Why are silicones bad for your skin?

Silicone are common in skin care and makeup. Silicone are the base of most of your primers and found in nearly all foundations. One of the bigger movements in skin care is the removal of silicone, parabens, and SLS. And I’m going to do a post on each of those.

Sephora launched their Clean at Sephora branding. Allure did a really good write up of the ingredients that keeps a product from getting that ‘Clean at Sephora’ sticker.

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All products with the “Clean at Sephora” seal will not contain the sulfates SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehydes and formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, mineral oil, retinylpalmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, and triclocarban. For fragrance brands, PTFE/PFOA, styrene, polyacrylamide/acrylamide, acetaldehyde, acetonitrile, methylene chloride, benzalkonium chloride, toluene, resorcinol, acetone, butoxyethanol, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, methyl cellosolve, methylisothiazolinone/methylchloroisothiazolinone, mercury and mercury compounds (thimerosal), bisphenol A (BPA), and animal fats, oils, and musks are also excluded. Furthermore, skin care, hair, and makeup brands with the “Clean at Sephora” seal have less than one percent of synthetic fragrances and no undisclosed fragrances.

Some of these chemicals like formaldehyde are very rarely used in skin care anymore because of known carcinogenic properties. Other chemicals like parabens and hydroquinone have known very well studied skin care properties.
Thimerosal is primarily used in incredibly small quantities in vaccine production and is a highlight of the anti-vaccine movement. It does contain mercury. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen thimerosal listed in skin care, but again I haven’t exactly looked for it. The EWG released a white page last November stating they’d found products from Amazon and Ebay that exceeded the FDA’s 1ppm limit on mercury in skin care products. A massive problem with that white page is that they didn’t list the products that were found with the highest limits, instead listing the broadest of categories that can be found to contain it (anti-aging, brightening, and acne treatments). Those categories represent a very large chunk of what is sold in the skin care industry.

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Why should I stay away from silicones?

Scientifically speaking, none are universally bad. Some people are sensitive to these chemicals. For those with severe acne, staying away from silicone is often recommended by dermatologists. Products with a high silicone content, like primers, are meant to fill pores to create a more even surface. However, acne comes about because of clogged pores. So if silicone fills pores it can work as an artificial clog. If you forget to remove your makeup (something everyone is known to do) or don’t get an efficient cleanse that artificial clog stays on the skin and BAM you grow yourself an overnight pimple. I’ve done it before by accident. I tend to forget to wash in the edges of my nose. Mix that with wearing glasses and you get insta-zits. It’s one reason why I use a toner sometime in the afternoon if I’m not wearing makeup.

The silicone debate has even reached its way into peer-reviewed articles. Most are discussing silicones for use as fillers. Dermal fillers like Juvederm (a very popular lip filler) is a hyaluronic acid based filler and FDA approved. The FDA has not approved the use of silicone fillers to fill wrinkles or augment tissues anywhere in the body. If you’re looking to get fillers, do your homework. So if looking to get fillers, silicones are a no no. There are online retailers of products like Juvederm and Restylane but they’re fake. Only get fillers through your doctors office, most likely a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

We’ve heard horror stories of silicone used as fillers. Jeffree Star showed the removal of his silicone lumps from his lips, the NYTimes has published rather extensive stories. The first use of silicone in plastic surgery was as filler for breast augmentation. The FDA banned the use of silicone in the face in 1992. I was only 7, but I remember when that happened. It caused an uproar in the beauty communities but doctors were very much against its use because we didn’t know what having silicone so close to the bloodstream. If it dislodged and entered the bloodstream, the dislodge silicone lump could cause serious health effects from blocking blood flow. It was cheap so it wasn’t only the rich and famous who could afford the augmentation. The 80s was the decade of decadence, spandex workout clothes, everyone was rail thin with big hair. Beauty had become a high commodity.

