Colin Solves Your Problems 17: Dimethicone

A couple of posers this time.  I have taken a while to get onto the first one, but it is a bit of knotty one in many ways.

Dear Colin
Feel a bit behind the curve only finding your fantastic blog in 2012.. However have a couple queries both regarding products for African hair.
1. Can you tell me about safety of dimethicone..?
2. Have read a lot recently about coconut oil being the most effective oil for hair and skin due to its similarity with human lipids. Do you agree and/or are there any other oils that you particularly recommend? I ask especially as the one I like best for my children’s hair is the Hydrogenated Solid Coconut Oil sister-product to Waitrose Baby Bottom Butter (I am trying to avoid products with DMDM Hydantoin which give the best smoothing and de-tangling but are undesirable and especially for children). The combing is incredibly painful/tearful and dimethicone is the other life-saver in shampoos and conditioners but I would be reluctant to use it if health-unfriendly. My concern is the accumulative effect on the body as it remains on the hair and cuticle (apparently..?). And now, having just read your second review of Waitrose BBB am now concerned about hydrogenated coconut oil..! I would be very grateful for your advice. I suppose a third question would be is are there any other products that you could recommend that would help incredibly curly and dry hair smooth safely and sufficiently to be less painful for brushing..? My very best and thanks in advance for your kind thoughts. Mary-Jane

Right, first off the safety of dimethicone is pretty well established.  Dimethicone is a silicone and I’ll have a bit more to say about them further on.

Coconut oil the best oil for hair?  I don’t think you can say that. Lots of oils are used on the hair for lots of different purposes and it depends a lot on what you want to achieve.  But coconut oil is a very good way of protecting hair from drying out in the sun.  I think that hydrogenation is a process that robs natural oils of some of their benefits, but I wouldn’t say it makes them dangerous for use on the skin.  If you find that an oil that has been hydrated is giving you good results then carry on using it.

I am suspicious of DMDM Hydantoin but I should stress that this just a theory.  I don’t have any evidence.

I don’t have dry curly hair so I’ll throw that one out to suggestions from readers.

Meanwhile, Livvi is asking

Hi Colin, whats the deal with mineral oils! since reading about it more and more in the blogging world i seem to be spotting it in so many products! Is it actually bad? I understand its a cheap ingredient so i dont like seeing it in expensive products but what are the cons to it?! Same goes with silicones? I would love to get the view of a cosmetic scientist as you often see so much rubbish on the internet and studying pharmacology at uni i understand the scaremongering! many thanks! Livvi

I have already done a post on mineral oil  – executive summary, it is fine apart from the long term risk of frying the planet.

As to silicones, there are potentially billions of different silicones.  Silicon chemistry is so complex, some people have suggested that there is the potential for it to be the basis of life forms in the same way that carbon is.  Silicones are all synthesised – they don’t occur in nature – and get studied very closely before they are released for use.  As a result there is probably a lot more information on silicones than most other raw materials.

There are lots of silicones to choose from so it isn’t surprising that there are safe ones, and there are harmful ones.  Obviously nobody intentionally uses the unsafe ones in cosmetics.  I’d say that there is no reason to doubt the safety of the silicones that you are actually come into contact with.

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6 thoughts on “Colin Solves Your Problems 17: Dimethicone

  1. Judith

    I think I asked about this too, it may not have got through.

    What I was wondering was whether there really is an issue with layering and build-up. Layering because dimethicone is in moisturisers and make-up, build-up because we are sold shampoos to remove silicone build up.

    I personally have gone off dimethicone products because of the feel on hair and the way it rubs off on skin, crumbling like an eraser. Crumbling’s not the right word – peeling?

  2. Piernik

    I’m also wondering about build-up of silicones. To be honest this problem seems to be exaggerated by certain people since silicones are typically used at rather low concentration in normal conditioners. What bothers me more is all those claims about silicones being unable to be removed by surfactants diffrent than SLE/SLES or CAPB. Is there science behind those claims?

  3. Perry

    A comment about coconut oil. One of the reasons we suggest that coconut oil is the best natural oil for hair was because in a study done by TRI (and published in the JSCC) they demonstrated that coconut oil could penetrate the hair but other oils like sunflower oil and mineral oil could not. This extra penetration will help with flexibility and protection from damage. Of course, quats and polymers are going to have an even better effect than the natural oil, but if you’re sticking with natural oils, coconut oil is hard to beat.

  4. Colin Post author

    Thanks for that Perry, I didn’t know about that paper. I have just had a look at it, and it is very interesting. I like the way they analysed the data and the experimental design. They seem to have selected coconut and sunflower oils to work on to have to the two extremes of fatty acid chain length. It is a shame they didn’t include a couple of intermediate ones as well. After all, it could be that an intermediate level is even better than either of the ones tested.

  5. tinni

    I’m curious if coconut oil could actually be used as sunscreen, as some people seem to do.

  6. Cheri

    Hi Colin

    Just a note about your comments on silicones.

    Aside from the fact that without them (particularly my beloved Dimethicone), my skin would be a red, uncontrollably itchy mess thanks to a health issue, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way about silicons/es – things that mainstream fear-mongering, paranoia doesn’t care to understand.

    There is a thing called ‘organic silica’ – aka silicon dioxide – contained in plants and foods, for example, horsetail, cucumbers and capsicum, etc. – although the form found in sand, is considered inorganic.

    A bit pedantic, I know, but I’m really tired of the paranoia and rubbish being pontificated on the subject around the internet. Fact is that even some medical products contain silicones, like barrier creams, for those who suffer from various painful skin condtions.

    Funny how no one ever mentions things like that, isn’t it?

    As for buildup – I guess it would be an enormous problem for those too terrified to use simple soap and water lest they become actually – you know – clean. Heaven forbid!

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