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Ingredient Watch List: Dimethicone, the Smoothing Silicone That Exacerbates Acne

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Foundations, skin creams, and primers—they all may contain dimethicone, which can increase acne breakouts.

You can hardly pick up a skin care, makeup, or hair care product these days without reading “dimethicone” on the ingredient list. Why are so many products suddenly using it, and should you be concerned?

What is Dimethicone?

Dimethicone (also known as polydimethylsiloxane or PDMS) is technically called a silicone-based polymer. More simply, it’s a silicone oil with certain properties that make it extremely popular in today’s personal care properties.

What companies really like about this ingredient is that it provides a smooth application. For skin care products, it fills in uneven texture and fine lines, which helps create a smooth and flawless look in products like primers, foundations, and lotions. It also provides a protective cover on skin, which is supposed to help keep moisture in, leaving skin hydrated for longer.

In hair care products, dimethicone is used to provide smoothness, particularly in conditioners and detanglers, where the ingredient helps smooth hair and provide better comb-through. Because dimethicone leaves a sort of covering on the hair strands, it can also make hair appear shinier.

Is it Safe?

The FDA approved dimethicone for personal care products, and it is generally considered to be safe to use. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) also evaluated the scientific data and concluded that it was safe for use in cosmetics. The Skin Deep Database also marks this ingredient with a low hazard rating. The only possible side effects listed are dryness, slight irritation, and allergic reactions.

This tells us little, however, about what this ingredient may do to the skin. Scientifically, it may not cause cancer or other obvious harm, but should you be applying this ingredient every day to your skin? I’m hoping you don’t!

What are the Concerns?

The first concern with this ingredient is that it covers the skin. Manufacturers may think that’s a benefit, but I don’t. Imagine having a thin, rubber-like cover over your face all day. Sound healthy? It’s not.

Not only are you missing out on truly moisturizing ingredients like natural oils, extracts, and shea butter, but you’re interfering with the skin’s natural processes, like sweating, temperature regulating, sloughing off dead skin cells, and the like. Prolonged exposure can increase skin irritation and create a dependency on the product. Just like petroleum jelly, dimethicone can actually end up drying your skin the more you use it, as it interferes with the natural hydrating processes, making fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable.

Here’s something even worse: Have you noticed, since using these new products with dimethicone, that your skin is breaking out more? No surprise, as the covering and trapping property of dimethicone means that it’s not just trapping moisture, but bacteria, skin oils, sebum, and other impurities. That means those prone to acne or with oily skin are more likely to see increased blackheads and breakouts when using products containing this ingredient.

There is also some concern that dimethicone is hurting the environment. It is non-biodegradable, which means that it can pollute our environment during both the manufacturing process and after it’s used, in the disposable process.

What to Do?

Your skin doesn’t need chemicals to look healthy and smooth. The way to truly beautiful skin is to nourish it, both inside and out. Avoiding this product is simple and complicated at the same time. Simple, because you can find it (and related cousins listed below) by simply reading the ingredient deck. Complicated, because you’ll find this ingredient in thousands of products out there.

The answer? Purchase your skin care products from conscientious manufacturers who care about using truly nourishing ingredients. As for hair care products? The ingredient is less likely to cause any personal adverse effects when used on the hair, as long as you don’t soak in it (as in a bath) afterwards.

Oh, and by the way, you already knew, but Annmarie Gianni Skin Care stays completely away from dimethicone and any other silicone products.

  • Methicone
  • Phenyl trimethicone
  • Dimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Dimethiconol
  • Dimethicone copolyol

Did you experience more acne breakouts when using products that contain this ingredient? Please share.

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23 Responses to “Ingredient Watch List: Dimethicone, the Smoothing Silicone That Exacerbates Acne”

  • Sigrid says:

    I was recommended by a sales assistant from Origins to bouy the Dr. Weil Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Advanced Face Serum to help my acne.
    I’ve had acne on my chin since I was 13 (now I’m in my early 20′s), but when I started using this product, containing Dimethicone, I broke out all over my cheeks as well.

