Everyone is getting more literate about skincare by the day, with sharing knowledge and opinions about the field increasingly popular among influencers, beauty bloggers, and pretty much everyone on social media. And while it’s easier to share information overall, it’s also easy for information to spread inaccurately or in a misleading way. Because of this, it's important to seek expert information on any bold claim you see, rather than trusting whoever posted it without further research.
For example, take dimethiconol. Dimethiconol might sound unfamiliar, but it’s actually a common skincare ingredient that's probably in some of your favorite beauty products. Unfortunately, as a member of the silicone family, it tends to get a bad reputation by association. Silicones are known for giving makeup primers the ability to smooth over texture and for giving your strands a glossy shine, yet are also accused of clogging pores and causing acne. So is dimethiconol actually helpful, or is it secretly harmful? We asked several experts to clear things up once and for all.
Meet the Expert
Krupa Koestline is a cosmetic formulator who has spent years working for leading beauty companies like Estée Lauder and Neutrogena. Now, she has her own beauty consulting company, KKT Cosmetics, and also currently consults with Tower28 and Kopari.
Gloria Fu and Victoria Lu are a pair of former L'Oréal formulators gone independent with Chemist Confessions, through which they de-mystify the world of product formulation, ingredients, and skincare. The duo recently released a book, Skincare Decoded, which breaks down skin biology, the basic science of a skincare routine, and some of the most potent ingredients to be used for every skin type.
Dr. Deborah R. Spey, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Livingston, New Jersey. After receiving her BA in biology from Yale University, she received a medical degree from Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, and was awarded the Lowenfish Prize for Dermatologic Research at graduation. She is also an American Academy of Dermatology fellow and a diplomate of the National Board of Medical Examiners. She completed her internship in internal medicine at the Presbyterian Hospital in the City of New York, where she remained for her first year of residency, before completing her dermatology training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Dr. Dendy Engelman is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon based in New York City, who also contributes her expertise as a lecturer both in the US and in the global arena. Her training and medical missions to Haiti and Africa have helped her to develop an acute awareness of the global dermatologic space, giving her a unique perspective on how to treat and counsel patients.
What Is Dimethiconol?
Dimethiconol is basically a type of silicone. Chemically speaking, it’s a silicone polymer (Spey calls it a silicone gum), and is basically dimethicone with a hydroxyl group on both ends of the molecule. According to Koestline, “this gives it (dimethiconol) added functionality and reactivity.” In particular, Koestline says that dimethiconol can be a good petrolatum alternative and is also great in formulas for those with oilier skin textures.
In layman’s terms, dimethiconol is a really useful ingredient that can improve the texture of a product by giving it some lightweight slip. Because the molecule itself is on the larger side, it works best when diluted within a smaller silicone molecule. It’s common in hair products as a way of conditioning and imparting shine, but dimethiconol isn’t just great in terms of improving the sensorial experience—it’s a great product to improve the overall health of your skin. “Like other silicones, dimethiconol acts as a moisturizer, increasing hydration, coating the surface of skin and hair, and preventing evaporative water loss,” Spey explains.
Because of its textural and occlusive properties, dimethiconol is often used in gel creams and serums. Lu and Fu say that dimethiconol’s occlusive properties can also “protect the skin from external allergens and pollutants.” Hydration, silky texture, lightweight occlusion, and protection from pollution—who doesn’t love an all-rounder ingredient?
Is Dimethiconol Safe?
Generally speaking, silicones get a bad reputation for clogging up pores and triggering breakouts. “While dimethiconol can coat the skin and hair, preventing moisture loss, and giving that desirable silky-smooth feeling, the same properties can make it problematic,” says Spey. “It is not water soluble, hence product buildup can cause a greasy feeling on the skin or weigh down the hair if it is not thoroughly removed with cleanser or clarifying shampoo.”
Engelman also says that dimethiconol gets a bad reputation because it's synthetic, "however, it’s worth noting that there are many lab-made skincare ingredients (like hyaluronic acid, for example) that are more effective than their natural counterparts and completely safe for humans." If you have sensitive, oily, or acne-prone skin, you may want to avoid products containing dimethiconol. “Because dimethiconol creates a barrier on your skin, it can trap bacteria, sweat, and dead skin cells in your pores, which can result in inflammation and acne,” she says.
But our experts all agree that dimethiconol is safe to use on the skin, unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to it (though Spey says that it’s generally considered hypoallergenic). The Cosmetic Ingredient Review declared dimethiconol safe for topical usage, which means the panel has assessed that within personal care product concentrations (Engelman says this concentration is “minimal”), the product is not an eye irritant, dermal sensitizer, or skin irritant. It also means there's not enough evidence to conclusively prove that dimethiconol can cause mutations or cancers in consumers.
In addition, Spey says there’s no way for dimethiconol to actually get into your bloodstream and invade your body. “There have been some unsubstantiated claims that topical silicones could cause or worsen disease,” she says. “However, research has shown that the molecules are too large to penetrate the skin. As such, they can neither enter the bloodstream nor bioaccumulate.” So don’t be scared about any potential toxicity or danger when you see dimethiconol on your favorite serum’s ingredient list.
The Best Products with Dimethiconol
Possibly one of the best and most affordable gel creams on the market, this moisturizer is completely oil-free and promises to pack a hydrating punch. With sodium hyaluronate (the salt form of hyaluronic acid), glycerin, and dimethiconol, you may never have to worry about a dehydrated complexion ever again.
Dr. Loretta’s serums always pack a punch, and this one is no exception. The formula contains retinol to stimulate collagen production and counter the effects of aging, and the silicones help to give it a silky, spreadable texture.
Avène promises to help with healing your scars with this cream. The Cicalfate line itself is known for its nourishing, minimalist ingredient list (I always keep my vanity stocked with the OG Cicalfate cream), so if you have superficial or post-procedural scars and want to minimize their appearance, this product is worth keeping in mind.
This product seems to fly under the radar, but it’s a great secret weapon at calming down inflammation. This anti-redness serum aims to soothe your skin, packed with rosacea-safe ingredients like ambophenol and neurosensine. Not to mention, its silky, non-sticky texture makes for a great application experience.
This night cream from SkinCeuticals is quite potent, and the retinol will help to actively counter the aging process and encourage collagen production.
Dimethiconol is a perfectly safe and helpful skincare ingredient. It's common in serums and gel creams to add hydration, but also as an occlusive. Including it in a formula usually leads to a silky, lightweight texture that oily skin types will love. Because dimethiconol has a larger molecule size, it isn’t likely to absorb deeply into skin. Some derivatives have restricted use due to concerns over their safety, but regular dimethicone itself is safe. Just stay on top of your cleansing routine, and feel free to try varying products to see what works best for you and your skin needs.