Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't believe the hype

How many products have you encountered that claimed to “repair damage”?

How many of you bought into the hype? *raises hands*

How many of you thought that your hair WAS repaired and once you stopped using those products, saw your hair go down the crappers? *raises hands again*

Do you know why?

Because NO PRODUCT CAN REPAIR IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE! Sorry for the caps, but I needed to make sure that you understood what I’m saying.

Hair, as it grows out of the scalp, is “dead”. There are no living cells that can be regenerated. So once it is damaged….IT IS DAMAGED. Now, there are products that MASK the damage, making the hair more manageable temporarily. There are also proteins that can fill in the shaft to give the appearance of thicker, healthier strands. Anyway, many of these products generally contain silicones. Let’s define what silicones are. According to Tonya Becker, resident CurlyChemist at NaturallyCurly(2008):

A silicone is a polymer or oligomer with an inorganic (non carbon-based) backbone, typically with organic pendant groups. The structures of silicone polymers or cyclic oligomers (such as cyclopentasiloxane, cyclomethicone) always include silicone atoms and oxygen atoms as part of the backbone of the molecule. These molecules are used in a wide variety of products, typically for their superior conditioning effects and their ability to impart gloss and shine.

Silicones increase the slip and spreadability of products. The flexibility of the molecules provides breathability on the hair strands. They also provide/impart an emollient and silky feel onto the hair, which is one of the main reasons why it is used as conditioning agents in products, including rinse out conditioners, leave ins, as well as moisturizing styling products.

In order to understand whether the product you’re using has the propensity to build up (or mask damage), you’d need to understand the main categories of silicones (Becker, 2004; Becker, 2006):
  • Cyclomethicones: These are low molecular weight silicones that are ring-shaped. They have been found to provide very light conditioning effects as well as to speed drying time after a wash. These molecules are volatile and will thus evaporate from the surface of the hair, leaving behind no residue. This volatility can potentially make delicate, curly hair feel drier.
Recommended cleansing agents: cocamidopropyl betaine, cocobetaine, other mild surfactants, or conditioner washing.

  • Dimethicones: These have been the most commonly used silicones in conditioning products until recent years. They spread easily onto the hair, provide gloss and substantivity (lasting conditioning effects), and provide a soft, silky feel to the hair. They also reduce static and fly-away hair. All of these effects are influenced by the molecular weight of the molecule, which is not usually disclosed on the product package. Due to their extremely hydrophobic nature (lack of water solubility), these products may build up on the hair over time if a traditional surfactant-containing shampoo is not used.
Recommended cleansing agents: SLS, SLES, cocamidopropyl betaine, cocobetaine, ALS, or ALES

  • Dimethiconols: These silicones are either dimethicones or cyclomethicones combined with very high molecular weight dimethicones that possess a hydroxy-functionality (an alcohol group) at the end of the molecule. These molecules provide significant conditioning effects to the hair and also build the viscosity (thickness) of the product. These are not water soluble.

Recommended cleansing agents: SLS, SLES, cocamidopropyl betaine, cocobetaine, ALS, or ALES.

  • Phenyl Trimethicones: These are also not water soluble and are used for medium conditioning effects as well as a very high gloss and shine.

Recommended cleansing agents: SLS, SLES, cocamidopropyl betaine, cocobetaine, ALS, or ALES.

  • Dimethicone Copolyols or PEG-modified dimethicones: These are the only silicones that are water-dispersible or water soluble. They are made by chemically adding groups to the silicone molecule that are water soluble. This unique structure enables these silicones to not only provide excellent conditioning benefits, but also to act as nonionic surfactants. They can provide foam boosting and facilitate good wetting of the hair in a shampoo. They provide lubrication, reduce tackiness (sticky-feel), can go into clear formulations due to their water solubility, and do not show as much tendency to stick to the hair. Since they don’t have as much substantivity (the ability to stick to a surface), they are primarily used only for light conditioning.

Recommended cleansing agents: cocamidopropyl betaine, cocobetaine, other mild surfactants, or conditioner washing.

  • Amodimethicones: These silicone molecules are modified by adding amine-functional groups to the structure. This makes them more polar and highly attracted to the negatively charged surface of the hair. Thus amodimethicones are noted for their high rate of deposition onto the surface of the hair, their extreme substantivity, and for great reductions in combing friction in both wet and dry hair. These silicones are considered to be the most useful for extremely dry or damaged hair due to their strong conditioning effects. These silicones are also not water soluble, so due to their high level of substantivity there may be some build-up if hair is not regularly shampooed. However, a preliminary study of this by Dow Corning showed only slight build-up after 3 uses.

Recommended cleansing agents: SLS, SLES, cocamidopropyl betaine, cocobetaine, ALS, or ALES.

So what does all of this information mean? It means that while silicones aren’t inherently bad, if you’re participating in a routine that doesn’t involve some type of light cleansing, which is dependent upon the type of silicone used(in products) and the frequency at which you’re using them, they CAN coat the strands and they CAN mask damage, NOT repair damage.

If your hair responds well to silicones, that’s fine. Some silicones here and there never really hurt anybody. BUT, if you’re using them only to camouflage damage rather than addressing the damage, all you’re going to have is temporarily nice looking DAMAGED hair. They don’t treat damage, but they can help in preventing, or rather, minimizing instances of damage by serving as a protective buffer, if you will, when wet-combing or when using heat. It’s not 100% fail-proof, as NOTHING really is, but being knowledgeable is helpful. And remember, just because a product claims to do things doesn’t mean that it will. The FDA only regulates ingredients, not product claims. That’s why knowing the purpose of each ingredient and knowing how YOUR hair responds to it will help you determine whether it’ll assist in you meeting your own personal hair goals.


Becker, T.M. (2004, September 15th). The real scoop on silicones. Posted on http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/ingredients/the-real-scoop-on-silicones.

Becker, T.M. (2006, November 1st). What's the scoop on silicones? Posted on http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curly-q-a/whats-the-scoop-on-silicones

Becker, T.M. (2008, March 1st). Silicone or not. What's in a name. Posted at http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curly-q-a/curlchemist-silicone-or-not-whats-in-a-name.


Christine said...

Very good post! A lot of things I didnt know.

How long have you been natural? Just started reading your blog.. I enjoy it! Im on the road of being natural also : )



KP said...

Thank you! I'm glad you've enjoyed the blog and congrats on transitioning!

I've been natural(if we're talking in totality) almost 22 years of my life. It's been almost 7 years since I did my "big chop", as I relaxed for 7 years until I turned 21 and transitioned for a couple of years.