I must say, I'm in LOVE with this topic! There are just so many silicone alternatives us formulators can have access to when formulating haircare (and skin) products that there is absolutely no reason for using synthetic silicones. Let's chat, shall we?
Silicone has been used in haircare since the 1950s. In this article I will not reinvent the wheel by getting into the nitty-gritty of silicones as we have much to cover in terms of natural silicone alternatives for haircare use (the intended focus of this post), but if you're interested in learning more about the science of it all, I'll recommend this reading material:
Our stand on silicones for hair
We are aware that you will either be FOR or AGAINST using synthetic silicones in your products, and your opinion is your own, yet we are determined to use the most natural and nature-derived ingredients possible as they just have so many nutritional added benefits to both scalp and hair that we cannot ignore!
Why would you choose anything else, when natural silicone alternatives for haircare are simply gorrrrgeous? Synthetic silicones are known to build up on the scalp and hair, causing some issues in the long run – such as dull, dry feeling hair that is lank and more prone to breakage. Plus, they are not all that eco-friendly, as they are bioaccumulative, with many of them not being biodegradable in our waterway system.
What are plant-based
silicone alternatives used for in haircare?
Plant-based silicone alternative oils and esters are used in both skincare and haircare products. In skincare, they provide a lovely gentle and soft feel to the lotions and creams, and in hair care, they are added to impart shine, glide, slip, and smooth down frizzy hair. They are added to all kinds of hair products, from shampoos and conditioners to leave-in conditioners, hair masks, hair pomades, you name it. We love them, we use them, and you would love them too!
We published [this blog] on "oils that penetrate vs. oils that seal the hair" which you may want to take a look at, since it goes arm-in-arm with this hair blog we're sharing here.
How do I know if an ingredient is a silicone?
If you see the following ingredients in your products, then you know there are silicones among the ingredients (to name a few of the most popular ones:
Myth: "If you can't pronounce it, it's bad for you"
Not necessarily true. There are many ingredients in your cosmetics that are either known for their Latin name (such as "Lavandula angustifolia" = Lavender) or for their chemical name (water = H2O). Remember, everything is a chemical, even water. By definition, the word "chemical" means "a substance that has a defined composition". So if you see "citric acid" or "lecithin" in your foods or cosmetics, for example, don't be discouraged because these are some of the most natural ingredients available for both skin, hair, and consumption! And don't be discouraged when you hear the word "emollient" as this can even mean beeswax. Point made.
Here are some of the BEST plant-based silicone alternatives for hair and skincare:
We just love this plant-derived light emollient that comes from the fermentation of sugar cane. It's a light, dry oil that absorbs quickly into the skin and hair. In fact, it's so light that you could even take a blob of it in between your fingers and run it through your hair without having greasy hair afterward. It's beautiful on the skin and will give you that ever-so-light skin sheen we love so much during the summer months. Hemisqualane is considered an oil that seals the hair, rather than an oil that penetrates into the hair strand because, in nerdy chemical terms, its molecular size is larger so it sits on top of the hair.
We like using Hemisqualane in our Bi-Phase Shampoo Bar and our Nourishing Greens Shampoo Bar because it provides such a gorgeous feel to the hair, improving the slip and making the bars feel super soft when you're washing with them. These are wash-out products, but the light emollience of Hemisqualane allows you to slip the bar through your hair as you're washing – and yes, some of the lovely oil properties of this product will remain on the hair, helping it shine and be protected from the elements.
2. OLIVE SQUALANE
Olive squalane is an amazing oil on hair! It's slightly – but ever-so-slightly – heavier than Hemisqualane. It's derived from the oils of olives and distilled. It is another non-greasy oil that you can use for both skincare and haircare (and on skin? ooohhh my goodness... Just lovely!). It's lightweight, odourless, and helps moisturize without the greasy feel residue.
Note: This is NOT the "squalene" you may have read about, which is derived from the shark. This one we use is a cosmetic-grade ester (a very light oil) and it's vegan. And wonderful!
3. BROCCOLI SEED OIL
This oil comes from... can you guess? Yes... The tiny seeds of the broccoli plant, which are cold pressed like many oils, and butters. It has a beautiful film-forming activity on the hair, without causing build-up. This film-forming action gives the hair natural shine and smoothes down the cuticle so your individual hairs don't rub against each other (causing what we know as 'frizz').
Broccoli seed oil is definitely one of our favourites and we like to add it to our shampoo bars and leave-in conditioners for these reasons. Yes, it has a slight broccoli-herbaceous-fart scent, but since we don't use it neat in products, you don't even notice it.
We love it so much that there's a whole blog post dedicated to it, check it out [HERE].
We are also using broccoli seed oil in our leave-in conditioner – launching 2024. Stay tuned for a hair product that you will absolutely love!
4. ISOAMYL LAURATE
If you're asking yourself, "Okay, what the heck is that??" don't panic dude – it's a natural ester derived from sugar beet, coconut, and sometimes palm (an 'ester' is a fatty acid that is formed when an organic acid combines with alcohol or glycerin - nerd talk you need to know). It's right up there with the lightest of them, hemisqualane for its loveliness in skincare and haircare, because it's often used exactly for that: as a natural silicone alternative. If you rub it between your fingers you will get that tiiiiny bit of "oil" slippy feel that absorbs readily in the skin and hair, making it an excellent choice for haircare as it won't make your scalp greasy.
We like to use this ingredient in our Hair Elixir – our version of a silicone-free hair oil that is incredibly light, yet protective for the hair. Our Hair Elixir protects your hair so it doesn't lose hydration (water), and keeps it looking super shiny. You also get a sample of it in – along with other of our wonderful Canadian-made hair products – in our Eco Haircare Starter Kit.
5. Abyssinian seed oil
This beautiful carrier oil is another oil from the Brassicaceae family (like broccoli seed oil and camellia oil) and is widely grown right here in Canada – yay! We love supporting local!
Abyssinian seed oil is extracted from its seeds and is slightly oilier than Olive squalane and Broccoli seed oil, so it's perfect for those with thicker, more porous hair types. You can read more about the different hair types [HERE].
Abyssinian seed oil is high in cuticle-smoothing erucic acid (the fatty composition that some oils like Broccoli seed oil contain) which makes it excellent for providing added nutrients to coarser hair, helping to define it, making it stronger and helping with manageability.
However, if you have fine, thin hair then you're probably best to keep to a lighter oil like hemisqualane, olive squalane, or isoamyl laurate.
So there you have it! With so many benefits to these beautiful plant-based silicone alternatives for hair care, why would you use synthetic silicones, right? The best part is that as natural formulators, we have taken the guess out of what goes into your hair products and purposely chosen to instead use naturally-sourced ingredients.
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