  • aqualectrix says:

    Dimethicone isn’t a great thing to put on your hair, either. It doesn’t do anything bad, per se, but to wash it out you’ll need the harsher sulfate-based shampoos, and those aren’t good. (Then you’ll want to put more dimethicone in your hair to smooth it out, which means you’ll need to keep washing with sulfates, etc., etc.)

  • linda says:

    would like to tell Sigfrid above if she hasn’t tried it, ask the doctor for liquid /topical antibiotic for her acne and if doesnt work oral antibiotics. I knew this as a well known to my skin specialist who told me noone needs to suffer badly if tackled from the beginnings. When my 2 boys reached puberty they suffered bad acne, I took them to doctor requested the above. And yes within 2 months their skin cleared. Sometimes stress ( exams ) bring out the odd acne but nothing as severe. Keep drinking lots of water and vitamin C to help keep general good health and healthy skin . As for dimethicone something I avoided for years when one skin specialist gave me tubs of that stuff and my hands ended up so sensitive I couldnt hold a warm cup of tea. Thank goodness that was 20 years ago and my hands fully recovered after I stopped using the product.

  • Heidi F. Yoder says:

    Thank goodness I started looking up the ingredients on the “new & improved” very expensive skin care lotion I have been using for years. One of the new ingredients is Dimethicone. I was shocked as my hair dresser and I discovered together years ago that it can cause some people to lose their hair, others to have split ends and break off over time.
    And now they are deciding to put this on my skin?
    My face has been breaking out regular for months now to my frustration and I have often had to run to the bathroom between Clients to wash my face (I don’t wear foundation, never have) because it has been burning/itching so much. The weird thing I noticed was that even though the application of the new and improved lotion might have been eight hours ago, when I went to wash my face off, it was like washing off a facial mask. It was still sitting there right on top of my skin and I could watch it (from the light powder on top) sort of mix with the water, turn white and finally wash off! I couldn’t figure out what was going on but it seemed really strange that a moisturizer wouldn’t have penetrated after that period of time.
    Because I have used this lotion for so long, and it took me forever to find it (I have such sensitive skin and now I am aging as well), it just NEVER occurred to me that my old friend was causing the problem.
    Dimethicone isn’t good at all for anything.

  • Aiko says:

    I personally love dimethicone skin products, but I’m not one of those people that are constantly using them either. i usually just apply when I need it, like if I’m somewhere dry and/or windy. I’ve always had really good results, personally… But idk I think it gets such a bad wrap because people with naturally dry skin use these products long term that are really only supposed to be used as a temporary “bandaid” (if you will).

  • Janice Harrison says:

    I absolutely CANNOT use dimethicone under any circumstances. It breaks me out something terrible. I have always had oily skin and although it’s drier now that I am approaching 50, I will still get painful acne cysts if using products with dimethicone, cyclomethicone, any of those silicone products. I cannot use makeup primer because it’s full of dimethicone. As long as I stay away from that ingredient, I’m fine. I read product labels religiously and am a “minimalist”; the more stuff you put on your face, the worse off it gets.

  • debbi read says:

    I stopped using products containing dimethicone several years ago, mainly because when I first looked it up, I read that it is similar to bath sealant – I try to use natural oils and lotions for my body and hair products, and at 57 I am happy to say I have very few facial wrinkles, and pretty good, shiny healthy hair without split ends or dandruff… whenever |I go into a chemist or department store that is advertising or demonstrating a new “wonder product” my first question is “does it contain Dimethicone?”..if the answer is yes, then it’s a big NO from me!… my only difficulty is suncare products…If I cant find something with out Dimethicone in it, I go for something that has this nasty substance as far down the list of ingredients as possible!

