Silicone's And Sulfates - To Be Or Not To Be?

When I started my healthy hair journey, I spent fascinated hour upon hour, reading through as many hair forums and blogs that I could find (I still do) learning about products, ingredients and other people’s experiences before quickly running to the store to buy some product which was ‘good’ or running to my bathroom to bin some product which was ‘bad’ – safe to say I was a bandwagon jumper and had to learn the hard way when I started losing hair.

*Hair tip - Try not to jump on every hair bandwagon that comes up; apart from getting dizzy with confusion, your hair might just give you an 'askor' and refuse to respond to products or worse still, start breaking off*

Case in point:
‘Sulfate free shampoos are a gentler way to cleanse your hair as they don’t strip your strands and dry out your hair the way shampoos with sulfates will’. 

This was something I saw on every blog and immediately invested in some sulfate free shampoos. Now prior to this, I had fallen in love with the Neutrogena Triple Moisture Silk Touch Leave In Cream as it made my hair oh so soft and silky! I was co washing quite often (with the Aussie Moist Moisturizing conditioner which I adore) and also using the leave – in quite often while shampooing less often with a sulfate free shampoo.

After a while, I noticed that my once silky and soft strands were now feeling stringy, hard and coated. I wasn’t sure what it was and tried washing and deep conditioning but nothing seemed to be working. I wore a lot of wigs at this time and typically had my hair in several plaits.  One day I decided maybe what I needed was a better protective style so I waltz off to the salon to get Senegalese twists, with hair I hadn’t touched in  4 days (just spritzing with a water oil and conditioner mix)

As I loosened my plaits, I stared in horrified fascination at the tufts of hair in my hands (okay maybe not tufts but it was a heck of a lot of hair). I was so confused and hurt because I believed I’d been doing the right things. Now, you’d think I’d go back home and figure this out but I’d just spent 30 + minutes getting to Harlem and I was bent on getting my Senegalese twists in dammit! lol!

Anyway, fast forward 3 weeks later when I stumble upon a write up on silicones and how they’re mainly removed only by shampoos with sulfates in them. ‘Eureka!’ With a mix of fear and relief I grab my Neutrogena leave - in and my Aussie Moist conditioners, scan the ingredient list and boom! there it was: ‘Dimethicone’.

Aaaarggghh! The penny finally dropped – I’d been loading my hair with silicones and using a sulfate free shampoo. So my strands were completely coated and had been withstanding the penetration of any moisture leading to dry brittle strands which had begun to break off.

*Silicones impart shine, improve manageability and aid combing. They do this by coating the hair shaft with a thin layer of protection – allowing strands to move past one another freely without getting tangled. They typically end with the words ‘cone’ for example: Dimethicone, trimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Simethicone etc. The heavier the silicone, the more difficult it is to remove with water and when they are allowed to build up on hair strands, they prevent the penetration of moisture leading to dry, brittle strands that eventually begin breaking off. Most of them need to be removed by using a surfactant/shampoo with sulfates*

I took out my braids, bought the Optimum therapy ultimate recovery shampoo, did a clarifying wash and immediately could feel the difference in my hair. It was softer, had movement and the deep conditioning treatment I followed up with actually did what it was supposed to. Sanity at last! It was only at this time that the sulfate free shampoo made any sense in my hair regime.

Now I know there are a lot of people that avoid silicones like the plague particularly as you can get caught in a cycle of coating your hair with silicones and then stripping the strands with sulfates to remove those silicones. There are however a number of others who have found products that work for their hair (which contain silicones), understand the balance between 'cones and sulfates and as far as they're concerned, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' (popular Blogger and author Nikki at the CurlyNikki forum is one of such)

Then there are those like me at the beginning of my journey who have sworn off sulfates but are still using deep conditioners and daily moisturizers that are filled with heavy silicones and are battling dry, brittle strands. If you happen to be in the last group, I hope this has helped clear up that issue and will spur you to begin reading the ingredient lists on your products.  

At the end of the day, I really think it's a personal choice as long as you know what the potential downsides are depending on how often you load your hair with stuff. As a quick guide, I'll list the different kind of silicones:


A. Removed Easily With Water
1. PEG/PPG Silicones
2. Lauryl Methicone copolyol
3. Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane

B. Slightly More Difficult To Remove With Water:
1. Cyclomethicone
2. Cyclopentasiloxane
3. Trimethylsilylamodimethicone (That's a mouthful!)
4. Trimethylsiloxysilicates.
5. PEG Modified Dimethicone
6. Dimethicone copolyol

C. Stubborn - Requires Detergent/Surfactant To Remove
1. Dimethicone.
2. Dimethiconol.
3. Behenoxy Dimethicone
4. Phenyl Trimethicone.
5. Simethicone.
6. Trimethicone.
7. Polydimethysiloxane

Phew! My fingers and tongue have gotten all twisted in the process of typing out  these weird looking words! I also seem to have worked up an appetite so I am off to look for some hot amala with gbegiri, ewedu and goat meat! 

*Culled from the book ' The Science of Black Hair' by Audrey Davis - Sivasothy.

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