Nowadays skin care products, on top of delivering an effective performance, are expected to represent more and more a complete sensory experience. Consumers are looking for sensory effects in product texture, appearance, skin feel and scent: products shall contribute to a sense of well-being, through visual aesthetics in the packaging  (gloss, lightness, transparency and water-like appearance), tactile effects on application (firmness, slipperiness, peaking and stickiness), skin feel during absorption (ease of spreading, cooling effect, absorbency, thickness, rich touch and wetness), skin feel after absorption (gloss, silkiness, slipperiness, film residue, rich feel and stickiness), olfactory perceptions (fragrance).

Silicones are a family of inorganic polymers synthesized from silicon, oxygen, carbon and hydrogen, whose basic raw material is represented by Silica (quartz sand), a mineral component found in over 90% of the minerals that make up the Earth’s crust.

Cosmetic-grade synthesized silicon-carbon polymers, known as silicones, were first introduced in beauty products in the 1950s, offering a number of unique characteristics that made them useful for improving the feel, appearance and performance of cosmetic products.

The explosion of silicone technology happened in the 1990s when the organofunctional silicones that possessed the desirable properties of both silicone and organic polymers became available. Since then new silicone compounds have been constantly developed, with the new-generation blends able to impart unique sensory benefits; their luxuriously smooth and silky feel and unique wetting and spreading qualities make cosmetic formulation easier and more pleasant to apply, boasting a wide range of “must-have” properties:

  • Lightweight, non-greasy
  • Silky sensation
  • Heat and oxidation resistant (do not encourage development of heat-resistant bacteria)
  • Foam reducing (no white traces left after cream application)
  • Low allergen inducing
  • Water-repellent
  • Non-occlusive, breathable
  • Sun filters (chemical & physical) performance enhancing
  • High spreadability, smoothness, slipperiness, quick absorption
  • No tackiness, greasiness and waxiness
  • Chemically inert
  • New delivery system for fragrances and active ingredients

Nowadays approximately half of all make-up, hair and skin care, and underarm products available on the market contain silicones.
Waterproof sun products, wow-effect face creams with immediate performance tactile sensation thanks to the silky and smoothly effect on skin, non-greasy yet velvety body creams, hair products with polishing, non-heavy effect, highly-performing foundations with excellent spreadability, are just few examples of silicone-based cosmetic treatments.

The silicone family encompasses a wide variety of compounds: low-molecular weight silicones, low viscosity dimethicones, silicon resins, resin elastomer gels, phenyl silicones, volatile and low melting point alkyl-modified silicones, cyclomethicones, dimethicone copolyols.

A correct selection of the specific silicone ingredient according to the targeted application guarantees highest skin friendliness, safety and outstanding performance and effectiveness.

From a safety viewpoint, scientifically rigorous examinations have been conducted by different authorities in Europe (SCCS Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, CES Centre Européen des Silicons), USA (SEHSC Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Council of North America), international panel of experts (CIR, Cosmetics Ingredient Review), Japan (SIAJ Silicone Industry Association of Japan).
Opinions have been published according to which silicones are safe as cosmetic ingredients in the practices of use and concentration as described in safety assessments reports and do not pose a danger to the environment or its biological diversity.

From a skin-friendliness viewpoint, cosmetic grade silicones have a unique molecular structure composed by large molecules with wide spaces between them: such molecule size is too large to enter or clog a human pore. At the same time the space among molecules allows other ingredients and air to penetrate, thus making silicones “breathable” and suitable to be used as carriers for active principles and fragrances.

Their often “blamed” characteristic of forming an occlusive film is often “searched for”, thanks to their ability to create a protective barrier against water loss and regulate the moisture content of treated areas in specific cosmetic applications (for instance long-lasting effects in foundations).

From an environmental viewpoint, low molecular weight silicones and new-generation silicones (such as polydimethylsiloxane PDMS) are so volatile they undergo an oxidative degradation in the atmosphere, completely degrading into naturally occurring silica, water and carbon dioxide; when entering an aquatic environment they attach to particulates and are removed by natural sedimentation; they do not bioaccumulate in the tissues of living organisms and do not adversely affect wastewater treatment operations (the higher weight silicones will actually end up as sludge in waste water treatment plants, but will degrade when used as fertilizers to water, silicic acid, and carbon dioxide).

Since the controversy about silicones began, different alternatives have come up (such as light esters, hydrocarbons, hydrogenated hydrocarbons, materials of natural sources, plant-derived products) each with specific peculiarities able to replace specific characteristics of original silicones.

Reef Cosmetics R&D team has extensively studied the silicones and the silicone-like categories, so as to offer a broad range of different formulations in both fields, in full respect of any customers’ requirements and perceptions.