The Low Down on Silicones
There is a lot of confusion about silicones. The "cone" vs. "no cone" debate is real in the curly hair community. Some women rave about cones and won't use any products without them....others stay away cones as if they are the new plague. In reality...most of us will live somewhere in the middle and learn to develop a healthy relationship with silicones.
So what are silicones and how do they work?A silicone is a nonmetallic element occurring extensively in the earth’s crust in silica and silicates, having both an amorphous and a crystalline allotrope, and used doped or in combination with other materials in glass, semiconducting devices, concrete, brick, refractories, pottery, and silicones. In general, silicones work by covering hair with a thin hydrophobic (water-proof) coating. This coating serves several purposes: it helps reduce the porosity of the hair which makes it less likely to absorb humidity; it helps reduce moisture loss from the inside of the hair; and it lubricates the surface of the hair so it feel smoother and combs easier.
What's the good and the bad?Because silicones coat the hair shaft, they make detangling the hair **extremely** easy. Any SoVAiN girl that has suffered through a detangling session that left half her hair on the ground and her scalp raw knows that this is invaluable. Silicones are great for instant conditioners because they provide instant softness and reduce friction between hair fibers...BUT...it provides zero health benefits for hair. Think about it this way....silicones are like using stage makeup on your acne prone face to cover blemishes. After applying the thick makeup, your face LOOKS clear, healthy, glowing...you get the point. But the stage makeup only covers up an underlying problem that will not be resolved by (and will likely be exasperated by) the makeup. Silicones act in the same fashion. They cover the hair cuticle and make the hair appear shinier, softer, and healthier. But remove the silcone barrier, you still have dry, damaged hair that may be drier and more damaged by use of silicones. Silicones are not water soluable and can only be removed with sulfates. In order to remove silicones from your hair, you need to use harsh detergents which we have already established can damage your cuticles. Women that follow the strict Curly Girl method of sulfate free shampoo will find this problematic. The CG method calls for sulfate free shampoo or co-washing. Co-washing and using conditioners with silicones do not mix and will lead to product build up on the hair due to the water insolubility of the silicone. This product build up creates a shield (a force field if you will) around the hair cuticle making it impossible for water to penetrate and hydrate the hair; thus, creating a drying effect on the hair that can eventually lead to breakage. It can also weight down our curls. (See Curly Girl, by Lorraine Massey).
We land somewhere in the middle:Silicones are fine for the hair so long as they are shampooed away within 24-48 hours of use to prevent build up. Personally, I prefer to stay away from silicones as I prefer to co-wash my hair and tend to only wash my hair with sulfate free shampoos once every month or two. I'll use the occasional silicone styling product if I know I can wash it out within 48 hours. Over the past year, I've found staying away from silicones, mineral oils, etc. and hydrating my hair regularly has contributed to significant length and hair that is easier to detangle and style. While I may use certain styling products with silicones occasionally...I will never use conditioners with silicones. Conditioners are the most important product in the arsenal of Black women's toolkit. I choose to not EVER use conditioners with silicones to prevent product buildup and ensure proper hydration of my hair.
Confused Yet?Don't be! Bottom line...silicones can be used in moderation and only when followed by a sulfate shampoo to remove buildup. Silicones are great for a quick, easy silky look to the hair. However, if you are a curly girl that suffers from dry hair I would recommend limiting your use of silicones and staying away from conditioners that include silicones that are not water soluble.
And b/c I know you're wondering....yes...SoVAiN conditioners are silicone free. More bang for the buck!
Happy growing chicas!