How To Easily Remove Silicone Buildup From Hair

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I’m a huge fan of silicones-laden conditioners. Thanks to their smoothing action, detangling my very prone-to-knots hair after washing is a breeze. But not everyone appreciates them. One reason why a lot of people stay away from silicones is because they can build up on hair. But this isn’t such a big issue as it may seem at first. Removing this buildup is very easy, so there’s no reason to avoid silicones, and all the benefits they provide, because of it.

How silicones benefit hair

Silicones do a lot more than making your hair easy to comb through. They form a protective barrier on hair that helps prevent damage. How? Easy. When hair is damaged, the cuticle open. When that happens, moisture evaporates from your hair, leaving it dry, brittle and prone to breakage. Silicones seal your hair so that this doesn’t happen. The protective barrier silicones create also helps protect your locks from the drying heat from your blowdrier and other styling tools. Oh, and did I mention that by smoothing out the cuticles, light can better reflect on your hair, which makes it look shinier too?

How silicones buildup on hair

Silicones, to provide their many benefits, must, obviously, stick to hair. This, overtime, can cause some buildup, leaving your hair greasy or heavy. But that doesn’t mean that your hair is damaged. It just needs a good wash. However, how much buildup your hair has depends on two factors: the type of silicone and the amount you use. Cyclomethicone, for instance, evaporate off your hair quickly. Dimethicone, one of the heaviest silicones, instead, stays around and needs to be washed off.

The other thing to consider is how many products with silicones you use, and how often. If, like me, you only use a conditioner with silicones every other day, you’ll hardly have any buildup. But, if you use silicones-laden conditioners, masks, and other styling products in your hair all at once and regularly, or if you co-wash your hair with conditioner, silicones will buildup in your hair much faster.

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How to remove silicone buildup

Removing silicone buildup is easy thanks to surfactants. This group of ingredients has the ability to make water mix with silicones, as well as dirt and extra sebum, allowing them to be rinsed off. 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 on your body can’t be too gentle. It shouldn’t be so harsh as too be irritating, of course, which is why you should avoid any shampoo with SLS, but when surfactants are too gentle, they won’t be able to remove much, and you’ll be left with only half-clean hair (only babies or people who barely use any products on their locks can get clean hair with very gentle surfactants).

The trick is to find surfactants that are neither too harsh nor too gentle. Luckily, there are many. A few examples are Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium C14-17 Alkyl Sulfonate (Olefin Sulfonate), and Cocoamidopropyl Betaine. Wash your hair regularly with a shampoo that contains these ingredients and you won’t have to worry about silicones buildup on your hair. For best results, choose a shampoo without silicones. A 1994 study has, in fact, found that such a shampoo can remove up to 90% of the residue from a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.

The Bottom Line

Silicones provide many benefits for hair, but they can also cause buildup. Luckily, this is easy to fix. Any well-formulated shampoo will get rid of it easily and quickly.

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  1. Regn says

    Does it mean that one good wash with these surfactants will remove all build up? Most of the shampoos actually contain such surfactants. That’s why I don’t really understand why there’s so much panic about silicones. :)

    • Gio says

      Regn, yep. Unless you use A TON of products with silicones and then wash your hair with VERY gentle surfactants, buildup is not a problem at all. I guess the whole thing originated from natural companies that need to “demonize” ingredients they don’t use to make their products more appealing.

  2. says

    I’m a big fan of silicones for my thick, coarse hair. As I mentioned in a post this week, I’m very happy with Briogeo shampoo that, in spite of not having sodium lauryl sulfate, it definitely leaves my hair feeling clean. I’ve gotta look at the ingred list again to see which of the other surfactants are in there. Very interesting post!
    Allison´s last blog post ..Mermaid Nail Polish Shades: Deborah Lippman & Pure IceMy Profile

    • Gio says

      Allison, glad you enjoyed it. Silicones can do some great things for hair. It’s a shame that a lot of people refuse to use it, as all that’s needed to deal with the buildup is a well-formulated shampoo.

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