- Ben Fuchs
One of the most common and poorly misunderstood ingredients in the world of skin care is silicone. It’s nearly impossible to find a moisturizer, anti-aging formulation, makeup, foundation or even hair care product that doesn’t contain it. Since its invention in the 1950’s, it’s been prized by cosmetic formulators and consumers for its soft velvety texture, smooth tactile quality, ability to protect the hair cuticle, waterproofing properties and ability to improve the application of products, allowing them to be applied with a frictionless feel with no greasy or oily sensation.
Silicones are highly processed chemicals derived from silica, a blend of silicon (the 14th element on the periodic table and NOT the same thing as silicone!) and oxygen, the 2 most abundant elements on earth, which together form nearly 60 percent the planet’s crust. Silica, also known as silicon dioxide, is a common constituent of sand quartz crystals and is widely used in the production of glass.
There is no one ingredient called “silicone”. Rather silicones are a family of molecules that come in numerous forms, all of which are inert chemicals, structured like a chain made up of repeating units of links called “siloxanes”, substances that are similar to water, except for the substitution of an atom of hydrogen with an atom of silicon. The net result is a siloxane molecule (technically Si2O instead of H20), that has the liquidy qualities of water with a different characteristic feel. This feature of being water-like, with a distinct and highly unique texture, is what gives silicone its multifunctional characteristics and is the main reason for its ubiquity in the world of cosmetic formulations.