You might have heard it before from passionate hair care enthusiasts and Curly Girl Method followers: silicone is “bad” for your locks.
Plenty of people demonize silicones for their tendency to build up on your hair and weigh it down.
Meanwhile, others don’t want to give them up even after they’ve been told to stop using them since they add a beautiful shine to the hair anyway.
But what is the truth about silicones and how they build up on your hair?
Are they really that bad? Or are they actually useful for plenty of hair types, but just have an undesirable side effect on your hair in the long term?
In this post, we’ll take a look at the benefits and side effects of silicones on your hair, and how you can get rid of them when they’ve started to build up on your precious strands.
Also, what are the signs of silicone build-up on hair?
Table of Contents
What Are Silicones?
Silicones are man-made polymers often infused in cosmetics because of their smoothing abilities.
While you’ll see them in many skincare and make-up products, they are especially common in hair products because of their ability to smooth down and tame the puffiest and most frizzy hair types.
There are many types of silicones out there, but they all aim to do the same thing.
They coat the outer layer of your hair to seal moisture in your cuticles and lock out humidity that often gives your hair unwanted frizz.
The result? Super smooth and glossy hair that looks downright gorgeous.
That’s why people with unruly and frizzy hair are the most attracted to silicones.
They help make their mane silky smooth while keeping flyaways and tangles at bay.
Types Of Silicones
There are three main kinds of silicones that you’ll find in your hair care products.
First, we have water-soluble silicones, which wash out very easily with water alone.
There are also evaporating silicones, which dissipate into the air hours after you apply them.
But the most troublesome kind of silicone you will come across is the non-soluble silicone.
These don’t disappear into thin air, nor do they wash out as soon as water hits your hair.
The only way to get rid of them is by using surfactants – also known as sulfates – to wash them out.
How can you tell which silicones are soluble and non-soluble?
One trick is to see what their name is on your hair product’s ingredient list.
Most of the ones that end in -cone (like dimethicone) are usually non-water-soluble, so you’ll need a pretty heavy-hitting shampoo to wash them out.
Are Silicones Bad For Your Hair?
The bad news is that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies when it comes to using silicones in your hair.
If you don’t know how to wash them out completely, you’ll be prone to silicone build-up, which makes your hair weak, dehydrated, and greasy all at the same time.
Because silicones work to create an occlusive coating around your hair cuticles, they help lock in hydration in your hair.
But on the flip side, this outer layer of silicone in your hair can also block moisture from entering your hair when it’s thirsty for nourishment.
It’s kind of a slippery slope.
This isn’t to say that silicones are bad for your hair per se.
They add shine, tame frizz, and even protect your hair from heat damage when you iron or curl it.
But because it can hinder moisturizing ingredients from penetrating your hair strands, too much silicone build-up can make your hair unhealthy.
Another downside to using silicone-infused hair products is that they’re extremely hard to wash off, particularly the non-soluble ones.
Because they can get stuck in your hair for weeks, you could suffer from symptoms like extremely dry hair, an itchy scalp, and limp, lifeless hair with no bounce or shine.
Silicone build-up is bad for anyone.
However, some hair types need to avoid it more than others.
For example, girls with curly and coarse hair that is naturally drier than straight hair should definitely steer clear of silicones.
That’s why staying silicone-free is one of the golden rules of the Curly Girl Method.
Signs Of Silicone Build-Up On Hair
Having silicone build-up in your hair isn’t the kind of thing you can ignore.
It will make itself known through many signs until you have no choice but to do something about it.
So, here are the signs you should look out for to tell if your hair is suffering from silicone build-up:
Hair That Is Weighed Down
One of the easiest ways to spot silicone build-up is when you look at yourself in the mirror and notice that your hair is limp, flat, and lifeless.
When the silicone coating around your strands gets too thick, it adds extra weight to your mane, pulling it down.
This is especially the case if you have fine and low-density hair, to begin with.
It’s kind of similar to using too many creams and oils over several days – sooner or later, gravity will take effect.
So when your hair looks like it’s sticking to the sides of your head, it might be time to give your hair a deep detox to get rid of all that gunk.
As soon as you wash the silicones off your hair, you’ll see a lift near your roots and more volume throughout your mane.