Then came liquid silicones. The FDA approved a silicone oil for the treatment of detached retinas. Now one loophole of the medical field is that drugs can be prescribed for off-label uses. Aspirin is intended to treat headaches and inflammation, but now we use it to keep blood pressure down and decrease the risk of heart attacks. This loophole allowed doctors to begin using this silicone oil as dermal filler. Once the silicone oil settles, the body forms collagen around the oil keeping it in place. The problem is that the oil more commonly forms droplets or doesn’t move evenly, the collagen forms, and several years later the silicone has to be removed because it’s formed little nodule under the skin. Secondarily, there is a cancer fear. Third, not all the people who were injecting these were licensed to do so. It was definitely the era of you get what you paid for.

Again, Why should I stay away from Silicones?

Again, scientifically speaking there is no reason to stay away from silicones. I have spent hours searching through the literature and I honestly can’t find anything outside those with allergies and those with severe acne. Not everyone’s skin reacts the same to heavy silicone use. My skin does tend to breakout when using heavy silicones. It also has a tendency to dry my skin out. I know that’s weird and it goes against the literature. My theory is that the silicone prevents my skin from absorbing the moisture properly. Does that mean I avoid silicones? NOPE. I use them I just make sure it isn’t the first ingredient. Smashbox primers don’t work on my skin at all. The dimethicone just rolls off my skin care and I care more about my skin care than my primer, it’s also way more expensive. Fenty’s Pro Filt’r Primer has dimethicone or a variant as the 2nd, 5th, and 10th ingredients and I like a lot.

My favorite foundation in the world right now is Make Up For Ever’s Water Blend Face and Body Foundation. It gives this dewy, your-skin-but-better look that just lasts and lasts, doesn’t feel cakey, doesn’t dry my skin out, and I don’t think it contains silicones, at least a quick look at the ingredients list didn’t pop anything which is a surprise. Normally, I wear Dior’s Dreamskin Cushion which isn’t a foundation it’s skin care but it contains silicones (and an SPF50). But it works more like a tinted moisturizer/serum giving some and I mean very little coverage of very light blemishes but it doesn’t cover freckles or dark spots. Both stay all day long too, which is a perk.

What does silicone actually do in personal care?

In skin care (have we officially gone to skincare because both are used) and more largely in personal care we use silicones extensively. Ingredients that end in -icone are silicones like dimethicone; however, cyclopentasiloxane is also a silicone but is missing that -icone ending. Silicones are used because they fill in rough spots and areas of damage. In hair care it fills in weak spots, helps to seal those areas that can become breakpoints for split ends. In makeup, silicones help to fills pores and fine lines and wrinkles. In skin care, it’s used to help lock in moisture and keep skin supple (if you have dehydrated skin [different from dry skin] make sure you use a facial spray or go heavy on the toner before using a moisturizer heavy with silicones . I think this is my problem and why silicone appear to dry out my skin). The reason why silicones are capable of filling these spaces is because they’re huge molecules and our skin can’t absorb them. They just chill out on top of the skin or surface of our hair. Silicones used in personal care also wash away easily with minor ajutation (rubbing your face during the wash) and rinsing with water (warm or cool it doesn’t matter). Medical grade silicones can also help reduce inflammation in those with sensitive skin like rosacea and dermatitis.

So if silicones are safe, why is there a movement to avoid them?

I don’t actually know the full root of why we have this no-silicone movement. There are people who have a legitimate sensitivity to silicones in the same way I have a sensitivity to a class of antibiotics and very rarely some have a severe sensitivity to the sun or water. It is a very, very rare but a known medical condition. Obviously, that group needs to stay away from silicones. The no-silicone movement seems to coincide with the no-gluten movement, the same types of fears and buzz words are very often used. From the no-gluten movement we have the rise of the Paleo diet; from the no-silicone movement we see ‘natural’ skincare or ‘natural’ beauty. We saw the rise of the no-poo (none SLS) shampoo method where you ‘wash’ your hair with baking soda and ‘condition’ it with apple cider vinegar (do not use this method you will dehydrate your hair ACV is NOT a conditioner) or use a product no No-Poo, Curl Diva, or Wen. But Wen had to settle a lawsuit that several women brought because it made their hair fall out. I used it for 3 years and never saw that in my hair. Johnson and Johnson was successfully sued because baby powder was causing ovarian cancer. Talc is pretty darn natural, even if mined in an area with higher natural radioactivity like what came out during the J&J lawsuit. Most eye makeup and baking powders use talc as well. The first ingredient in Wen’s hair cleanser is Aloe Vera juice and we still have no idea what ingredient is believed to cause hair loss in these women.