  • Angie says:

    I’ve learned through trial and error to stay away from the ingredients ending with “methicone”. I have afro-textured hair and we use lots of oils and moisturizers on our hair. Well, over the past 10 yrs or so, these “methicone” ingredients have crept into almost all of the oil sheen aerosols, sprays, and oil sheen moisturizers that we use. I have very long dreadlocks that require a lot of moisture so I’ve always used these products to help lock in moisture after shampooing. Afro hair does not get washed daily, but normally around once a week, so the products we use end up staying with us for a while. When I use a “methicone” product on my hair, it naturally ends up on my face and neck when it touches them, also when I work out and sweat these silicone products end up running all over my face neck, and shoulders – and it feels like a heavy coating is on my skin. I can’t jump in the shower soon enough to get it off. I only put the products on my hair and not my scalp, but in an oil product, these silicates are going to make their way to the scalp. It clogs the pores on my scalp causing an unreal amount of strange looking dandruff. It coats my hair and makes it feel soft and protected for a day or two, but then it causes it to become dry and brittle feeling, which used to prompt me to use more of the product, causing an endless cycle. It’s just been a bad experience overall. I started looking at the labels of the products that were giving me these problems and noticed they all had some sort of “methicone”. I didn’t need to look it up or have anyone tell me how this product works – I can feel exactly what it’s doing on my skin and I don’t like it. It’s gives you pseudo-soft. It feels and looks good initially, but it’s not nourishing or doing anything beneficial in the long run.

    • admin says:

      Ahh yes we know that anything that makes anything soft is so full of chemicals you would not want to use it! Good for you for seeing what does not work for you and for keeping an eye out for it on labels. A couple of us have dreads in the office (one afro hair) and we use coconut oil and shea butter. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kiryn says:

    I was following the supplies guide on acne.org, and found some lotion that didn’t include any of the things they said to avoid, and had all of the words on it that they said to look for (lotion made specifically for the face, for sensitive skin, does not clog pores) and bought it to use with the regimen. Within 5 minutes of putting it on, my face started to feel like it was burning and all the areas of skin it was applied to turned bright red.

    This is exciting, I’ve never had any specific allergies I could mention when doctors asked me, but now I can say “I’m mildly allergic to dimethicone!”

    Time to throw this garbage where it belongs and start searching for a dimethicone-free face lotion.

  • elsie says:

    If dimethicone is this bad, then why in the world is it used in lotions for babies! Like d Aveeno moisturising lotion and Johnson’s?

    • admin says:

      We ask ourselves the same question. The bottom line is profit and lack of regulation. The top line is that knowledge is power and as consumers we need to be informed and vote with our dollar and raise our voices until we are heard. Just like we are all doing and it is a journey but step by step, decision by decision we will make a difference :). In the meantime don’t believe the pictures and hype be ever vigilant with the labels :).

      Thanks so much for stopping by, now you know one more product not to add to your cart :)

  • Marcia Ward says:

    I am not so sure about all this negativity. Dimethicone comes in different grades depending on the purpose of the product and not all grades are occlusive (pore clogging). For sure there are products out there that are using lower grades but you need to dig deeper to find out whether the dimethicone in the product you have is good or bad. For some people whose skin is thin and weakened the barrier it provides is fabulous for preventing transepidermal water loss (retaining moisture) and I assume this is why it is used in the baby product mentioned above.

  • Minky says:

    Silicon oils r rampantly used in all BB creams. Yes it goes on great. N the finish is wonderful …u achieve that “Korean glow”. N BB products kind of trick u into thinking it is a “beauty balm” … that is good for your skin n u r encouraged to wear it for long hours for its beautifying effects. Actually it’s the worst possible pore clogging foundation u can find on the market. I didn’t realize this till after a week of continuous usage. I was breaking out again like a teenager (I’m not one. Far from it). So please stay away from BBs. N read the labels of everything carefully. I’m finding many sun blocks have many ingredients bearing the treacherous “-cone” affix too!