Dry Hair But A Greasy Scalp
Silicone build-up can block moisture from entering your hair cuticles, leaving your locks dehydrated for a long time.
And when your hair is super dry and thirsty, your scalp will overcompensate by producing way more sebum than usual.
This then creates an imbalance in your hair.
You’ll have parched strands that are dull and lifeless, and an annoyingly oily scalp that always looks shiny.
The sebum on your scalp can even clog your hair follicles, leading to slower hair growth and dandruff.
Strands That Are Rough To The Touch
Because silicones create a barrier between your hair and the moisturizing products that can nourish it, you might end up with stiff, rough hair.
This will then make your tresses more vulnerable to frizz and tangles.
Split Ends And Breakage
When your hair has an outer coating of silicone that’s as hard as a rock, it’s more susceptible to breaking and snapping off.
It’s even worse when your locks are dehydrated on the inside because they won’t have the elasticity to survive any form of tension.
When your hair is both straw-like in texture and has no moisture in it, the smallest things can break your strands.
This includes brushing your hair too aggressively or taking out your ponytail.
The only way to get that softness and resilience back is by washing out the silicones.
Tiny, White Flakes That Aren’t Dandruff
When you look closely in the mirror, you might see tiny white specks in your hair.
This is what silicone build-up looks like.
You’ll usually find these small, scaly, nasty flakes where your hair is parted, much like dandruff flakes.
And while these white spots aren’t dandruff, they can very well lead to scalp issues in the future.
The flakes can clog your hair follicles, which can lead to an irritated scalp.
Before you know it, you’ll be scratching your head every five seconds and dealing with an inflamed scalp.
Seeing these flakes is a tell-tale sign that your silicone build-up has been going on for far too long.
So much so that the coating around your strands is already breaking off.
At this point, your hair is practically begging you to wash all the silicone out.
You’re Compelled To Shampoo Your Hair More Than Once
If there’s a lot of silicone in your hair, one wash will never be enough.
Your hair might not feel clean even after you use more shampoo than usual.
This is an effect of your hair getting greasier as it goes on overdrive in an attempt to moisturize your dehydrated hair.
It could also be the silicone itself that makes your hair feel stiff and dry – never clean and purified.
It’s dangerous to fall into the habit of shampooing more often than you should just to get silicones out.
Shampoo can dry your hair out even more, which won’t help you in the long run.
Your hair will only get rougher and thirstier.
Difficulty Holding A Curl
What happens when dry, brittle, limp hair gets little to no moisture?
You’ll have a hard time styling it.
Whether you have naturally curly hair or use a curling wand to achieve those waves and spirals, your hair will find it difficult to retain this texture.
When the outer layer of silicone in your hair is already so thick, heat might not be able to manipulate your hair properly.
On the other side of the spectrum, trying to define your natural waves and curls with a curl-enhancing cream might not work either, since the silicone is blocking your hair from drinking up any other product.
How To Remove Dimethicone From Hair
Dimethicone is probably the most famous type of silicone out there.
You’ll find it in most of your shampoos and conditioners, thanks to its ability to strengthen and protect your hair from pollutants and heat damage.
It also gives a fuller look to your mane, adding body and movement to it.
Sadly, dimethicone isn’t the type of silicone that you can just wash out with water.
It also doesn’t evaporate minutes to hours after you apply it.
If you don’t wash out the dimethicone, it will continue the clog and suffocate your strands.
Using products with dimethicone is completely fine, but you need to know how to wash it out completely if you want to keep your hair healthy and hydrated.
If you leave your hair coated with dimethicone too long, you’ll be stuck with dry, fragile hair and a greasy scalp for God knows how long.
Shampoo With Sulfates
Any shampoo with sulfates, such as sodium lauryl or laureth sulfates, should be able to remove dimethicone quickly.
But if you suspect that your hair has been building up way too much silicone over the last few weeks, you might need something a little more heavy-duty.
Enter clarifying shampoo.
This deeply detoxifying type of shampoo is great for removing all kinds of build-up in your hair.
While it’s usually used to wash out hard water minerals and product build-up from gels and creams that have accumulated over time, it also works amazingly well for getting rid of silicones.
