Monday, June 4, 2012

Why You Should Avoid Silicones in Your Hair Care Products

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Until a few years ago I always felt I had dull, lifeless hair. It just never looked healthy. I must have spent a small fortune constantly buying new hair products in hopes one of them would transform my thin, dull mop into luscious healthy tresses. Ok, that's an exaggeration, I didn't really think I could ever have "luscious tresses" because I don't have the right hair type for that (my hair is fine textured), but at least I hoped to have healthy-looking, shiny hair!

When my hair was at its worst point ever, I started researching hair product ingredients and made a few major discoveries. Most hair care products use various forms of silicones to make hair easier to comb out and to provide shine. That sounds good...until you realize these silicones coat the hair shaft and seriously build up in the hair over time. As they coat the hair shaft, they seal out moisture, so any conditioning treatments you may be using are never penetrating the hair. Using silicones will make your hair look good for a while, but eventually the result of silicone buildup is flat, dull, dry (and sometimes frizzy) hair.

Since silicones are not water soluble, they are difficult to wash out. Using a harsh clarifying shampoo can help, but they have the risk of over drying your hair and scalp. One reason I frequently lost large amounts of hair was because my shampoos were full of harsh sulfates, which plugged my hair follicles and irritated my scalp. (More on this in a future blog post!)

I began to feel the hair industry is in a conspiracy - if hair products coat our hair in silicone so that it dries out and looks lifeless, we'll continue to buy more and more products (deep conditioners, clarifying shampoos, etc)...

I decided to start a new hair care routine that avoided silicones and harsh shampoos. After a few months of the new routine, my hair was thicker, shinier, more bouncy - it finally truly looked healthy!

Here's what I've learned about a silicone-free hair routine:

1. Silicones are usually listed in the ingredient list as words ending in 'cone, 'col or 'xane - for example, "dimethicone," "cyclomethicone," "cyclopentasiloxane," "trimethicone" and "dimethiconol" are a few common silicones. Look out for these on labels. Even expensive brands use silicones.

2. You can occasionally use a product with silicones as long as it's not something you're using daily. Plus, there are so many great silicone-free hair products that there is really no reason to use them.

3. Less really is more! The less hair products I used, the better and better my hair started looking. I don't mean you can't ever use styling products, but giving the hair a break from all the junk we put on it can really help it bounce back to life! I fasted from hair products for a few weeks, then slowly added a few back in. I usually give my hair a break from any styling products two days a week, and the rest of the days I use a silicone free volume mousse and a silicone free styling spray or leave-in-conditioner.

4. I don't recommend using a straightening iron more than once a week or you will risk damage. Straightening irons get VERY hot, and unless you use a heat protection serum or spray, hair can easily be damaged. The serums and sprays almost all have silicones (that's what coats and protects the hair), so using them frequently obviously is not good for hair. Simple solution - embrace the natural wave/curl most days! Luckily, wavy and curly hair is back in style! (and curling irons and hot rollers don't get as hot as straightening irons, so they are o.k. to use more frequently without a silicone serum!)

5. If you're not using silicones, you can use more gentle shampoos which won't keep the hair dried out and the scalp greasy (if a shampoo is too strong it can either make the scalp flake or make the scalp greasy, or both).

6. Now that you're 'cone (silicone) free you can use deep conditioners (as long as they're silicone free), and they will really penetrate the hair with moisturizing and strengthening ingredients!

7. I think you'll be surprised if you look at ingredient lists of a lot of the most popular styling products - Moroccan Oil for example is almost nothing but silicones! The tiny amount of argan oil will never be able to penetrate the hair shaft with all that silicone, so it is tremendously overpriced! John Frieda Frizz Ease is nothing but silicones and mineral oil, ick!! But don't worry, there are still plenty of great conditioners and styling products that are silicone free. Here's a few of my favorites:

Yes to Carrots Pampering Conditioner has been my favorite conditioner for the last year and a half. It provides a dose of hydration and nutrients without weighing my hair down in the least. The ingredients are high quality - carrot juice, almond oil, honey, carrot seed oil, etc - and the bottle is huge (almost 17 ounces for only about $8), so it's a good value. My hair really started getting more shiny after using this.

Aveda Phomollient has been my go-to volumizing product for the past several years. It not only gives lift at the roots, but also makes my hair feel almost twice as thick. Unlike most mousses, it doesn't make hair crunchy.

Aubrey B-5 Design Gel gives my hair definition, shine and body without feeling heavy or greasy. It also provides protection from blow dryer damage.

Mastey Enplace Sclupting Spray Gel is a bodifying spray that gives hair texture. Unlike most sprays, it is alcohol free and does not dry out the hair.

Mastey, Aveda and Yes to Carrots make some other great 'cone free products as well (though Aveda has some products with silicones - check the labels!)

Here are some other brands that make silicone-free hair care products that get some good reviews (I haven't tried most of these):
Giovanni, John Masters Organics, MOP (modern organic products), Earth Science, Kiss My Face. Again check the labels because I can't guarantee every product from these lines is 'cone free, but many are.

My favorite deep conditioner is just plain extra virgin unrefined coconut oil! Warm it between your fingers, massage into the hair (put a generous amount!), tie hair up, and leave it on the hair for a few hours. Wash it out with your usual shampoo and conditioner, and hair will be shiny and bouncy - and smell like coconuts, mmmm :)!

