Silicone in Cosmetics – Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Is the Desire for Smooth, Flawless Skin a Toxic Wish?


Silicone, one of the primary ingredients in many cosmetics, has recently become a topic of contention in the beauty world.

Though it’s been used for decades in products such as primers, foundations, concealers, hair products and waterproof cosmetics, its safety is beginning to be questioned. The field is pretty equally divided, but nobody’s budging.

Before we decide for ourselves whether or not silicone is safe to use, let’s talk about what it is and why people on both sides of the debate believe the way that they do.

What is Silicone?

Silicone is a synthetic product created from chains of oxygen and silicon, two naturally-occurring components of the Earth’s crust. It’s typically rubbery, heat-resistant and water proof, which is what makes it excellent for use in many cosmetic products.

Remember though that “natural” doesn’t necessarily equate to safe. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element but you probably don’t want to eat it or rub it on your skin.

Silicone is a primary component of many breast implants and the FDA has approved it as safe for use even though the chance of rupture is significant. I researched several follow-up studies and there doesn’t appear to be any increased risk of tissue disease in cases of exposure, so that’s a good thing.

In cosmetics, though, silicone is used to make the product glide smoothly on. Because of its consistency and the fact that it’s not generally water soluble, it’s also used to:

  • fill wrinkles, scars and fine lines to create a smooth base for foundations
  • Make cosmetics waterproof or long-wearing
  • Create a barrier that holds moisture into your skin
  • Make your hair shiny and soft

Interestingly enough, silicones are also used in mattifying or oil-absorbing products. In essence, when a catalyst such as sebum or oil comes into contact with a cross-linked chemical, in this case silicone, an elastomer results. In short, an elastomer can be extremely absorbent if it’s loosely structured and that’s why some silicones are good for use in these products.

Common silicones include dimethicone and methicone. Basically, if it ends in “cone”, it’s probably a silicone.

OK, so now we know what silicones are used for, but are they safe and effective?

The Argument FOR Silicone

To address the toxicity issue first, silicone molecules are too big to either penetrate your skin or enter your pores, so there’s no way that it can enter your blood stream. Since it can’t get into your pores, it’s often an ingredient that dermatologists recommend for people with rosacea, acne prone or otherwise-sensitive skin. Silicone-based products are also often recommended post-cosmetic surgery.

Because silicone is waterproof, it creates a barrier that holds in moisture once it sets and it also settles into fine lines, wrinkles and scars to create a nice, smooth finish.

The Argument AGAINST Silicone

One of the biggest arguments against silicone is the other side of the “it holds in moisture” coin. It makes sense that if nothing can get in, then oils and dirt are trapped and can’t get out. The argument is that this can clog pores and cause breakouts and irritation.

Another point made by the naysayers is that long-term use of silicones can cause an allergic reaction, which is obviously a bad thing, especially if you have sensitive skin. I can see the argument about locked-in dirt causing acne but the sensitive skin issue seems to be a bit of a reach since just about anything can, in theory, cause an allergic reaction.

Final Words

Silicone probably isn’t something that you should eat but it’s generally accepted as safe by such authorities as the FDA and the American Academy of Dermatology. It really is the most effective ingredient for filling in wrinkles, scars and fine lines and it adds a nice, matte finish that, as long as it’s a quality product, will keep your face soft and shine-free for hours.

Regarding the possibility of allergic reaction or skin irritation, about the only way that you can find out for sure is to try a product with silicone in it. It’s not generally an irritant; as we’ve discussed, it’s actually RECOMMENDED by authority institutions for use on sensitive skin. There is always the option that long-term use of silicones can cause unknown health issues, but so far there’s no sign of this.

The bottom line? There are about a million cosmetic ingredients, both synthetic and natural, that you need to worry about but it doesn’t appear that silicone is one of them.

If you’d like to chime in on this debate, please feel free to do so in the comments section below!

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