Organic makeup by Manasi7
The Ugly Beauty of Silicone Cosmetics
Holistic makeup artist Sjaniël Turrell gives us an overview of silicone’s role in cosmetics and why it might not be such a favourable ingredient for your skin or the planet.
What exactly is silicone?
Silicone is a synthetic man-made polymer that even behaves in a similar way to plastic, despite having a different chemical structure. It is derived from silicon, a natural element found in silica (sand), but rarely exists in nature on it’s own and has to go through a complicated synthetic process to be extracted and produced. This chemical process involves hydrocarbons that are derived from fossil fuel sources like petroleum and natural gas. Silicone is therefore a completely man-made material which is inorganic and does not biodegrade easily.
Why is silicone used in our beauty products?
There are two main types of silicone used commercially in cosmetics; dimethicone and cyclomethicone. Dimethicone is used at lower doses because of it’s anti-foaming properties (it prevents white residues when you apply your products), it’s ability to repel water at higher doses (waterproofing) and it’s smooth, slippery texture. Its thickness varies depending on it’s chemical structure. Cyclomethicone, unlike dimethicone, can evaporate and so creates a smooth, silky feeling on the skin. Silicones also have a natural shine which creates a desirable effect for many types of cosmetics. You will find silicone in many beauty products like hair conditioner, moisturisers, lipstick, foundations and concealers – the slick film that it creates makes it a good ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for smooth makeup application. Most primers, concealers and satin-matte lipsticks today rely almost entirely on an ingredients list of different types of silicones.
What is the problem with silicone?
From a scientific point of view it seems not much – it is considered an inert (nonreactive and non-toxic) substance and is widely used in many medical advancements and inventions. But, and there is a but, besides the fact that it is completely synthetic, it is an occlusive substance. This means that it acts as a barrier over the skin and does not allow anything to pass through it. It does not allow the skin to breathe or excrete. This in itself may not be harmful or cause major health issues for everyone, but with the nature of beauty products today, silicone is plentiful and most women (and men) are using them on a daily basis.
Where makeup is concerned it would be good to think about how your foundation, concealer, eyeshadow, mascara and lipstick/lipgloss are applied to just about every square inch of your face. Add to that the amounts that are in found in your skincare routine and you end up with a pretty pile of ‘plastic’ on your face every day. Silicone also comes in different grades and qualities and the cosmetic industry specifically isn’t as well regulated as say the medical industry. Medical grade silicone will not be the same as the kind found in your lipstick – large corporations will use the cheapest possible form of an ingredient in order to make their products commercially profitable.
There have not been any long term safety studies done surrounding the effects of silicone found in cosmetics that we are undoubtedly ingesting from daily lipstick application and the deposits that are in constant contact with other mucous membranes such as our eyes, but even ‘medically acceptable’ grades of silicone used in breast implants and fillers are being found to have toxic effects to our body’s cells and organs. The topically applied particles themselves are not readily absorbed into the skin but depriving our skin of oxygen and the ability to excrete sweat and impurities (especially if you suffer from acne prone or combination skin) will certainly affect it’s longterm health.
As eco and sustainability warriors, I also wonder about all the silicone residue that millions of us are washing off (with more silicone by the way) daily in the bath or shower that is going down the drain and eventually into the ocean. Remember that one of silicone’s main components is to repel water and that means that it is just a non-biodegradable substance floating around in the water.
What about natural alternatives?
Truth be told, there is no true natural alternative to silicone for cosmetics. That is why I have so much respect and amazement for the brilliant trail blazing formulators who have brought natural and organic cosmetics such a long way. Formulating a silky, smooth, long wearing makeup product without silicone is pretty damn difficult. The lengths that some brands have gone to with their research and formulating and reformulating is ground breaking. As a makeup artist I can say that in only the last 5 years natural makeup has completely been revolutionised and it continues to do so by using naturally occurring ingredients like waxes, oils and powders to create the best non-silicone based versions possible.
There are of course varying degrees of natural and organic ingredients in eco brands too and some will still use small amounts of dimethicone as either an anti-foaming agent or for longer lasting wear, but this, what I like to call ‘point of compromise’, is entirely up to you and whether you are more concerned about your makeup having a clean as clean can be ingredients list or if you want it to have better and longer lasting wearability. During the last few years the scientific community has focused on developing natural alternatives to silicones, while they can not match the properties of silicones, these natural and naturally derived oils will sink into your skin without feeling heavy. So when you see these on your ingredients list, you know what they’re doing there…
Isoamyl Laurate, Undecane, Tridecane, Coco-Caprylate, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, Coconut alkanes, Hydrogenated Ethylhexyl Olivate (and) Hydrogenated Olive Oil, Unsaponifiables, Heptyl, Undecylenate.
Is natural always better?
As natural beauty enthusiasts it’s better because it’s not synthetic, but it’s also better because it means your products aren’t made up of a majority inert, inactive substance that adds nothing to the health of your skin. Natural products are made up of nourishing oils and waxes that replicate the natural sebum of your skin and that gives it not only the chance to breathe and excrete but helps with it’s wellbeing and health. There is also growing evidence that our skin’s microbiome is as important to our overall health as our gut microbiome and natural ingredients will feed rather than starve our skin’s healthy bacteria.
Silicone based makeup is designed to ‘cover-up’, whereas natural makeup is designed to enhance – it is an extension of healthy skin and from my experience personally and as a makeup artist, natural products simply make the skin glow more and look healthier. Used alongside a natural/organic skincare routine as the base for good skin, you won’t want to go back to that feeling of a the ‘plastic layer’ sitting on your face. The most common comment I get from people who are new to natural beauty is that they cannot ‘feel’ the makeup sitting on their skin – it looks and feels fresh at the same time.
If you are new to natural makeup then you will need to do some research before you simply go out and buy the first recommendation or review you read – speak to experts and test as many products as you can or book a product overhaul consultation with an organic makeup artist. Different oils and waxes behave differently on different skin types and you will need to find the one that works best for yours. Once you’ve found what works for you however, you will be converted to happier and healthier and certainly more sustainable, glowing skin.