Silicones are among the latest ingredients clients love to hate. From health concerns to worries about environmental safety, silicones have been hung with a black shroud since the early 1990s when breast implants were first connected to women’s health issues. Since that time, silicone technology has been expanded, making this family of chemicals among the most used in the modern world. Even so, this doesn’t mean silicones are safe. So here are some facts and a little basic chemistry to help clear up the mythology now being spun about silicones.
Myth No. 1: “Silicone” is the name of an ingredient.
Silicones are a family of chemicals known as a class. No ingredient on its own is named “silicone,” which means you should never see silicone in the ingredient list of a product. Chemical classes share common traits. In this case, silicones are a class of polymers—molecules made of one or more (poly) repeating units (mers), usually put together in a straight line like the vertebrae that form your spine. In the case of silicones, units are made of two basic elements linked together: silicon and oxygen. This is written chemically as SiO. When they’re linked together to form a silicone, the SiO polymer is the backbone onto which other molecules can be attached, allowing for a variety of applications, functions, textures and benefits.
Due to the enormous variety of compounds that can be developed from silicones, they are among the most used family of materials in the world. You’ll find them in pharmaceuticals; medical supplies and equipment; automotive; aviation; astronomy; foods; beverages; biotech; construction; appliances; plumbing; paints; textiles; and toys. From 2006–2008, more than 6,000 patents were granted in the United States for innovative, never-before-seen silicones for use in cosmetics.1 These new silicones make serums silkier; give lotions and skin a satin and flawless finish; make BB and CC creams possible; minimize pores and wrinkles; reduce or eliminate irritation from sunscreens; and act as launchpads from which key performance ingredients can penetrate the skin. All in all, silicones have added new dimensions to skin care that make products more effective and more fun to use.