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Is Dimethicone Toxic or Safe?

First you should know that my hair LOVES silicones. Or more accurately, I love the way my hair feels and looks with silicone on it.  Dimethicone helps my hair look good, feel soft, untangled and shiney. So I need to know, is dimethicone toxic?

What is Silicone?

Silicones represents a large group of synthetic materials. They are polymers. Polymers exist both naturally and synthetically. They  include things like the natural polymer keratin that make hair and nails and the synthetic nylon in your raincoat. Silicone is made up of both organic and inorganic materials. They can be made with a great deal of variation and with different consistencies from liquid to hard substances. Different silicones tend to share similar useful characteristics that include low chemical reactivity, low toxicity, water resistance, doesn’t go bad and yet is permeable to oxygen.

How does Dimethicone Silicone work on hair?

It works because it is easily spread and forms a smoothing protective layer on top of your hair that doesn’t wash off easily. It makes the hair cuticles lie down, so it stops tangles and makes hair smooth and more shiny. Dimethicone doesn’t wash off easily which is both good and bad. It stays on hair but it might build up, leaving hair weighed down and perhaps making other conditioning agents unable to penetrate to the hair. The other issue is that it might get and stay on your skin. Not necessarily a bad thing, as some people might like the way their skin feels with silicone on it. But others might find it irritating, not because of the chemical itself but that the silicone might trap other things under it that the skin is sensitive to and might make it difficult for beneficial products to reach the skin.

Is Dimethicone Toxic to Us?

If you define toxic as actually dangerous to our overall well-being if used according to directions, then no, I don’t think it is. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel considered it unlikely that Dimethicone could be significantly absorbed into the skin due to their large molecular weight.  Both animal and human studies points to low risk of adverse effects. Nevertheless, I think it is wise to limit exposing people, animals or our environment to too much of any synthetic ingredient, especially those as complex as silicones, if avoidable.

Is Dimethicone Toxic to the Environment

According to a paper published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science “Monitoring of key environmental compartments, namely sediments and soil, reveals that average concentrations are well below the no-observed adverse effect level. This work therefore continues to support the environmental acceptability of dimethicone and cyclotetrasiloxane for personal care applications.”

“Storm over Silicones” by Marc S. Reisch is a fascinating article about silicones. I highly recommend it. Reisch writes: “Regulators have raised no concerns about straight-chain polydimethylsiloxanes, which frequently appear on ingredient labels as dimethicone and are often used in lotions, shampoos, and bar soaps.”

In a well researched and well written article “Does Dimethicone Belong in Toxin-Free Makeup?” Irina Webb writes of dimethicone:

 Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry explains that it is mostly non-biodegradable but is not harmful to aquatic life (plankton, crustacea, mussels, fish).  Even silicone fluid administered with food showed no effect on fish.  Also, the symbiosis of microorganisms such as bacteria and algae has not been disturbed by this ingredient dissolved in water.  The European Union Chemicals Agency database also cites no ill effects on aquatic life, confirming dimethicone safety for the environment. 

Why Do I Use Dimethicone?

Because I am vain. Nothing works, so far, as well as silicones on my hair.  I see silicone as make-up for my hair. It doesn’t actually heal it but it does make it look pretty. I also think it protects it from breakage by adding slip. I don’t use Dimethicone where it isn’t very very helpful. To be specific, I ONLY use it in some hair care products where I believe they will do the most good like in some hair conditioners.  I don’t use them in my other products as I deem it unnecessary. 

Why Do So Many People Think Dimethicone is Toxic ?

Silicones are synthetic. They just plain sound bad. So it’s easy for unscrupulous product marketers to both create fear and then sell a solution to the fear they’ve created.  For instance, Annmarie Skin Care has an article “Ingredient Watch List: Dimethicone, the Smoothing Silicone That Exacerbates Acne“. The article makes a lot of frightening statements about dimethicone in order to sell their products. The writer asks you to imagine “having a thin, rubber-like cover over your face all day. Sound healthy? It’s not.” These kinds of scare tactics to make money proliferate the web. What makes me crazy is that this company doesn’t even tell you what is actually in their products. They just want you to think they are healthier because they don’t use the products they bash. Ugh!

Dimethicone a Part of Chemical Fear

Fanning the flames of fear sells products and also can brings advertising money. We know this because so many news sites from CNN to Breitbart love a sensationally frightening headline.  For example a website called “Chemical News” published Dimethicone — toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts by Michelle Simmons. This organization is especially fond at promoting hysterical fear of chemicals. The website takes an unreasonable and decidedly unscientific stance against chemicals. The article makes all kinds of unsubstantiated claims against dimethicone without proof or using citations that don’t support the claims. For instance the article says it causes blackheads but there are plenty of people who don’t agree. Heidi Waldorf, MD of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics says that “dimethicone is non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic. Because of these traits, it’s commonly used in oil-free formulations to give long-lasting moisturization without clogging the pores.” Unfortunately the fears these types of articles promote is difficult for any honest and sensible health and beauty maker to overcome.

My Conclusion on the Question is Dimethicone Toxic

Be aware of the silicones you are using and when. Don’t use them when you don’t think they will be put to good use. Avoid in lotions, soaps and shampoos. Use in conditioners and sexual lubricants. There are lots of reasons to be afraid of exposure to chemicals but they can also be very helpful. Use them in moderation for your own health and the planet’s.

My Advice about Dimethicone and All Chemicals 

  • Be skeptical of big corporations claiming a product is safe.
  • Be skeptical of businesses claiming to be all natural. 
  • Practice moderation when using dimethicone and avoiding it.
  • Fight corporations and ask them to take a responsible stance on environmental and long-term ecological safety.
  • Purchase only from companies that publish their ingredients (not their “Featured” ingredients).
  • Don’t let your enthusiasm force companies to transfer the problem to something that is getting less publicity.
  • Avoid chemicals when possible so that when you want to use them for something (as shallow as vanity even?) your use is less impactful on your body and the environment. 
  • Focus on stopping the most egregious environmental crimes happening today.
  • Recognize we are each unable to fix everything today so do what you can, the best you can for yourself and the world. Know that it is not all up to you.  Luckily you are not alone. Lots of us are trying to do our part too. 

Thanks for caring.

Further Reading

Do Silicones Deserve Their Bad Rap?

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