Dimethicone and dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer are both types of silicones. There are lots of different types of “dimethicone-like” silicones; they differ from a structural chemical perspective, but their use and purpose are the same.
Their main purpose is to act as a delivery agent for the active ingredients in the product - think of them as the FedEx of skincare. They have a silky smooth, non-greasy texture which helps the product glide across our skin and can improve the appearance of our skin’s texture.
Let’s take a moment to address the silicone debate. Silicones sometimes get a bad rep which we (and many scientists, dermatologists, and leading beauty journalists) don’t think is deserved. So, here’s some silicone facts and we’ll let you make up your mind.
What’s it made from?
Silicones are made from the naturally occurring mineral, silicon (note no “e”), and oxygen. Silicon (otherwise known as quartz) is one of the most commonly occurring minerals on earth - sand is even made from the stuff. There are lots of changes to silicon to turn it into the silicone we can use in skincare and this is why it’s considered a synthetic ingredient.
Why use it in skincare?
Silicones have a lattice-like molecular structure, with large spaces sitting between the ingredient’s molecules. It’s kind of like the Burberry check, with the dark colours representing the silicone molecules and the light colours as the little spaces between them. When you use a product containing silicone, you get a fine film-like layer sitting on your skin which is punctured by millions and millions of these little holes. This structure is important because the little spaces let your skin breathe while the film-like layer both keeps moisture in the skin (most silicones don’t let water pass through) and acts as a carrier for active ingredients (so aiding the product’s performance). Once on your skin, the film enhances our skin’s texture, blurring any imperfections to improve your complexion.
Will they cause me to breakout?
No - don’t worry, they won’t.
Quite simply, silicones do not clog pores and do not lead to breakouts. There are a couple of reasons we know this. First, as we’ve just talked about, the structure of silicones means that there are these giant spaces between each molecule and this lets the skin breathe (even when we are wearing our skincare products). Secondly, the size of silicone molecules are too big to penetrate into the skin. This means that they can’t get into the pore to block it in the first place!
Are they ok for people with sensitive skin?
Yes. Silicones are great for people with sensitive skin as they are extremely unlikely to cause any irritation or allergic reactions. Silicones have been around for a long time - around 70 years in consumer products - and so there has been a lot of time to test their safety. Note that hospitals use silicone-based dressings to take care of wounds due to their biocompatibility with most people (very few individuals have allergic reactions or sensitivity to silicone).
What about other health risks?
As silicone molecules are too big to penetrate our skin, it means they can’t enter our bloodstream or bioaccumulate. In other words, they can’t build up inside us to cause harm.
It’s worth mentioning here that there are two key types of silicones that are used in skincare - cyclic silicones (which we don’t use in Bolt Beauty products) and linear silicones (which we do use). There have been some studies that link cyclic silicones (cyclotetrasiloxane and cylcopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane and cyclomethicone) to potential health issues (reproductive, developmental toxicity and/or endocrine disruption concerns); however, the latest studies are calling these earlier concerns into question. Let’s assume the jury is still out on these cyclic silicones. But what about their linear cousins - like dimethicone and its derivatives? We are not aware of any studies linking these types of silicones to similar health concerns (and we’ve really looked!). Instead, as we’ve previously described, there are good reasons to use these linear silicones in cosmetics products without any risk to your health.
Do they harm the environment?
There is lots of information out there claiming that silicones will harm the environment. Similar to when we looked at the health implications of silicones, it’s important to remember that there are different types of silicones that have different chemical structures and therefore different potential impacts on the planet. Cyclic silicones have been identified by the EU, Canada and Australia as having potentially harmful impacts on the planet due to they way they can bioaccumulate (build up) in water. However, even these studies go on to recognise that consumer use is unlikely to cause bioaccumulation. Again, let’s assume there isn’t a definitive answer on cyclic silicones yet. We are not aware of any scientific evidence that linear silicones (like dimethicone) are causing harm to the environment. Certain governments have designated cyclic silicones as an environmental problem, but none has done the same for linear silicones. In addition, other studies indicate that dimethicone is “degraded to inorganic constituents, carbon dioxide, silicic acid and water” and “no adverse effects have been detected in experimental organisms representative of the environmental compartments in which dimethicone… may be found”.
So, why do silicones have a bad rep?
It’s a good question and we’re not really sure of the answer. We can speculate that some of the potential issues related to cyclic silicones have tarnished the reputation of non-harmful, friendly, linear silicones. The fundamental chemical differences between the ingredients can get lost when they all share the generic “silicone” surname. Ever get in trouble at school even though you didn’t do anything but you were hanging around with the kid with the bad rep? It’s just like that.
We’ve also noticed that it’s pretty trendy these days to have a “formulated without” list. We have “suspicious sixes”, “naughty nines” and who knows what will be next. These can be super helpful to identify ingredients that are known to be problematic. But, they can also be confusing, meaningless, and a great marketing tactic. Silicones have started making their way on to these which perpetuates the confusion over whether or not they are problematic ingredients. Let’s start talking about what we formulate with instead :)
Well done for making it through all that detail. As you’ll now be aware, there is a lot of information about silicones and some of it is more accurate than others. We hope a key takeaway for you is that there are different types of silicones and not all silicones are created equal - especially when it comes to the impact on human health or our planet. We are committed to creating safe, effective products and have no reason to consider dimethicone or its derivatives to be potentially hazardous. We’ll continue to monitor the latest scientific studies and will update this when new information on the silicones debate is published.