Debunking myths about silicones use in cosmetics

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cosmetics Personal care

In the first of a two part interview, CosmeticsDesign spoke to Michel de Poortere, secretary general of the European Silicones Centre(CES) to find out just how much of a threat silicones pose to the environment.

The fact that silicones are widespread in cosmetic and personal care underlines the important role they can play in formulation as a flexible, yet stable ingredient. But rising awareness of environmental issues has led to a number of insinuations about the impact of silicones that the CES wants to debunk.

According to De Poortere, the internet has helped to spread a lot of ‘misinformation’ about silicones, which the organisation wants to rebalance with more factually-based information.

Environmental credentials of silicones backed up by numerous studies

Accusations over the environmental impact of silicones have concentrated on the man-made polymer polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which many environmental and lobby groups erroneously assumed would never degrade in the environment.

“The environmental fate of silicones has been subject to many studies since the 1980s,”​ said de Poortere in an exclusive interview with

When present in the environment, silicones ultimately degrade into water, CO2 and silica and/or silicates. In fact, silica and silicates are some of the most abundant natural materials in the form of sand, quartz, flint and many other materials.”

Silicones have multi-functional uses across many industries

Silicones are derived from the silicon–oxygen backbone structure found in sand, chemically modified with carbon and hydrogen to enhance compatibility and according to the CES personal care accounts for approximately 18 per cent of the global market.

Silicones are used in a variety of industries for a highly diverse range of applications such as adhesives and performance and insulation, most commonly in the aerospace, automobile and construction industries.

“In personal care, silicones are extremely compatible, even with non-synthetics,”​ said de Poortere.

“They have low chemical reactivity and low toxicity​ making them ideal for personal care applications such as skin and sun care products, hair care and make-up. Major developments in colour cosmetics such as long-lasting lip glosses were made possible through advances in silicones.”

The importance of silicones to the European economy

The CES estimates that in Europe the silicone industry accounts for total sales of around €2.5bn each year and employs approximately 10,000 people.

These figures underline the size and importance of the industry to the European economy as a whole, and according the CES, also stress the importance of the material and how integral it is to the personal care manufacturing process, as well as a variety of other industries.

The second part of this interview follows soon and will focus on the widening applications for silicones within the personal care industry as well as shining a light on what the future holds for the industry, worldwide.

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