    • admin says:

      The price we pay for beauty! Thank you for sharing Minky, yes it can be tempting to get that flawless look but at what cost to our health and the planet? And yes er fully endorse reading the labels and if you can’t say it you probably don’t want it! Make it a wonder-filled day.

  • Julia says:

    Unfortunately, I have discovered that silicone polymers have infiltrated the beauty industry in the past 10 to 15 years. It is a cheap greasy filler, which the beauty industry has relied upon make profits.

    It blocks my pores, causes acne, prevents perspiration, causes overheating and irritation, traps bacteria, doesn’t allow my skin to breath and over-stresses it. Silicone is also difficult to remove. I now have a reddish tinge on my face from using cosmetics containing silicones. All this will no doubt, lead to premature ageing and defeat the purpose of these beauty formulations and my beauty regime.

    During the early years of using a number of well known cosmetic products (after they were first introduced to the beauty industry in the 1990s), I thought they were wonderful. Naming a few: Pantene Conditioner, Olay Total Effects, Elvive Royal Jelly Conditioner and Estee Lauder Fruition. Then I realised, that over the years, as the companies which make these products changed the product packaging and made claims that the products have been so-called ‘improved’, silicone was being added to the ingredient lists and the quantities were gradually increasing by the bucket load.

    I personally, believe that these mentioned products are no longer as effective as the original formulations because they no longer do the job properly and don’t give the desired outcome I was used to before. I also, seriously doubt that the skin would be able to absorb the essential ingredients added to these cosmetics which contain silicones, as this ingredient would likely prevent their absorption. So really, all you are really spending your hard earned cash on is cheap silicone and we are being taken for a ride.

    This is just my opinion.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Julia :)
      We agree 100%. It is such a shame how the conventional beauty industry has evolved. The quality of products have gone down, while the quantity goes up. We will continue to spread awareness and encourage people to read their skin care labels! The thought of rubbing petroleum based products on our precious skin makes us cringe! And the fact that there are HUGE profits being made out there in this industry…. Thank you for sharing information on here! We appreciate your honest opinion!

  • Saraj says:

    I’ve been using a dimethicone product, which claims to be organic and natural, as a handwash. The skin on my hands has started peeling off in sporadic patches. I’m going to stop using it immediately.

  • Saraj says:

    I also just found Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone in the list on the above mentioned product. I see these are on a watch list by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) and said to cause contact dermatitis.

  • Kent says:

    Never have i used anything other than alovera on my face until I visited my parents. My dad uses a product with dimethicone as the active ingredients. i used it on my face for three days, my skin started breaking out with small red blotches across my forhead,nose and cheeks. Googled the ingredient and discovered this page with info describing EXACTLY wha i am experiencing. I’m blown away.The fact of the matter is,this is the only thing different i’ve used on my face.NOT GOOD, but , good to know info. Thanx

  • Christy says:

    Thanx so much for all the info, my Dr. just prescribed me a lotion with dimethicone and I have very sensitive skin anyway, so I definitely will not be using this product. Wonder y it is in so many creams and lotions if it does such a poor job? Hmmmm?

  • Hannele says:

    I used to have “boy-cut” hair and didn’t need any conditioner. Now that I’m growing long hair I definitely need to use one. The first I one I tryed caused huge break-out in my back. Guess what was high up in the ingriedients list? Our friend the silicons! Changed the conditioner and zits in my back healed. Had been using Bodyshop’s teatree moisturiser for acne-prone skin for ages, and had had acne since I was 11. If you check the list of ingredients, there’s dimethicone in it.Winter 2012-2013 was a cold one, skin was getting dry and decided try new moisturiser, this time without silicons. I turned 40, still used teatree stuff as day-moistutiser. This winter decided to ditch the teatree stuff completely. Suddenly acne started to disappear. I still have one or few zits on my face, but it’s nothing compared to what i used to have, ie. face full of black-heads, white-heads, badly inflammated zits, etc.
    Maybe it’s because of the age (41) or because I changed to a silicon-free moisturiser.

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