Silicone as a chemical that is synthesized industrially therefore it must be bad

That’s the great leap that was made without scientific backing. I’ve spent hours now coming through journal articles and have not found a single study that has shown silicones to have negative health outcomes when used in personal care. In fact personal lubricants are silicone based and that area of our body absorbs chemical very easily. It’s actually the highest risk and one of the things I harp on when teaching pesticide applicators the importance of personal protective equipment. Having a healthy fear of what we put on and in our body is absolute warranted. BPA was used for decades until it was shown to have negative health outcomes and now plastics and aluminum cans come with a BPA-free label. When studies come out about negative health outcomes of ingredients or products we should pressure the industry to remove that chemical from it’s ingredients list. That’s our right as consumers. In this instance though there just isn’t evidence to support such a claim, at least none that I have found in peer-reviewed journals. Silicone breast implants and fillers is a different topic though, I’m talking about using it on the surface of the body.

It’s almost impossible to stay away from silicones unless you want to spend an arm and a leg on personal care. Silicones do a wonderful thing to helping our skin retain moisture. It helps give us that poreless appearance so often coveted, that and several filters. It isn’t anything to be scared of and nothing to avoid if you don’t have severe acne or a sensitivity to it. The list of alternative silicones is really very small. Some use oils but those are only going to improve hydration, it’s not necessarily going to give you the same benefit since our skin and hair absorbs oils. Those oils can only cause makeup to move around and those with oily skin types need to be careful with which oils they use.

So be cautious when reading labels on the front of skin care bottles. Just because it’s label claims the product is ‘natural’ or ‘clean’ doesn’t really mean anything. Ultimately, it’s a marketing game meant to denote it as somehow better simply because. I’ve seen GMO free 100% coconut oil. All coconut oil is GMO free, there are no GMO coconuts in existence but nobody regulates the “non-GMO” labels on food. It’s the wild wild west of product labeling. Organic skin care suffers the same issue since the FDA has a modest control over skin care and makeup; however, the USDA is responsible for defining organic, no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers for 3 years before harvest. In personal care, organic merely means a certain percentage of the compounds are certified organic and just so you know it’s not 100%.

Cyanide is natural and found in apple seeds. Plants produce some compounds that are very poisonous to human health and people extract essential oils from them like Apple Seed Oil. Could you imagine someone making poison hemlock essential oil?

Final Thought

Silicone isn’t bad in skin care. I can’t find any negative health outcomes because of silicone use. If you want to avoid silicone in your skin care that’s a personal choice. I can understand why some would given how much we use silicone in makeup. But to avoid silicone just because it’s the latest health fad really isn’t necessary. I was in Ulta and one girl said she refused to use silicone on her skin because it kept her looking young, she was maybe 21. Her friend asked her why, and she came back with, I saw it on IG. Hopefully we can do a better job with education in the beauty industry.

4 thoughts on “Why are silicones bad for your skin?

  1. Do you know if origins uses silicone in it’s ingredients? Are there any long term health problems or is the main concern clogging pours?

    1. Origins does use silicone in their products. Their ginzing spf 40 energy boosting toned moisturizer has the clean at sephora logo but very clearly has dimethicone in the ingredients list.
      To answer the second question the biggest health problem I’ve read is clogged pores unless you are allergic to silicones. I haven’t read anything about discoloration, pumps, redness, decreased skin elasticity, none of the more common long term side effects.

  2. Silicones are allowed in Sephora’s clean at sephora logo but other brands that push for clean or natural only products still don’t. Tati Westbrook has talked about doing her own skincare line and not including silicone in her skin care. I’m not sure how she’s to do it though.

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