Silicones And Sulfates In Haircare Serve A Purpose, Trust Us

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Over the years in the hair care industry, two products have become the ultimate villains: sulfates and silicones. But in the same way that no two heads of hair look the same, no two heads of hair are going to have the same reaction to these ingredients. In fact, certain hair types can benefit greatly from their strategic use. The key is to understand your hair's needs and what sulfates and silicones actually do.

Sulfates are a cleaning agent that can attach to oils, dirt, and other product buildup to help remove them from your hair. Sulfates have gotten a bad rep because overuse — or using them on the wrong hair type — can lead to dried, brittle hair. Silicones, on the other hand, help create shiny, smooth, manageable hair. Silicones have earned their notoriety because certain types can deposit a buildup of product on your strands, requiring you to double or triple-wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo, which might dry your hair out if you're not careful.

Knowing when and how to use silicones and sulfates is the key to unlocking those positive powers while avoiding the drawbacks. Adding or removing one or both isn't a magic solution to giving you luscious locks — a consistent hair care routine is needed for that — but incorporating them strategically can start you on the right path to ultimate hair health.

Who should use sulfates in hair care?

If your biggest hair problems are an oily scalp and strands, sulfates may be an important part of combatting this issue. "Sulfates act as cleansing agents and can help optimize the scalp environment," master hairstylist at Golden Fleece Salon, Seamus McKernan, told The Zoe Report. Since sulfates work by removing all dirt and grease from hair, however, they can also strip the hair of necessary oils and moisture. To optimize sulfate use in hair care, it is recommended to pair this ingredient with a deep moisturizing conditioner or hair mask.

Sulfates are negatively charged, and because of this, Function of Beauty explains, they lift up your cuticles (the outer coating that shields your hair), leading to higher-porosity strands. High porosity is dangerous for those with curly hair, fine hair, or colored hair as this condition doesn't allow for great moisture retention. At one point, sulfates were considered not just potentially dangerous for your hair but your body as well. Sulfates came under fire for potentially being a carcinogen ingredient, but research in Environmental Health Insights has put that concern to rest.

If your hair is strong enough to hold up to the intense cleaning that comes with sulfates, it can be a great way to remove buildup from your locks. But if you have hair that is prone to dryness, tangling, or frizz, you may be better off using a sulfate-free shampoo.

Who should use silicones in hair care?

If your biggest hair problems are frizz or coarseness, silicones can help to coat your hair and create smoother, more manageable lengths. According to John Frieda, silicones work by hydrating hair from the inside out, waterproofing fibers to help you avoid those dreaded moisture and humidity-driven kinks. Another benefit of silicones in hair products is that they are excellent heat protectants.

Silicones can cause buildup on the strands, though, if not properly rinsed out. "This buildup can be very drying, because silicone seals. It doesn't allow water or humidity to enter the hair," hair specialist Ghanima Abdullah told Vegamour. Making sure to thoroughly rinse out the product ensures your hair can still receive the nutrients it needs, and prevents clogged hair follicles.

Silicones are best suited to those with frizzy, coarse hair, and may also help to temporarily combat curly hair problems. While those with thinner or fine hair can still benefit from silicone use, they will just need to exercise caution to avoid product buildup. Looking for water-soluble silicones, like cyclomethicone, can help to ensure you're rinsing that product out thoroughly each time. And if you notice your hair starting to dry out or become dull, try a clarifying shampoo to aid in removing some of that buildup and keep your hair shiny and happy.