Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/27/2023
If you’ve been Googling the ingredients in your haircare products or cosmetics recently, you may be wondering what dangers dimethicone presents and whether you should be worried about using dimethicone for hair.
Hair health is a complicated field. For one, you have to wrap your head around the idea of protecting the “health” of something that’s already “dead.” And when the ingredients in your products sound like they might have been sourced from a nuclear plant, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed and anxious.
Answers will help fix that, and we have them for you.
But dimethicone and your hair have a complicated relationship, to say the least. Short-term benefits could lead to risks in the long run.
Before we get into those gritty details, though, let’s start with the basics: what exactly is dimethicone?
Dimethicone is a silicon-based polymer with many ideal properties for beauty products and other skin-contact uses. It’s considered a safe ingredient, is hypoallergenic and doesn’t cause acne. As a result of these benefits, it’s actually the second most used polymer in cosmetics after petroleum-based polymers.
This type of silicone effectively entered the cosmetics market in the 1950s. Since then, it’s shown benefits as a barrier to prevent irritants and allergens from getting to the skin.
Oh, and there’s one more benefit it brings to the table: dimethicone is effective in protecting against water loss. Petroleum products do it better than silicone-based hair products (several times better, in fact), but when you combine water-loss prevention with the other skin health benefits of dimethicone, you can quickly see why it might be an ideal tool in making skincare products for people with more sensitive skin.
Dimethicone is commonly used in 2-in-1 shampoos. This silicone-based product absorbs into the hair cuticle, where it provides a few benefits to your hair.
The first benefit is increased shine. Silicone polymers like dimethicone are known for their light-reflecting properties, so when they attach to your hair follicles, they can make your hair look more shiny, vibrant and lustrous.
The second benefit of dimethicone to your hair is protection. Silicones in hair products help reduce friction and abrasion of the hair shaft.
If you imagine the stress placed on your hair follicles when you brush or run your fingers through to detangle your locks, you can quickly understand why reduced friction is so important for healthier hair.
The final benefit of dimethicone for hair is a little more complicated to explain because it has to do with miniaturization, aging and the effects of time on your hair. When combined with other ingredients, dimethicone can help increase the diameter of hair shafts.
This is particularly beneficial to people with shrinking hair diameters due to hair loss (a common trait of androgenic alopecia). This, coupled with the added pliability and flexibility of hair follicles coated in dimethicone, acts sort of like a protective iPhone case for your hair: it may be bulkier, but bulky is a good thing when you’re concerned about incidental breakage.
Can dimethicone be bad for your hair? Dimethicone may sound like a great thing for hair health, and there are certain circumstances where this is absolutely true. But for some folks — especially those with wavy or curly hair — there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”
The downsides of dimethicone are limited, but they’re also significant in context. Let us explain.
While the ability to create a “barrier” on a hair follicle as a protective layer sounds good, this physical barrier can also keep important things out, like moisture. In other words, high concentrations of dimethicone can cause moisture loss, leaving your hair to dry out and become brittle over time.
That brittle, dry interior isn’t the only issue. Hair with too much silicone buildup can look flat, lifeless or dull — all of the worst-case scenarios from the first 10 seconds of a shampoo commercial.
The good news is that this can be fairly easily reversed. Washing your hair with stripping ingredients to remove silicone buildup from time to time, giving your hair a gentle, nourishing cleanse, then finishing with a moisturizing conditioner can help. Consider giving your mane a break and using silicone-free hair products too.
The best method for getting rid of buildup is to use a silicone-free shampoo with a surfactant — a powerful cleaning compound — that can strip away dimethicone buildup. It may take a few washes to get the desired results, depending on how much buildup you have.
Beyond stripping and moderating your dimethicone buildup, other tools and techniques can provide your hair with longevity and vitality. One of the most straightforward ways to help your hair is simply to consider vitamins as part of your routine.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can fix problems like breakage, dullness and thinning hair if you’re deficient. A profusion of multivitamins and vitamin-containing shampoos are available to help you get those necessary elements into play. We even make some ourselves—check out our biotin gummy vitamins if you’re looking for options.
But your nutritional choices and lifestyle can just as easily promote better hair health. When you take care of your body, good hair health will often follow.
Of course, there are other causes of hair loss besides unstripped silicone and vitamin deficiencies. Women can experience female pattern hair loss just like men, in addition to other forms of alopecia.
One of the best treatments for women experiencing hair loss is minoxidil, also known as Rogaine in the brand-name world.
Minoxidil is a vasodilator, and it achieves better hair growth by increasing the blood flow to your hair follicles, which therefore get better access to oxygen, nutrients and other essentials for healthy growth. Studies have shown as much as a 17 percent increase in hair count in those who used minoxidil for 48 weeks, though your results may vary.
The point is, there are options. But finding the right one for your needs shouldn’t be a guessing game. That’s why the next stage of your haircare journey should begin with a conversation with a healthcare professional.
If you have an allergic reaction or start noticing sudden signs that dimethicone is creating problems for your hair health, it’s best to discontinue use until you talk to a healthcare professional.
But talking to a healthcare professional (believe it or not) is the most crucial of those two actions, especially if the cause of your sudden hair loss or side effects isn’t actually a product with dimethicone.
You may be certain you’ve found the culprit, but like a kid detective, sometimes it’s important to know when to involve the professional. After all, there are many reasons why you might be losing hair, and diagnosing the correct cause is something a healthcare professional has to do — sorry, we don’t make the rules.
Where we can help is with resources. Our hair health blog covers the many causes and solutions for hair loss, whether it’s due to an immune reaction or female pattern hair loss. And our hair health resources are a great place to get questions answered and recommendations if you’re trying to take action.
Whether we’re helping you or not, we hope you’ll get help today. Silicone aside, seeking support sooner than later is the best way to improve your hair’s longevity.