We’ve all heard the rumours, we’ve all seen the videos, that these two very common ingredients in our hair products could be doing more harm than good, but what is the reality? Today, we are delving deep into the science behind these two common ingredients found in our beloved hair products: silicones and sulphates.
Let's start with sulphates. Sulphates are powerful cleansing agents commonly found in many hair care products. These compounds are responsible for creating that satisfying lather we associate with a thorough hair wash. While sulphates excel at removing dirt, oil, and build-up from our locks, their reputation isn't without controversy. So, get settled in with a cup of tea and let's explore both sides of the sulphate story.
The Downside of Sulphates:
Oil Stripping - Imagine your hair's natural oils as a delicate, protective shield, guarding each strand with care and keeping them soft and enhancing their natural beauty. However, when sulphates enter your hair care routine they can penetrate the hair shaft with their powerful cleaning properties, ruthlessly stripping away those precious oils. With each wash, these oils are whisked away, leaving your hair exposed and vulnerable to the harsh elements of the environment. They can leave behind dry, brittle strands that lack the nourishment and moisture they desperately need to thrive.
Colour Fading - If you're a fan of a golden balayage or dye your hair consistently to cover up those pesky greys, you might want to listen up! Sulphates can act as an abrasive to the hair which can lead to the outer layer of your hair shaft to open and resulting in your colour fading out. This is the last thing you want when you have just spent four hours in the salon chair.
Dryness and Irritation - Ever noticed your scalp feeling a tad itchy or irritated after a self-indulgent shampoo session? Unfortunately, sulphates could be to blame for that too. Sulphates are powerful cleansing agents and are designed to whisk away dirt, oil, and impurities from your hair. However, their robust nature can sometimes be a little too much for our scalp's sensitive skin to handle. As these harsh cleansers go to work, they can strip away not only excess oils but also the good oil that is there to protect our hair, as well as the scalp's natural moisture barrier, causing irritation and leaving it dry, tight, and sometimes itchy.
The Bright Side of Sulphates:
Deep Cleansing - Each strand of your hair will pick up unwanted extras, from environmental pollutants to styling products that have settled in and we can’t deny Sulphates are good at removing dirt and build-up. Sulphates penetrate deep into the hair follicles, and with their surfactant properties, sulphates attract and bind to oil and grime, lifting them away effortlessly with just a rinse of water.
Foamy Fun – Everyone loves lathering up their favourite shampoo. There's something undeniably satisfying about watching those bubbles form and cascade through your hair. Sulphate molecules have a unique structure that allows them to interact with both water and oil creating tiny bubbles. These bubbles lift out the hair's impurities and allow them to be washed away with water leaving your locks feeling fresh and clean.
Budget-Friendly - Let's face it, we all love a good deal, and sulphates certainly deliver on that front. Sulphates are derived from readily available and relatively inexpensive raw materials, making them a cost-effective choice for manufacturers. Additionally, their powerful cleansing properties mean that less product is needed to achieve that foamy wash that we all love, which results in a cost-effective solution for clean, manageable hair.
Now onto Silicones… Before we dive into the pros and cons of silicones, let's get down to basics. Silicones are plastic polymers that have made their way into many of our favourite shampoos, conditioners, and styling products. They offer short-term benefits like reducing frizz, imparting a glossy feel, and adding volume to the hair. However, their long-term effects can leave your hair feeling heavy and out of shape.
The Downside of Silicones:
Film-like Coating - Silicones form a film-like coating on the hair, which accumulates over time. This build-up acts as a barrier, preventing essential nutrients from penetrating the hair shaft. As a result, the hair becomes deprived of moisture and vital nourishment, leading to dryness, damage, and lacklustre locks. The inability of nutrients to reach the hair's core also compromises its overall health and resilience.
Scalp Residue - Residue from silicones doesn't limit itself to the strands alone; it can also accumulate on the scalp. This build-up creates a greasy appearance and may cause us to over wash our hair in an attempt to free ourselves of the oily mess. However, over washing can cause our scalp to dry out and disrupt its natural balance, potentially leading to irritation and discomfort.
Heavy Hair – Silicones are a pretty tricky substance to break down, which means they can build up on hair strands over time and weigh down our hair. This is particularly troublesome for those of you with curly locks. While you spend so much time trying to get the perfect coily curl, the added weight from the silicon is counteracting, causing your curls to lose their natural bounce and appear flat, detracting from their natural beauty and texture.
Environmental Impact - Silicones are not just problematic for our hair; they also pose environmental concerns. These compounds are bioaccumulative, meaning they accumulate in the environment over time and are challenging to break down. As silicones wash down the drain during hair washing, they find their way into waterways, where their persistent nature can harm aquatic ecosystems.
The Bright Side of Silicones:
Immediate Boost in Shine -Silicones are renowned for their ability to impart a glossy sheen to the hair, instantly enhancing its appearance and radiance, Hello Goldilocks! This effect is achieved through the silicone molecules' smooth, reflective surface, which helps to refract light, resulting in a red carpet-worthy shine. The thin coating formed by silicones also helps to smooth down the hair cuticle, minimizing light scattering and creating a sleek, polished look.
Texture Improvement - Silicones can transform the texture of the hair, making it feel softer and more supple to the touch. This is achieved through the silicone molecules' unique structure, which allows them to penetrate the hair shaft and fill in gaps and imperfections. As a result, the hair's surface becomes smoother and more uniform, enhancing its overall softness and silkiness.
Frizz Control - One of the most treasured benefits of silicones is their ability to tame frizz and flyaways, leaving the hair looking sleek and polished. This is due to silicones' ability to create a protective barrier that seals moisture into the hair shaft while repelling humidity from the environment. By minimizing moisture absorption and maintaining optimal hydration levels, silicones help to prevent frizz from forming, even when you're on that beautiful, but humid, beach in Bali.
Spotting Silicones in Products
It can be tricky to spot which of your favourite products contain silicones as they can come in so many different forms. But, if you are on the lookout, keep your eyes peeled for ingredients ending in "cone" or "oxane." A lot of common silicone compounds will show up as dimethicone, amodimethicone, and cyclopentasiloxane, on the back of the bottle.
In the world of hair care, the debate between sulphates and silicones rages on, each with its own set of pros and cons. While sulphates may offer immediate benefits like cleansing and lathering, their long-term effects can be less than ideal, from stripping natural oils to potentially irritating the scalp. But fear not, there's a whole world of sulphate-free options waiting for you, offering a gentler and more nourishing experience without sacrificing volume. So, whether your team sulphate or team sulphate-free, listen to your hair's needs and choose products that keep your locks looking and feeling their best.
On the other hand, for those looking to avoid the potential pitfalls of silicones, there's a growing trend toward silicone-free hair care products. These formulations focus on improving hair condition and structure from the core, resulting in long-term benefits like reduced frizz and increased shine over time. So, while silicones can offer immediate gratification in terms of hair appearance and texture, it's crucial to weigh the potential long-term effects. By understanding the pros and cons of silicones and being mindful of ingredient labels, you can make informed choices that support the health and vitality of your hair. Whether you opt for silicones or choose to go silicone-free, prioritise your hair's well-being above all else. Remember, healthy hair is happy hair!