The Truth About Silicone in Skin Care, According to Experts

The Truth About Silicone in Skin Care, According to Experts featured image
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Silicone in skin care gets a bad rap, even the experts admit that. However, they’re here to largely clear the ingredient’s name. While you don’t need to have the ingredient in your arsenal of products, you probably already do. Silicone has a handful of benefits that make its place in skin care worthwhile. See what the experts had to say about the synthetic ingredient, so you can decide where you stand.

What is silicone as it relates to the skin-care world?

“Silicones are actually a huge library of ingredients that consist of a wide variety of synthetic polymers with organic silicon compounds,” explains cosmetic chemists in residence at Revela Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu. “To simplify that mumbo jumbo, they’re a big category of synthetic ingredients ranging from light oils, gels, to waxes utilized in skin care, makeup and hair care.”

How is silicone used in skin care?

According to Lu and Fu, chemists use silicones in skin care in a myriad of ways. “Silicones can be texturizers to improve the feel of your skin care. They can provide instant effects such as mattifying or blurring properties. Silicones can even be used as film formers for makeup and sunscreen,” they explain.

Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD says one of the most common types of silicones found in skin-care products is dimethicone, which “helps smooth skin by filling in the spaces between dead cells on top of the skin.” The ingredient is popular in products like primers and moisturizers because it lends a silky texture and “enhances a topical product’s ability to spread smoothly and evenly,” explains Dr. Schlesinger. Cosmetic chemist Ginger King says silicone can also help minimize any soaping effect. This effect occurs “when you rub the skin-care product and see white residue during rubbing.”

Should silicone be used in skin care?

Although some find silicone in skin care polarizing, the experts we heard from felt comfortable recommending silicone-based products. “When applied topically to the face, silicone is a great ingredient to use, especially for those that have dry or sensitive skin or would prefer to avoid mineral oils or petrolatum,” says Dr. Schlesinger. However, he notes that any product containing silicone should only go on to clean skin. “If you apply a product with silicones after exercise, it can trap sweat against the skin, which could contribute to breakouts.”

Outside of that, Lu and Fu note that silicones are “very vanilla ingredients unlikely to cause irritation.” They say that, due to this, it’s a solid ingredient for sensitive skin, but it’s also often found in products for oily skin types “to help lighten textures without adding greasiness or heaviness.” 

King feels that silicones are “exceptionally important for the sensorial experience. It truly offers a silky and smooth skin feel so consumers will want to use the products more often to achieve results.” However, Lu and Fu note that occasionally products with high levels of silicone may cause a “pilling” effect when layering. If your skin is prone to pilling, silicone-based products may not be your best bet. Additionally, King points out that dimethicone is also classified as a skin protectant, and that’s not its only skin-care benefit.

What are the benefits of silicone in skin care?

Its ability to enhance the texture of products is among silicone’s most beloved benefits. “We believe silicones’ texture enhancements can be very helpful,” say Fu and Lu. “A sunscreen formula with a lighter texture can be the difference between a sunscreen you’re going to wear consistently or a sunscreen you might put on every once in a while.” Additionally, silicone can also help provide skin with a silky smooth, matte finish.

Some silicones also have the ability to protect skin and act as an occlusive to help seal in moisture. “Since moisture is key in helping skin heal properly from things like in-office procedures, surgeries, burns and cuts, dimethicone is a great ingredient for sensitized skin,” says Dr. Schlessinger. He adds that studies have shown that dimethicone can reduce the appearance of scars, including superficial, hypertrophic, and keloid scars. Dr. Schlessinger recommends Avene Cicalfate+ Scar Gel ($28) and SkinCeuticals Advanced Scar Control ($110) to help diminish scars.

Dimethicone can also help control the appearance of oily shine and fine lines and wrinkles, which makes it a great addition to primers like jane iredale Smooth Affair Facial Primer ($50) and Glo Skin Beauty Shadow Primer ($18), notes Dr. Schlessinger. The ingredient is also beneficial for lip plumping products, “helping improve shine and lip smoothness,” he explains. Dr. Schlessinger recommends Revision Skincare YouthFull Lip Replenisher ($36) and Colorescience Sunforgettable Lip Shine SPF 35 ($34). More specifically, “stearyl dimethicone, which is a wax instead of oil, works with the skin’s natural temperature to increase lip hydration.”

Another benefit of silicone is that while it has occlusive properties, it’s non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic. Using a product like Obagi Clenziderm MD Therapeutic Moisturizer ($43) is helpful in replenishing acne-prone skin. “It helps reduce the flaking, tightness or itchiness associated with acne treatments, keeping skin comfortable without clogging pores,” says Dr. Schlessinger.

What are the potential adverse effects of silicone in skin care?

“Despite all the bad press silicones seem to get, there aren’t any general adverse effects for this category of ingredients,” say Lu and Fu. “It really comes down to the formula. There are some silicone or dimethicone-heavy formulas that just don’t work for certain skin types. However, that’s more because the skin is just that personal.” Due to this, they advise doing a patch test before using any new formula to see how your skin will react. King also notes that some people break out when using silicones, making a further case for a patch test.

“Also, there are many types of silicones with the cyclic silicones being classified as undesirable due to environmental and inhalation issues rather than skin issues,” points out King. Furthermore, Dr. Schlessinger notes that silicone should never be appear in an injectable treatment.

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