How to Easily Remove Silicone Buildup from Hair

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

There, I said it. If you’ve stopped using conditioners or styling products with silicones because you thought they’d build up on your hair, you can go back to them now.

Not convinced? Hear me out:

  • What Are Silicones?
  • Why Are The Haircare Benefits Of Silicones?
  • Why Do Silicones Buildup In Hair?
  • How Much Buildup Do Silicones Cause?
  • How To Remove Silicone Buildup From Hair
  • What If You Have Curly Hair?
  • The Bottom Line

What Are Silicones?

Silicones are derived from silica, a common mineral that makes up a huge part of the Earth’s crust. You can easily spot them on the label because they usually end in “cone” or “siloxane”:

  • Amodimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Cyclohexasiloxane
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Dimethicone
  • Phenyl trimethicone

Why Are The Haircare Benefits Of Silicones?

Silicones can’t penetrate hair, they just coat it. This has several benefits:

  • It makes hair softer and smoother
  • It makes hair much easier to style
  • It seals in split ends
  • It smoothes out cuticles so your hair shines more
  • It protects hair from heat from blowdryer and styling tools

Why Do Silicones Buildup In Hair?

Let’s dig a little deeper into that last point. Silicones protect hair from damage by forming a protective barrier around it. Here’s how it works.

When hair is damaged, the cuticle opens, allowing moisture to evaporate. When that happens, hair becomes dry, brittle, and prone to breakage.

The protective barrier silicones create prevents that. It also protects your locks from the drying heat from your blow dryer and other styling tools.

But they can do this only if they stick to hair, obviously. And that can, overtime, leave some buildup.

How Much Buildup Do Silicones Cause?

That depends on several factors: the type of silicone you use, how much you use it, and how often.

Cyclomethicone, for example, evaporates off your hair pretty quickly. It never builds up. Instead dimethicone, one of the heaviest silicones, stays around until you wash it off.

Even so, you may never feel the buildup. I don’t. I wash my hair every other day (it’s oily and I can’t wait too long between washes), so before I slather on a new layer of silicones-laden conditioner, the old one has already gone off the drain.

If you wait longer between washes, or like to use a ton of haircare products, silicones will build up much faster.

You’ll notice when that happens. You hair starts feeling heavy, loses volume, and looks greasy. It’s not damaged. It just needs a good wash.

How To Remove Silicone Buildup From Hair

The secret to easily remove silicone buildup from hair? A good old wash. Forget co-washing or no poo. That won’t work. What you need is a shampoo with surfactants.

What are they? A group of ingredients that helps water mix with oils and dirt, so they can easily be rinsed away. Unfortunately, surfactants don’t have the best reputation either. The problem? Some surfactants, like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), can be very irritating.

But here’s the thing. Something that needs to remove dirt stuck to your body can’t be too gentle. If it were, you’d have to spend ages scrubbing your body. You’d irritate your skin, and some of the dirt would still be stuck to it!

Of course, surfactants shouldn’t be harsh and irritating either. You need to find a balance. That’s why you should stay away from shampoos with sodium lauryl sulfate, and opt for gentler alternatives, like sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, or cocamidopropyl betaine.

Wash your hair regularly with a shampoo that contains these ingredients and you won’t have to deal with silicones buildup on your hair.

P.S. For best results, choose a shampoo without silicones. A 1994 study has found that such a shampoo can remove up to 90% of the residue from a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner!

What If You Have Curly Hair?

Look, I’m a huge fan of silicones. My fine, straight hair digs them. They make it softer. Shinier. Easier to style. And then I shampoo them away when I don’t need them anymore.

But if you have a different hair type? Just like a moisturiser for dry skin may be too rich and pore-clogging for oily skin, the silicones and surfactants straight hair loves may not agree with curly hair.

If that’s you, I recommend you check out the Curly Girl Method by Lorraine Massey. It’ll tell you how to cleanse, condition and style your curly hair without damage.

The Bottom Line

Good news: if you wash your hair regularly, you don’t have to worry about shampoo buildup. Fact.

Do you like silicones, or do you avoid them because you’re afraid of the buildup? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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