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If you were to imagine the texture of your ideal body cream or moisturizer, would the words "smooth," "velvety," and "silky" come to mind? Our guess is yes, but that might be a pretty obvious question. What's not so obvious is what exactly it is that makes our favorite products so buttery and luxurious to the touch. The answer to that one? Dimethicone. A form of silicone, dimethicone might already be on your radar—but for a different, less positive reason.
Spend any amount of time researching dimethicone on the internet, and you'll find arguments and claims about how the ingredient (and silicones in general) clogs pores and causes acne, but you'll also find other articles that state the exact opposite. The topic of dimethicone and whether it's problematic or necessary in our skincare products is a highly debated one and something we wanted to get to the bottom of. So we reached out to top skincare experts Heidi Waldorf, MD, of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics, dermatologist Mara Weinstein, MD, FAAD, and chemists Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu of Chemist Confessions to find out what's true and what's just another rumor floating around the internet. Keep reading to hear what they have to say about this ingredient commonly found in your skincare products.
Type of ingredient: Emollient
Main benefits: Gives a silky texture to products, seals hydration, and protects the skin.
Who should use it: It's safe for all ages and recommended for those who want to prevent dry, rough, scaly skin.
How often can you use it: Daily.
Works well with: Humectants and active ingredients that cause dryness and irritation.
Don't use with: Dimethicone works well with most, if not all, other ingredients.
What Is Dimethicone?
Dimethicone or polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is described by Waldorf as a synthetic polymer of silicon (a natural element of the Earth) and an emollient that works to improve the softness of skin by sealing the spaces between the superficial dead cells of the stratum corneum (the top layer of the epidermis). Weinstein says dimethicone doesn't mix with sebum (an oily substance on your skin) and is often used in cosmetic products designed for the face, such as creams, lotions, moisturizers, and primers.
Benefits of Dimethicone for Skin
Overall, dimethicone can improve the feel, longevity, and efficacy of the other ingredients in your skincare products.
- Creates a silky feel: Waldorf says the main reason silicones (including dimethicone) are used in skincare products is for their sensory properties. They provide a silky smooth finish to topical creams and lotions and allow a product to have a light texture and non-greasy feel that spreads quickly and easily.
- Seals hydration: Waldorf also says dimethicone has occlusive characteristics, meaning it can seal in hydration and keep out external moisture and irritants by forming a water-resistant film on the skin. Weinstein adds that it forms a barrier on the skin that protects against transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which can lead to inflammatory conditions.
- Won't cause breakouts: Waldorf argues that despite it being occlusive, dimethicone is non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic. Because of these traits, it's commonly used in oil-free formulations to give long-lasting moisturization without clogging the pores.
- Controls shine: Weinstein says it is often used in cosmetic products designed for the face because it allows sweat to evaporate but controls the shine of an oily complexion.
- Protects the skin: It acts as a skin protectant to outside moisture and irritants (like other ingredients) that can cause dermatitis.
- Smooths texture: Weinstein says it can fill in fine lines or wrinkles on the face that contribute to the texture of your skin and create a smooth surface for a more even makeup application, which is why it's often found in primers.
- Has emollient characteristics: As an emollient, dimethicone works to soften and soothe the skin, but with a lighter, less greasy finish than other ingredients.
Side Effects of Dimethicone
Here's where things get a little complicated. Because dimethicone is occlusive, there's mass confusion as to whether it causes clogged pores and irritation and prevents other ingredients from absorbing into the skin. But according to Fu, there is no scientific basis for those claims. "Silicones are non-comedogenic and non-sensitizing," she explains. "You could even say they're 'cleaner' since dimethicones are pure synthetics. Plant oils and butters can actually be quite complex being pressed from plants and have a higher chance of containing potential allergens."
Yu adds, "It does work as an occlusive, but this is actually a basic function in moisturizers and not at all like the scary ‘putting plastic film over your face’ analogy fear-mongering blogs tend to refer to."
In fact, Waldorf says dimethicone is actually listed in the FDA monograph for skin-protectant drug products. However, because dimethicone is not an ingredient you use on its own, Weinstein suggests spot testing any new product before applying all over your face to see if the formula as a whole is right for you.
How to Use It
Fu says in general, this ingredient is safe for daily use, but how often and the order in which you apply formulas that contain dimethicone depends on what the product is specifically. If you're using it in something like a moisturizer or primer, Weinstein's best advice is to apply it to clean, damp skin after bathing or showering. And since it is occlusive, Lu says you should apply your water-based serum and gels first, then finish off with creams, oils, and balms to optimize the absorption of your actives and lock them in.
The Best Products With Dimethicone
We admit, this product doesn't look all that luxurious from the outside, but the velvety feel of the formula it contains inside makes up for it. A Byrdie favorite, this balm heals even the driest patches without leaving a thick, greasy residue behind. Weinstein says those with eczematous skin should look for products with dimethicone to help repair a compromised skin barrier, and this balm fits the bill.
When it comes to beauty, you might have your products that serve the purpose of looking nice on your vanity, and then you have the workhorse products that you always keep stocked and within arm's reach. This soothing body lotion, with ingredients like shea butter (to moisturize), oats (to calm), and dimethicone (to protect), falls in the latter category. Whether dry, itchy, irritated skin is a regular occurrence for you or whether you're dealing with a particularly brutal winter, this fragrance-free formula is a must and one of Weinstein's top recommendations.
This lactic acid treatment serum is mostly known for its exfoliating and texture-refining abilities, but the dimethicone gives it the lightweight, spreadable texture fans and Byrdie editors love. And with the added benefit of licorice root extract meant to lighten discoloration, this formula is the ultimate treatment for achieving smooth, visibly even skin.
Another favorite of Weinstein's for severely dry skin, this hand and body cream works to restore a compromised moisture barrier with a one-two punch of humectants and emollients: First, it draws moisture from the air into the skin to hydrate, then it seals the moisture in with emollients like dimethicone and petrolatum.
Whoever says primers are an extra or unnecessary step has never tried this velvety smooth formula from Tatcha. Made with silk powder and dimethicone, this Byrdie editor-recommended primer glides on the skin and melts like butter for a poreless, creaseless finish. Wear it alone on top of your moisturizer or underneath a layer of foundation for a refined complexion.
This light-as-air moisturizing gel-cream is a favorite of dermatologists and Byrdie editors alike. It's full of skin-loving ingredients like ceramides (lipids that contribute to a healthy skin barrier), sodium hyaluronate (a humectant better known as hyaluronic acid), elderberry (a soothing antioxidant), and, of course, dimethicone (which gives it that lightweight, dreamy texture).
This oil-free and fragrance-free cream for the face and body is packed with the good stuff (dimethicone, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid) and none of the bad. Unlike other thick creams that require a decent chunk of time to soak in, this dermatologist-recommended formula absorbs quickly and leaves zero trace of the thick, sticky residue you're used to having.
This lightweight, oil-free moisturizer contains sodium hyaluronate to draw moisture into the skin and dimethicone to lock it in—but moisturize isn't all this formula does. Thanks to the smoothing, blurring effects of the dimethicone, this water gel works just a well as a primer for makeup-prep. And because dimethicone is non-comedogenic, this is also a good product choice for those with acne-prone skin. Did we mention just about every dermatologist loves it?
Up next: 30 Skincare ingredients you need to know.
Catherine Mack Correa M, Nebus J. Management of patients with atopic dermatitis: the role of emollient therapy. Dermatol Res Pract. 2012;2012:836931. doi:10.1155/2012/836931
Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for acne: what are their constituents?. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(5):36-44.