles hair quicker and with far less heat damage and has been an absolute game changer. My hair gets blow dried daily and the Dyson treats my hair gently whilst still giving brilliant styling.

Finally, if you are older than 30 then you should seriously consider taking a hydrolysed marine collagen powder supplement which you will probably find drastically improves your hair, skin and nails. There are different collagens and many ways to take it, - find out all you need to know in my article What is Collagen Good For.

If you are really serious about improving your hair, you can also check out this article that I contributed to where 60 experts give their tips for How to Grow Thicker Hair.

So if you want naturally healthier, thicker and longer hair, ditch the silicone, get yourself a saw cut tooth comb and a professional hair brush, grab a marine collagen supplement and either save up for a Dyson hair dryer or put it on your birthday present list! You too can have great hair - whatever your age!

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