My gateway to Dimethicone came in an exquisitely chic, white square box of skincare, purchased at the Nordstrom counter in the mid-90’s. Well beyond my budget, the cost seemed justified given the gel’s miraculous ability to blur flaws, bestow a renewed silkiness, and plump my skin all with zero greasy residue – it was an immediate obsession. After a years of layering luxurious, Dimethicone-laden skincare and cosmetics – cleansers, serums, eye creams, night creams, line fillers, primers, concealers, and foundations – my love began to sour with the incessant pilling due to the endless silicone film. Frustrated with the lack of innovative skincare without silicones, I began to formulate my own skincare. As I marveled at the striking improvements to my skin, my resentment towards Dimethicone blossomed into a genuine loathing.
Dimethicone, also known as Polydimethylsiloxane, is a hybrid inorganic-organic homopolymer. While derived from the naturally occurring element silicon, it is synthetic and more closely related to silicone. Put more simply, it is a silicone oil.
Aside from skincare, common applications range from contact lenses, medical devices, haircare products, delousing treatments, caulking, lubricants, heat-resistant tiles and food. Dimethicone is also present in many cooking oils, processed foods and in fast foods like chicken nuggets and French fries.
Highly prized commercially for its clarity, thermal stability, lightweight, lubricating, and film-forming properties, Dimethicone, or its many derivatives, are present in nearly all available skincare and cosmetics products. Understandably so, considering that Dimethicone is:
- Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a "skin protectant" ingredient and generally regarded as safe (GRAS).
- Spoil-resistant, inexpensive, plentiful, and a tireless, multi-tasking ingredient (emollient, anti-foaming agent, thickener, stabilizer, co-emulsifier, etc.)
- Rated as a low comedogenic – the ability to clog pores
- Highly spreadable, departing a silky texture to formulations
- An emollient, providing skin barrier that is both rinse and transfer resistant, thus preventing moisture loss (TEWL)
- Incapable of permeating the epidermis due to the larger, molecular composition.
Unrelated to any current scientific data, my reasons for avoiding silicones are evidentiary in nature – my skin looks and feels better. More “practicalista” than “naturulista”, my formulations employ both natural (lighter seed oils like daikon or broccoli) and synthetic (non-silicone based polymers like Hydroxyethyl Acrylate / Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer or Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer) alternatives to Dimethicone. How has my skin improved?
- Pores are significantly less discernible
- Fewer breakouts and dry patches, requiring less exfoliation
- Reduced sensitivity and redness
- Less dehydrated – formerly requiring multiples treatments and hourly moisturizing mists to now only applying twice daily, single moisturizing treatments
- Makeup is easier to apply and requires fewer touch-ups
Much like politics and religion, there are great many views on the use of silicone in skincare – some love it, some hate it and some are utterly disinterested. The absolute absence of Dimethicone or any distant cousins in all about-face essentials skincare is entirely by design.