One of the best and most accessible clarifying shampoos I’ve tried is the Pantene Pure Clean & Clarify Shampoo.
It contains pro-vitamin B5 to strengthen your hair, and absolutely no artificial fragrances, mineral oils, or parabens that might irritate your scalp.
Plus, it’s free of silicones, so you won’t get stuck in the vicious cycle of washing your hair and getting even more silicone stuck to your strands.
However, be warned.
Clarifying shampoo can be extremely dehydrating on the hair.
So, if you’re going to use one, make sure you follow up with a nourishing conditioner.
If you’re trying not to use a shampoo that often on your hair (perhaps in fear of drying it out and stripping it of its natural oils), you can go the organic route and use baking soda instead.
Baking soda is known for its bleaching and cleaning power for countertops and bathrooms.
But it’s just as effective for your hair when it’s drowning in too much silicone.
Create the paste with two tablespoons of baking soda and half a cup of water, mixing it well to achieve a conditioner-like consistency.
Apply it all over your hair and scalp and let it sit for five to ten minutes before rinsing with lukewarm water.
This should do the trick of removing dimethicone, too.
Note that when you use any of these methods and wash all that silicone out of your hair, you might not be used to the new texture of your hair.
It’s going to be less smooth and silky, but don’t worry – this is this sign that you’ve successfully removed the silicones from your hair.
What To Do To Prevent Silicone Build-Up In The Future
Now that you’ve finally gotten rid of that nasty silicone build-up in your hair, I’m sure you never want to go through the hassle again.
So, it’s important to adjust your current hair care routine to avoid it from occurring again.
Here are a few tips and suggestions to prevent silicone build-up in the future.
Avoid Daily Use Of Silicone-Infused Products
It’s fine if your favorite shampoo and conditioner contain silicone – I’m not saying you have to toss those products.
But you’ll want to avoid using it daily.
If you do, you’ll likely develop silicone build-up again pretty fast.
Use your silicone products sparingly.
Washing your hair just a few times a week instead of every day will make a huge difference in how your hair will feel.
Target wash days for maybe 2-3 times a week.
Use Shampoo And Conditioner From The Same Line
Products from the same brand and collection are usually designed as a system, so the shampoo should be formulated to wash out the silicones in the matching conditioner very effectively on your next wash day.
If you use a completely different shampoo from your conditioner, you run the risk of washing your hair with something formulated with surfactants that can’t wash away the silicones in your conditioner.
Give Up Silicones Altogether
If you’re completely sick of silicones, you can consider switching over to a silicone-free routine.
Many products are designed to have no silicones at all – plenty of which are geared toward women with curly and wavy hair.
One sulfate- and silicone-free shampoo and conditioner duo I highly recommend is the Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Superfoods Banana + Coconut Hair Pack.
They’re formulated with fruit extracts from mangoes, bananas, coconuts, and more to strengthen and nourish the hair.
For those who love using products with silicones for their leave-in conditioner, don’t worry.
There are also tons of styling products that contain zero silicones but still give you that softness and silkiness you’re looking for.
My favorite silicone-free leave-in is the SheaMoisture Sugarcane Extract & Meadowfoam Seed Leave-In.
Instead of using heavy silicone, it relies on organic meadowfoam seed oil and marshmallow root extract for slip.
It’s incredibly helpful for adding shine and smoothness without the use of silicones.
At the end of the day, silicones offer tremendous benefits for the hair, like adding shine, and smoothness, and keeping frizz at bay.
You may love products infused with silicones.
However, you have to be aware of the repercussions on your hair’s health if you don’t wash them out properly.
I am by no means telling you to quit using silicones in your routine.
Some people swear by them; after all, what works for you might not work for everyone else.
However, make sure you understand what kind of silicones your products use so that you know the best way to remove them and avoid build-up.
Just make sure to watch out for the many signs of silicone build-up on hair.
As soon as you notice them and suspect silicone build-up, grab your sulfate or clarifying shampoo (or baking soda, if you’re feeling a little crafty!) and wash it out.
Don’t let the careless use of silicones cost you your hair’s health and beauty.
Know your silicones and how to beat them so that you can enjoy their smoothing benefits without falling victim to the horrors of product build-up.