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Is this the worst skin care ingredient?

30 June 2016

When you think of silicone, lubricants, sealants and breast implants probably spring to mind. It may come as a surprise to you, then, that silicone is the most common ingredient used in facial creams, moisturisers and serums. Considering it’s a synthetic substance that holds no nutritive properties, why is it the case that so many skin care brands include silicone in their product formulas? And we’re not talking about just any products here, but the crème de la crème, so to speak ­– premium priced skin care that claims to give beautiful skin. Can it achieve this though, when one of its main ingredients is a 'nothing' for skin?

The silicone scam

The same non-stick, slippery quality that makes silicone great for use in household products also makes it the perfect ingredient in many creams – it’s responsible for the smooth, glossy texture that many associate with being a ‘good’ product. Basically, it’s a cheap and easy way to make creams feel like creams, which are then described in marketing terms as being ‘lightweight’ and ‘silky’ (almost always code for silicone).

But while this may have a feel-good factor on the skin, it does nothing at a cellular level. In fact, not only does it provide no nutritive benefit, but it can actually make your skin worse over time. Silicone is unable to be absorbed due to its large molecular structure. Creams containing it coat the skin and contribute to a keratin ‘glaze’ on the surface, sealing in congestion and starving the skin of moisture, causing it to gradually become – and look – dull and dried out. As one website states, “Dimethicone (silicone) is designed to stay on the top of the skin and create a barrier your finger tips can feel, making it seem that the texture of your skin is soft and smooth. In reality, it is only the large molecules of the not absorbed dimethicone that your fingers feel and not your skin at all”.

Those that tout the benefits of silicone claim that this coating not only protects skin from pollution but prevents moisture from escaping, thus keeping the skin hydrated. Actually, this artificial layer traps everything underneath it, including bacteria and sebum, which can lead to breakouts and blackheads. Repeated use of silicone creams can even accelerate the ageing process. Just the fact that these creams are doing nothing to nourish your skin means ageing is free to take its toll.

Demystifying the ingredient list

To identify silicone in a product, look for its most common aliases dimethicone, methicone and cyclopentasiloxane in the ingredient list. As a general rule, anything ending in ‘-cone’, ‘-conol’ or ‘-siloxane’ is a silicone. To illustrate, in the table below we’ve listed five examples of popular expensive day creams, including just the first 10 ingredients of each and highlighting the silicones in bold. To put this in perspective, we’ve included a much cheaper day cream equivalent.

A couple of things to note:

  • The most expensive cream, a USA product is by far most prolific user – three of the first 10 ingredients are silicones. It likely has the slipperiest ‘feel’, which many people have been trained into thinking is equated with quality. 
  • The much cheaper cream, also a USA product, consists largely of the same ingredients as its expensive counterparts. (Which just goes to show that if you're going to spend money on silicone-based skin care you may as well spend much less.)
Product

Price for 50mL in AU$

First 10 ingredients (silicones in bold)
(Ingredients in cosmetics and skin care are listed in descending order of volume.)

USA: Micro-Sculpting Cream

$33.99

Water, Glycerin, Isohexadecane, Niacinamide, Isopropyl Isostearate, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Nylon-12, Dimethicone, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol

USA: Revitalizing Supreme Light Global Anti-Aging Creme Oil-Free

$120

Water, Dimethicone, Isohexadecane, Glycerin, BIS-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Phyllostachys Nigra (Bamboo) Leaf Extract

FRANCE: Le Lift Firming Anti-Wrinkle Creme Riche

$179

Water, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Isotearyl Neopentanoate, Octyldodecyl Myristate, Dimethicone, Butylne Glycol, Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Isododecane

JAPAN: Facial Treatment Concentrate

$251

Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Glycerin, Niacinamide, Triethylhexanoin, Isopropyl Isostearate, Pentylene Glycol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Butylene Glycol, Cetyl Alcohol

FRANCE: Totale Haute Nutrition Rich Crème

$255

Water, Glycerin, Cyclopentasiloxane, Hydrogenated Palmitate Kernel Glycerides, Cetyl Alcohol, Butylene Glycol, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Decyloxazolidinone, Hydrogenated Cocoglycerides, Pentylene Glycol

USA: Skin Caviar Luxe Cream

$530

Water, Cyclomethicone, Octyldodecyl Octyldodecanoate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Trifluoromethyl C1-4 Alkyl Dimethicone, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, PEG-100 Stearate, Propylene Glycol

Not so natural

If you’re a buyer of natural skin care or organic skin care, you may think these products don't contain silicones - that's often not the case.

Consider the so called natural first 10 ingredients of these natural skin care Day Moisturisers:

A brand that describes itself as 'Natural Australian Beauty' brand is another prolific user of silicone. For example, the top ten ingredients of its Ageless Lifting Day Cream reads similarly to those displayed above:

Water (Aqua), Glycereth-26, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Squalane, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Steareth-21, Nylon 12. 

Or the US owned, originally British 'natural' company's Aloe Soothing Day Cream

Aloe Barbadensis Gel, Isononyl Isononanoate, Glycerin, Water, Cyclomethicone, Pentylene Glycol, Butylene Glycol, Cetearyl Glucoside, Myristyl Myristate, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil.

Or the now US owned, once French brand's Super Restorative Day Cream SPF 20. This brand's marketing features plants - or should that be silicone?

Aqua/Water/Eau, Glycerin, Butyloctyl Salicate, C12-15 Alkyl Banzoate, Alcohol, Dimethicone, Cetearyl Alcohol, Olus Oil/ Vegetable/Huile Vegetable, Pentylene Glycol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Potassium Cetyl 

Buyer beware

Whether it’s labelled as dimethicone, methicone, cyclopentasiloxane or one of the many variations, this ingredients sole purpose is to enhance the look and feel of a skin care product without improving skin quality. You won’t notice damage in the short term but the negative effect of depriving your skin of nutrient shows up as you age. Maybe that would be acceptable if you were buying a cheap moisturiser from the supermarket, but if you’re paying the big bucks for top of the range skin care, you’re expecting results.

When it comes to shopping for skin care, it’s best to take the price point and the brand out of the decision making process and head straight to the ingredient list. Much like food labels, you should be able to recognise – or at least pronounce – most of the ingredients on a skin care label. None of the creams we looked at in this blog are good examples of this – they are largely made up of synthetic, non nutritive ingredients. Skin needs nutrients such as fatty acids and antioxidants from high quality and concentrated plant extracts. Your money is much better off spent on nourishing ingredients that help keep skin hydrated naturally and work synergistically with your body.

For an example of what a nutritive ingredient list for a natural skin care day cream should look like, have a look at our Damask Rose Day Cream.

Comments (1)

Dianne deem on November 08, 2016

Thanks for demystifying the ingredients, I am going to the bathroom to check my products now

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