Have you ever checked out what’s in the list of ingredients of the primer that smoothens your skin in an instant, or in the conditioner that makes your skin silky soft just by being in contact with it for a few minutes?
The answer is most likely silicone, and the one kind of silicone you will see and find most commonly is dimethicone.
As the beauty industry loves itself a villain, dimethicone in the skincare market has gotten a bad reputation for some reason.
Brands have started advertising a product as silicone-free as a boasting and selling point.
But is dimethicone really that bad for your skin, and should it really be avoided?
In this article, we are going to put our magnifying glass over this omnipresent but controversial ingredient.
What is dimethicone?
Dimethicone is an ’emollient’ class of moisturizer. The primary function of an emollient is to hydrate the skin and improve skin softness, smoothness, and flexibility.
It does so by creating an artificial barrier and filling in the areas of damaged skin cells.
Where do you find dimethicone in skincare?
Amongst many applications, most commonly, you would find dimethicone in primers and moisturizers.
The oil-free moisturizers often contain silicones to give a velvety texture without making the skin feel greasy or sticky.
What does dimethicone do in a skincare product?
Many think that silicone is just a filler material and does not serve any other function than sitting on top of the skin and filling out the fine lines and pores.
But it does much more than that. As mentioned above, it is, of course, an excellent moisturizer.
But its benefits extend above and beyond just hydrating the skin:
Dimethicone as a skin protector
Dimethicone, when applied to the skin due to its large-sized molecule, is not absorbed into the skin. It is also insoluble in water, thus showing water resistance capabilities.
Instead, it forms a film on the skin, which, apart from preventing water loss, also protects the skin from other irritants.
A bioengineering study has shown dimethicone to be effective against sodium lauryl sulfate (harsh surfactant in cleansers) induced dermatitis.(1)
Dimethicone to repair the disturbed skin barrier
Healthy and optimal skin functioning depend on how robust the skin barrier is. Damage to the skin barrier results in irritation and a variety of other skin diseases like eczema.
Dimethicone products are commonly used as barrier repair creams and result in the restoration of the damaged skin barrier.(3)
For patients with atopic dermatitis or recurrent eczemas, emollient creams can ultimately result in less need for steroid therapy.(4)
Dimethicone in preventing water loss
Dimethicone prevents transepidermal water loss without being oily like petrolatum. There is no need to compromise on the aesthetic component of the moisturizer.
It can be worn alone or can be combined beautifully with other skincare and makeup products.
Dimethicone to improve skin texture
Dimethicone is commonly used as a primer because it smoothens the lines and blurs the pores giving an illusion of perfect skin.
It also mattifies the skin, which means it moisturizes without being oily.
It is well suited for men who do not like the feel of a moisturizer sitting on their skin or those who want to layer makeup on top of it, as a good base, without the complete stack feeling too heavy.
Dimethicone to help sturdy sun protection
Silicones can boost sun protection factor, prevent washing of sunscreen by sweat and water splashes, thus optimizing the sunscreen efficacy to the maximum.(9)
Does dimethicone clog pores and cause acne?
Despite featuring pretty regularly in oil-free moisturizers and oil-free primers, dimethicone is still thought by many to be unsafe for acne-prone skin.
Reason? Since dimethicone forms a film over the skin, many think it also blocks the pores causing acne.
But is it true? Is dimethicone comedogenic?
The chances are relatively low. No studies are demonstrating that it worsens acne, and dimethicone does not clog the pores.
Thus, it is also a common ingredient in many acne treatments like tretinoin or benzoyl peroxide creams to reduce the redness and irritation caused by the therapy, thus improving the tolerability.(5)
The barrier formed due to silicone is a relatively ‘permeable’ barrier and not like a plastic film, meaning it does not suffocate the skin because of its chemical structure. That is why it also feels very light on the skin.
It also, as opposed to the popular belief, does not trap dirt or bacteria under its film since it is not entirely occlusive.
Silicones (like dimethicone) also help improve the hydration and pigmentation of the scars, help in collagen remodeling, and as a result, are used extensively as topical anti-scar treatment.(13)
Hence, dimethicone, as a standalone ingredient, is suitable for acne-prone skin.(6)
Are you still getting breakouts from dimethicone containing products? The chances are that the combination of ingredients or other ingredients in the products may be breaking you out.
Is dimethicone safe to be used in skincare?
Until now, there is no report of toxicity with dimethicone because, owing to its large size, dimethicone molecules don’t penetrate into the blood.(2)
It is also relatively safe when it comes to contact irritation, and allergy to dimethicone is very rare.(7)
Cosmetic Ingredients Review (CIR) deems it to be safe for use in cosmetics.(8)
It is suitable for people with sensitive skin, sensitization, and allergic tendency. That is why it is commonly indicated in patients with atopic dermatitis and eczema-prone skin.
Which skin type can use products containing dimethicone?
Well, all of them:
- Its moisturizing and smoothening properties helps in smoothening and healing dry skin.
- It is also non-oily, mattifies the skin, and does not clog the pores, which is a good fit for oily skin.
- Because of its barrier repair and hypoallergenic properties, it is compatible with sensitive skin.
