When did silicone become a dirty word?

When did silicone become a dirty word?

The definition of silicone states that it is a synthetic material which harbours qualities that deter changes in temperature and chemical penetration. At face value, it certainly sounds like an ingredient you don’t really want to be putting in or on your body.

While I can’t comment on whether or not silicones should be used in products for internal use, let’s not forget that these materials have been used in cosmetic formulations for 70 odd years, without anything like the bad press they get today.

So what’s the big deal? To silicone or not to silicone? Is this the formulation question of 2020?

For chemists, they are wonderful ingredients that provide the slip, smooth feel and aesthetics to products. But for marketers creating content in a world of clean, green, natural goodness, they’ve become unwelcome hazards carrying connotations of danger and dirtiness.

Recent bad press that I’ve seen includes claims that silicones burn the hair, cause fire and hair melting. The word scaremongering comes to mind. A good cosmetic chemist knows how to formulate with silicones within regulations to create a fully compliant and safe-to-use product.

As a unique product designer with a foot in both the cosmetic chemist camp and the marketing camp I have found this situation to be an internal struggle!

I recently worked on a range of haircare products for a client that leads with a strong, modern, fresh brand. According to silicones’ bad press, they didn’t really have a place in the formulations. The project was proceeding incredibly smoothly (forgive the pun) until we got to the hero product, a Perfume Hair Oil. And herein lies the problem. It simply wasn’t an option to only use natural plant oils, which would have only weighed the hair down and made the hair greasy. That’s not what I call an efficacious product!

Silicones have a place in certain products. And if used correctly in formulations and by consumers, they don’t really deserve any press at all.

What are the options here?

If “clean, green and natural” is what consumers demand, then they’re going to miss out on a great perfume hair oil, and many other wonderful products too.

If manufacturers choose to use natural alternatives to silicones (I’ll get to these in a moment) then they can expect the cost of goods to go up significantly. Will their audiences still be willing to pay for this alternative?

Or, perhaps the happy medium is to mix it up. Perhaps a hair cleansing product could factor in a natural silicone while the follow-up treatment product in the range has traditional silicone.

From my perspective that might mean one project – a big commercial brand with a low price point selling millions of units – doing silicone-free shampoo, but silicone treatments, and another project – a boutique, high-end premium brand doing a completely green and clean silicone free range.

I think both sit beautifully in the world of consumer demand and perception.

Here’s the latest in Silicone and Silicone alternatives:


  • Cyclomethicone
  • Dimethicone
  • Amodimethicone
  • Phenyl Trimethicone


  • Volatility & low viscosity Fast spreading Decreased dry time Active carrier


  • LexFeel TM WOW-A & LexFeel TM WOW-A DT LexFeel TM D4 & LexFeel TM D5

When Formulating for Haircare

  • Improved wet & dry combing       LexFeel TM WOW-A & LexFeel TM WOW-A DT
  • Improved wet & dry combing Luster & sheen

Replacements for Cyclopentasiloxane & Cyclotetrasiloxane is LEXFEEL ®N50 by Innolex and other alternatives are BASF Coco-Caprylate https://www.carecreations.basf.com/product-formulations/products/products-detail/CETIOL%20LC/30527919

Cetiol Ultimate (Tridecane, Undecane) https://www.carecreations.basf.com/product-formulations/product-highlights/product-highlights-detail/CETIOL-ULTIMATE/30597825

A new kid on the block recently Citropol® 1A is the first commercially available ingredient in the Citropol®class. It has excellent spreadability, compatibility in formulation, and rubs to absorbancy with ease.

Citropol® 1A gives way to the skin without resistance and results in a high-gloss effect owing to their high refractive index. Its after-feel is defined by slipperiness and an absence of stickiness or tackiness. Citropol® 1A is biodegradable, biocompatible, and bio-renewable. https://p2science.com/citropols/

As always, the consumers will decide which way they go but I do see a movement towards more education from chemists online to provide facts behind silicones and their safety of use to prevent the negative press that often lands so heavily on ingredients that some products simply couldn’t live without!

Need more formulation guidance? Watch these!

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In my role as a Design Practice Teaching Fellow at the University of Canterbury's School of Product Design, I leverage my extensive background in entrepreneurial ventures and industry experience spanning cosmetic chemistry, marketing, design, and brand management. My mission is to empower and guide the upcoming generation of product designers. With over three years in this position, I have supported numerous students in honing their abilities, fostering their creativity, and building their confidence to craft innovative and impactful personal care products and brands. My dedication lies in bridging innovation, curiosity, and creative expression to produce formulations, products, and brands that truly differentiate themselves. Holding a Diploma of Personal Care Formulation from the Institute of Personal Care Science, my involvement has stretched across various initiatives and bodies within the cosmetic sector, including Cosmetics New Zealand and NZSCC New Zealand. I am perpetually in pursuit of fresh challenges and avenues for personal and professional development, finding my deepest fulfillment in witnessing the achievements of others.

One comment

  1. Rachel says:

    I’m definitely a huge fan of dimethicone. I went and ordered a bottle of it and will be doing some mixing when it shows up. Probably will mix it with avocado oil to use as a moisturizer/ lubricant.

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