Do you have any favorite silicone free products? Have you tried going 'cone free? How did it work for you?

I purchased all of these products myself and have no affiliation with the hair care brands I recommended.


  1. Loved this article!! Will have to try when I get home!

  2. Thanks, and if you have any questions let me know :). I have more tips too for curly hair that I didn't have room to write in the post.

  3. What a great,informative article Ashley!

    1. Thanks Momo, hope you find it useful!

  4. Hey Ashley! This article is great and informative! I used to use a leave-in conditioner that was loaded with silicones. It would look great initially, but then I would wake up with dry hair, and I never understood why. So thanks for clearing that up! :)

    Also, have you heard of the brand Living Proof? They are silicone and paraben free, but they have something in their products called Polyfluoroester, which helps control frizz. They're an interesting brand!

    1. Hey Nadia! I have heard of Living Proof - it's sold at Sephora, right? But I've never tried one of their products, so I kind of forgot about them, LOL! I guess I should update the post to mention that they are silicone free, too. How do you like the products? Which Living Proof products do you use?

  5. Since reading "The Curly Girl Handbook", I've been looking for inexpensive silicone-free, sulphate-free and alcohol-free products. I could purchase The Curly Girl line, but it's not cheap & I want something I can grab at the store. Thanks for this article. I will check out the Yes To line and read the labels.

    1. Hi Debbie,
      I've also started liking the Desert Essence line - I use the Desert Essence Coconut conditioner as a deep conditioner and the apple ginger for an everyday conditioner. My husband likes the Nature's Gate products (the one he has is silicone free, not sure about the others).

      I like the Yes to Carrots conditioner, but not the Yes to Tomatoes...that one was terrible.

      Hope you find something you love!!

  6. Thanks Ashley! I'm naturally curly and have gone back and forth between cone-free and not so much, etc. I've figured out that my hair really does appreciate a more natural approach and I try to avoid cones as much as possible. Thanks again!! Take care, Linda.

  7. Thanks Ashley, I love your blog, really informative. I live in London, and have managed to find your recommended products in my local organic store. Now starting with a total overhaul of my hair/skin products! I was interested in your views on hair dye? I am 30, and my grey hair is starting to need a little attention! Will dye counteract the positives of using cone/alchol/suphate free regime? Thanks, Nicole

  8. Hi Nicole, sorry for the late reply, I am actually traveling in India at the moment. I'm so glad you like the blog; I haven't been able to keep up with it the last few months due to starting a new job. I don't know much about hair dye, but I have colored my hair with Aveda color in Aveda salons and found it to not be damaging like most dyes - I really liked it! No, I did not find it to counteract the positives of a sulfate silicone free routine - my hair was really healthy then!

  9. Hi Ashley. Many thanks for your repy; sure you must be super busy in India! That's really helpful, thanks. I'm still in week 1 of 'cone free - missing my products! My hair is really dry at the moment, but assume I need to be patient whilst it clears out so the good ingredients can penetrate.. Finding it tough without hairspray. I usually use elnett: fab but full of nasties. Can you recommend a natural hairspray? I bought an aubrey organics, which is fine for 'up dos', but not good for long hair that just needs body and volume from a fine hairpspray. I cant seem to find testers in stores, so trying not to keep buying ineffective products!

    1. Nicole,
      Sorry to hear your hair is feeling dry! What products are you using at the moment? I have very fine and oily hair, so my hair doesn't get as dry as someone with thicker textured hair or a dry scalp. I've found the Desert Essence Coconut Conditioner to be really moisturizing; I use that about once a week and rest of the time use Nature's Gate Aloe conditioner, which is lighter.

      As far as hairspray, most do have alcohol in them which can be drying :-(. I tried the Aveda hairspray and liked the product but could not stand the strong smell so I couldn't use it! Right now I use Thicker Fuller Hair Root Lift & Bodifying Spray for occasional hairspray which has some nice ingredients but still has alcohol...also the Tresemme Tres Two Spray Ultra Fine Mist works really well for fine hair worn down - does not weight it down at all and allows for movement (doesn't make hair hard), but it is full of nasties like Ellnet...I only use it maybe once a month when I am wearing hair down and want to spray the waves/curls.

      So that you avoid spending money on ineffective products, I suggest reading the reviews first on - it has saved me tons of money! So many times I almost bought something, but checked the reviews first and found out it was bad.

      Let me know if you have any more questions!

  10. Thanks so much, that's really helpful. Will def check out I have started using the yes to carrots conditioner which I love! And had my hair dyed with an Aveda colour last week, which is great. Still using ellnet, but only occasionally. Also swapped my dry hair shampoo for Burts Bees baby powder, which has really helped. The condition of my hair is improving already, so really pleased!

    Thanks agin for all your tips, enjoy your travels!

  11. Hi Ashley,
    it was really nice to read your article about the silicone free concept. just wanted to understand one thing. in te total formulation for rinse off the % of silicone is used is hardly between 2-5% that to an emulsion the total oil content in the formulation would be hardly 1.2 to 3 ml. so in such a small quantity you feel that it forms a add on on to your hair shaft as well as scalp.
    i would like to understand from your side the basic chemistry behind this. so if you want you can also mail me personally on the following ID

  12. Hi - I am just wondering if you need to clarify the hair before you start with cone free products. How can we get rid of the build up so that we can start fresh?

  13. This page was very helpful! thank you x


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