- It has also been shown that dimethicone in sunscreen acts as a protective ingredient and could prevent irritation from other UV filters in rosacea skin.(10)
Dimethicone is one ingredient you can hardly go wrong with. Unless, of course, the other ingredients in the products do not agree with your skin.
If you want to know more about which ingredients/products would suit your skin type, you can always subscribe to our newsletter, where we send well-researched articles and tips about skincare, for your skin type, directly to your inbox.
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Is dimethicone bad for the environment?
There is no one hundred percent right answer to this at the moment.
Even though dimethicone is not biodegradable, it is ‘biologically- degradable.’
That means it could be broken down, just not by living things like bacteria. It gets converted into carbon dioxide, silicic acid, and water, but after a while. It does persist, though less long than most polymers, in the atmosphere.
However, its presence in blood has shown no toxic effects in living organisms to date.(11)
Even though dimethicone is not natural, it is derived from sand, which is abundantly available in nature, and thus technically, silicone should be on the ‘clean beauty’ list.
Most countries have found dimethicone in cosmetic products to be of a low to no risk to the environment.
However, with the ever-increasing use of cosmetics, dimethicone being such a common ingredient, and the risk of accumulation, dimethicone is always under surveillance for being a ‘potential’ hazard for marine life in the future.(12)
Since the chronic low dose toxicity could take decades, if not centuries, to show, the answer to this question lies possibly in more data in the future.
If you want to be completely on the right side of this potential contamination, you should probably choose dimethicone-free products.
At which step of skincare can I use dimethicone containing products?
Even though silicone makes a ‘permeable’ layer, it does make a layer. As a lotion or cream, it would come after the more watery serums.
With sunscreen, I would also advise letting sunscreen go first, wait for a few minutes and then go ahead with a dimethicone-containing moisturizer.
A dimethicone containing primer should be layered after a moisturizer and naturally, ahead of a liquid foundation.
So, is dimethicone good or bad for the skin?
Despite all the notorious press that dimethicone (and silicones in general) receives–science strongly backs their use in skincare products for all skin types.
It is non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and suitable for all skin types. Contrary to the popular myths, there is not a shred of evidence that it worsens acne or the general skin condition or that it suffocates the skin.
From an environmental point of view, although generally regarded harmless, because of current data, we cannot say for sure that silicones are one hundred percent safe for marine life in the future.
Especially now during the cosmetic industry boom.
Now that you have all information about dimethicone, where do you stand on its use in skincare products?
Let me know in the comments.
Also, if you are a skincare lover and like such a detailed breakdown of what actually goes on your skin, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter!
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- Zhai H, Brachman F, Pelosi A, et al. A bioengineering study on the efficacy of a skin protectant lotion in preventing SLS-induced dermatitis. Skin Research and Technology. 2000;6(2):77–80.
- Ruiz MA, Hernandez A, Llacer JM, Gallardo V. Silicone chemistry. Cosmet Toilet 1998;113:57-62.
- Draelos, Z. D. (2012). New treatments for restoring impaired epidermal barrier permeability: Skin barrier repair creams. Clinics in Dermatology, 30(3), 345–348. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2011.08.018
- Use of an emollient as a steroid-sparing agent in the treatment of mild to moderate atopic dermatitis in children
- Draelos ZD, Callender V, Young C, Dhawan SS. The effect of vehicle formulation on acne medication tolerability. Cutis. 2008 Oct;82(4):281-4. PMID: 19055172.
- Kubba R, Bajaj A K, Thappa D M, Sharma R, Vedamurthy M, Dhar S, Criton S, Fernandez R, Kanwar A J, Khopkar U, Kohli M, Kuriyipe V P, Lahiri K, Madnani N, Parikh D, Pujara S, Rajababu K K, Sacchidanand S, Sharma V K, Thomas J. Cosmetics and skin care in acne. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2009;75, Suppl S1:55-6
- Hall, Brad J. B.Sc.; Jones, Lyndon W. Ph.D.; Dixon, Brian Ph.D. Silicone Allergies and the Eye: Fact or Fiction?, Eye & Contact Lens: Science & Clinical Practice: January 2014 – Volume 40 – Issue 1 – p 51-57 doi: 10.1097/ICL.0000000000000010
- Reeth, I. V. et al. “Silicones bring multifunctional performance to sun care.” Cosmetics and toiletries 121 (2006): n. Pag.
- Nichols K, Desai N, Lebwohl MG. Effective sunscreen ingredients and cutaneous irritation in patients with rosacea. Cutis. 1998 Jun;61(6):344-6. PMID: 9640556.
- Stevens C. Environmental fate and effects of dimethicone and cyclotetrasiloxane from personal care applications. Int J Cosmet Sci. 1998 Oct;20(5):296-304. doi: 10.1046/j.1467-2494.1998.181595.x. PMID: 18505514.
- Kikuchi, R., Khalil, A. J., & Zoumalan, C. I. (2019). Gene expression analysis in scars treated with silicone cream: a case series. Scars, burns & healing, 5, 2059513119868345. https://doi.org/10.1177/2059513119868345