The ‘hidden’ plastics in beauty products and why we don't use them.
5 FAQs about the use of silicones in cosmetics
Consumers are concerned about the origin of the ingredients in their cosmetic products and their impact on the environment. When it comes to natural and organic cosmetics, we should think about what is inside the product to really understand a product’s claim to be "natural" or "organic", explains Dr. Mark Smith.
Synthetics in cosmetics: 5 questions and answers
Microplastics mainly refer to solid particles that are smaller than five millimetres in size. In conventional cosmetic products, non-biodegradable plastics are often used as ingredients, both in solid and liquid form. Dr. Mark Smith of NATRUE about the use of silicones in cosmetics.
#1 What do synthetic ingredients such as silicones do in cosmetics?
Dr. Mark Smith: Silicones are commonly used because they are inert, meaning inactive chemically. In cosmetics, silicone-based ingredients perform different functions. They can be used as an emulsifier to help combine other substances, as an emollient to soften or smooth the skin surface, or as a surfactant to give better distribution or application of the product when used. They can also help control the thickness of a cosmetic product’s formulation, help hold or retain moisture, or reduce static, for instance in hair care products to avoid frizzing. Furthermore, silicones are relatively inexpensive ingredients.
#2 Are silicones liquids or solids, or are they available in different forms?
M.S. The term "plastic" commonly means a polymer that can be moulded into a solid object like a microbead, for example. For cosmetic and personal care use, silicone-based ingredients are commonly liquid polymers.
#3 Are silicones harmful to skin and hair?
M.S. Unlike some natural or naturally-derived alternatives, there can be a concern that the short-term cosmetic or sensory fix does not benefit the user in the long term. For example, silicones smooth the hair and make it feel glossy, but can accumulate in the hair over time, leaving it lank and heavy. As inert substances, they cannot nourish the skin.
#4 What effects do silicones have on our environment?
M.S. Some silicones are readily biodegradable but others can persist in the environment, accumulate and be toxic. The factors influencing whether a silicone will biodegrade or not can also depend on where it ends up. For instance, on land one type of silicone may be broken down more easily but the same may not be true in our waterways or it may not be biodegradable at all. To this end, for cosmetic product use silicones have recently raised concern due to their impact on the aquatic environment, especially since silicones can be found in rinse-off products.
#5 What are the ingredient names to look out for on the INCI* listing on the pack?
M.S. Silicones are synthetic polymers made up of silicon, oxygen and other elements. In cosmetics, there are more than 300 ingredients that are made from or contain silicones that may be used. For instance, these polymers may be present in a purely synthetic form, or as a combination of a synthetic polymer connected to natural substances. Commonly you can identify a silicone-based cosmetic ingredient by the ending of the word on the ingredients (INCI) list on the back of the product packaging, such as "-cone" or "-siloxane".
Examples of common ingredients:
*INCI = International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients
Natural alternatives to silicones in NATRUE certified cosmetics
Cosmetic products bearing the NATRUE seal do not contain any microplastics or silicones. In order for natural cosmetics to be NATRUE-certified, their ingredients must be readily biodegradable and made from natural, non-GMO, renewable sources, and manufactured using environmentally-friendly processes.
Weleda products contain no microplastics or silicones
Not only do the microplastic beads present in body scrubs pose a problem for the environment. So do synthetic polymers (also called "liquid plastics") such as silicones, which can often be found in face cream, toothpaste and shower gel. After being rinsed down the drain, microbeads and other plastic ingredients end up in our waterways and oceans, polluting the environment.
Weleda natural cosmetics do not contain any microplastics or silicones. Weleda Birch Body Scrub, for instance, contains natural wax beads made of carnauba and beeswax. The tiny granules are especially gentle on the skin and do not harm the environment.
Learn more about microplastics and check if your skincare products contain them here: www.beatthemicrobead.org