Expert's Opinion

Let's Talk About Silicones...

By Philip Pelusi, Internationally recognized stylist and product artist | September 12, 2012

Philip Pelusi weighs in on this ubiquitous hair care ingredient.

For me, trends are not just related to fashion or hair design.Fashion impacts hair design in cutting and styling, but as the creator of the products I use, it goes much deeper than that for me.Through my work on NYC Mercedes Runway Shows, editorial photography and hair styling, celebrity styling, plus a fashion forward client base, I know that that the products I use are the nexus of my creativity.In addition to the design of those products as a whole, I also must consider the properties of the ingredients I choose in their creation.

Not only is it important to forecast trends for the sake of hair design but also to look at those trends and the client demands as a inspiration for creating the right products to work with in the creation of hair designs to meet the client’s needs.It really comes full circle.We as stylists need to have the right products to work with as our medium to practice our art.

For this I put on my product artist hat, so to speak, and work with leading herbalists and chemists to turn these hair trends into reality.I must also anticipate the needs of the marketplace in terms of the ingredients, not only for their performance, but also with respect to trends in the consumer’s needs and demands.As an artist, it is my intent in presenting this piece for it to be a practical guide on the utility of a specific class of ingredients used in hair products and not a technical treatise or discourse on its chemistry or other issues.

The prevalent trend is toward natural and organic ingredients, which is driven by the consumer’s perception that they are safer and of higher quality than non-organic or synthetic ingredients.My goal is and always has been to create top-performance, cutting edge, consumer-safe and eco-friendly products that meet the needs of the hair care market’s emerging demands.But natural and organic ingredients cannot meet all of the demands of our ever more sophisticated consumer and it has become increasingly apparent that using natural/organics in combination with synthetics represents the most balanced and practical approach to product design.

One area of contention is the “silicone” ingredient category.Most people refer to “silicones” as though they are one ingredient, but it is really a group of ingredients based around the element silicon, that as we will see takes many forms in the class of ingredients known as “silicones.”

“Silicones” are an ingredient category that has been trending negative for some time.I can say this because over the last several years I have been getting a lot of client feedback about “silicones” that ranges from questions concerning their effect on hair to their safety.Based on the nature of the feedback and the wide range of the questions, it was apparent that there was a lot of confusion that needed clarification.

Most of the ingredients described as “silicones” are hydrophobic and function by creating a water repellant barrier on the hair.This barrier is responsible for softening, shine and comb-ability as well as the prevention of synthetic color loss by cleansing and conditioning processes.They belong to a class of inorganic molecules and polymers derived from silica or sand, and have been described as being naturally derived.Although this may be true, the current genre of cosmetic ingredients called “silicones” is as far from natural as anything can get and should be considered to be totally synthetic ingredients.

The most common and most problematic “silicones” for the stylist are the high molecular weight polymeric dimethicones that do not evaporate from the hair.Dimethicone is a linear or straight chain, polymeric form of “silicone” that can be either volatile or non-volatile based on the size of the molecule.While both volatile and non-volatile dimethicones lubricate the hair and give great comb-ability and shine, the non-volatile ones do not evaporate and leave a coating on the hair that is difficult to remove, can build up, weigh the hair down and attract dirt and debris.This is not so good.

Volatile “silicones” are not so bad.Further, there are two forms of volatile “silicones.”Low molecular weight polymeric dimethicones and the cyclomethicones.Cyclomethicones, as the name states are not straight in shape but cyclic or round in shape.They are smaller molecules that absorb onto the surface of the hair and eventually evaporate completely.This is great for eliminating the problem of cosmetic weight and other aesthetic issues, but leaves no long term conditioning.This is why other “silicones” (and “silicone”-compatible oils) may be blended into a shine enhancing formula or the reverse, why a volatile “silicone” may be used in a hair conditioner, to give the just right balance of comb-ability and weightless conditioning.

Also another method of making silicones more desirable to the stylist and the consumer is to create a modified form of a “silicone” polymer by derivatization, a process that alters its form and nature.First, “silicones” can be made to be water soluble.This reduces or eliminates the hydrophobic nature (good for removability-bad for applications where a hydrophobic barrier is necessary such as with “smoothers”).These “silicones” may be found in hair conditioners and in styling products and offer primarily shine and gloss.

“Silicones” can also be derivatized to have an affinity for hair by creating a positively charged form.The benefit of these cationic “silicone” derivatives is that a small quantity adheres strongly to the hair, primarily to damage sites, and offers excellent softening, shine and comb-ability.There are several types of “silicones” that fall into this category.
·Cationic Silicone Emulsions:These “Silicones” are based on Amodimethicone.The emulsified Amodimethicone bonds strongly to the hair surface yielding great comb-ability and shine but can over-soften hair.Cationic silicone Emulsions may be used in rinse-out and leave-in hair conditioners.
·Cationic Silicone Microemulsions:These “silicones” are based on a more complex “silicone” molecule and are true microemulsions that penetrate more rapidly and deeply into the hair, offering superior conditioning benefits without over-softening, making them better suited for fine hair where body is needed.This also makes this form better suited to hair protective products.

·Silicone-protein derivatives:Reputed to penetrate deeply into damaged hair, these molecules are characterized by a particular protein or amino acid followed by “PG-Propyl Silanetriol” in their INCI Nomenclature.These derivatives are claimed to bond nearly permanently to hair’s inner structure and yield nearly permanent repair and strengthening to hair.They are excellent additives for chemically treated or fine and thinning hair products where resistance to breakage is a primary feature.

My approach has been to try to avoid “silicones” wherever possible, but to take a practical approach from a performance and design-demand standpoint.I cannot just walk away from this category of ingredient but should employ restrictive guidelines in their usage to develop formulations that meet the needs of today’s ingredient-savvy client.The stylist and consumer must look at the benefit vs. the downside in choosing a product that contains a “silicone” and should understand that a product is defined more by its performance than by the ingredient statement on the back of the bottle.A well designed formulation containing a “silicone” can be a valuable tool in giving the client the performance they want.I feel this is critical to giving the client a top performance product that will help their color last longer and protect and enhance the condition the hair.


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About the Author
Philip Pelusi is an internationally recognized stylist, photographer and product artist. Having gone from one salon to 13 locations as well as a magnificent industry centerpiece in New York City, Pelusi has created a philosophy, 2 product lines, P2 by Philip Pelusi and Tela Beauty Organics by Philip Pelusi and systems for success. Philip created and trademarked, within the industry, the phrase “A Cut Above The Rest” to coincide with his creation of the registered Volumetric haircutting technique around which he built his empire.

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