Toronto News ran an article on Wednesday warning consumers about the potential risks that siloxanes pose to both the consumer and the environment.  The report links these chemicals to a range of health problems such as cancer, allergies and more. So, what are these chemicals, where are they and what truth is there in this story?

Siloxanes – What they are.

Siloxanes are a group of chemicals that are based on silicon. Silicon is a naturally occuring chemical element that makes up around 26% of the earths crust.  This makes it the second most abundant chemical after oxygen! Silicon can be found in many minerals such as those found in clay, sand, mica, Opal, Amethyst and quartz.

Silicon metalloid is created from special silicon rich sands that are mined around the world (West Australia is one such place) . The sands are then used to make silicones which are a wide range of chemicals that use Si as the basic building blocks rather that carbon- C.

The siloxane that is being discussed in this article is cyclopentasiloxane. This is a ring structure silicone with 5 silicon’s in a ring. The structure makes this chemical volatile meaning that it quickly vaporises or dissapears when sprayed. The structure and the silicon construction also gives this chemical the power to empart “shine”.

So in short. Siloxane or Cyclopentasiloxane in this case is a chemical that will make your hair or skin shiny without weighing it down. Its ability to vaporise quickly is also good for products that you want to dry quickly.  A bit like when you put alcohol on the skin, it cools it down and leaves it feeling dry rather than greasy! It also improves the slip of creams making them easier and lighter to rub in.

So siloxanes are a type of silicone.  What else is silicone used for?

Silicone based chemicals are used in a wide variety of applications because they are generally chemically inert. That means that silicones do not tend to break down during application and they are not very reactive.  Because of silicones stability silicone chemistry is found in many consumer products. Personal Care and Cosmetic products are one area but silicones are also use in non-stick coatings, in bakewear and utensils, in baby colic drops, in burns dressings, breast implants, in some toys and as sealants. You may be interested to know that silicone chemistry is being used to replace PTHALATES in things such as baby bottles, sex toys and other products that come in contact with the body.

Silicone chemistry can take on many forms  with some being safer than others. Silicone is in the same chemical family as Carbon so you can get just as many types of silicone as you can of carbon based chemicals.  Carbon is the chemical that  makes up us, plants and other animals.  This means that it isn’t useful to lump all silicones in one group. Some silicones will be especially designed to be hard and stiff, others will be volatile liquids. Some will be modified so that they have a reactive group on them, others are completely unreactive. Some take a long time to biodegrade, others dissapear very quickly.  We are talking about Siloxanes so that is what we will discuss below.

So what is the history of Siloxanes in cosmetic products?

Siloxanes have been used to make hair sprays, mousses and gels dry more quickly for many years. The use of silicone’s in products has increased as the price of silicone based ingredients dropped due to increase in supply and the development of more and more ingredients to solve specific cosmetic problems.

Silicones are the ingredient behind many “oil free” make-up claims they also help to make a product feel “velvety” and help with the quick drying or gloss effect (high gloss lip sticks).

In the 1990’s women who had had silicone breast implants were found to have a higher than expected amount of a D4 siloxane in their breast tissue. A number of scienfic studies were carried out and a decision was made to move away from D4 siloxane in both breast implants and in the personal care industry.  You can read a story from the New York times here.

Following on from those health concerns the global cosmetic industry moved towards a safer and less volatile version of the siloxane – the D5 or cyclopentasiloxane that we use today.

While Cyclopentasiloxane is listed as safe – something that the material data sheet confirms, the material and other cyclomethicones are second from  top of the Cosmetic Industry Review panels priority list.  The CIR review the safety of cosmetic ingredients by looking at data from industry bodies, academic institutions and government departments.

What likely health risks are there with cyclopentasiloxane?

Cyclopentasiloxane was the subject of a review in the International Journal of Toxicology in 1991, Vol 10, No 1 pages 9-19. The study found this ingredient to only penetrate the skin to a small degree and to be generally harmless under normal use conditions.  In the environment cyclopentasiloxane can start to bioaccumulate in fish but the majority of the chemical released into the environment is broken down quickly due to the chemicals volatility.  Cyclopentasiloxane is often mixed with other silicones and has been cited in many patents for trans-dermal drug delivery. In this instance the silicone is often there as a vehicle to keep the drug close to the skin rather than as an ingredient that passes through the skin.

Cyclopentasiloxane is quite a large chemical and is definately not a nanoparticle (as one article stated!)

So What Should I do?

Well, the products containing the highest percentage of this chemical are for hair styling or for de-tangling.  Creams and lotions tend to contain very little of the cyclopentasiloxane. All of the reliable information that we have found so far point to this ingredient as being safe so really we would suggest that there is little need to be concered for your own health. However, if you are worried about the impact of cyclopentasiloxane in waterways then looking for rinse off products that don’t contain this ingredient may be an option. A rinse off product is something like a shampoo, conditioner or a body wash that you rinse off!

Ok, so we shouldn’t worry!

Science is always evolving and as more studies are done and more information gathered you never know what will be found. However, current evidence states that this ingredient is not about to kill anyone unless you A) slip over in a puddle of it (it is very slippy) or B) drink copious ammounts of the chemical.  It is your body so if you are concerned talk to a dermatologist, pharmacist or a doctor rather than “google” as in researching this piece we found lots more mis-information. You can also look at this other site: cosmetic info.org.

Will you keep me informed?

YES. As soon as we find out more information we will let you know. We source our information from academia, the medical profession, the cosmetic industry, independent scientific researchers and non government organisations.  We are always looking to improve on our information in order to give you a balanced view.

To read the article that stated siloxanes are bad click here  City News article on Siloxanes.

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