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Did you know that over 50 percent of all new cosmetics introduced globally in the last 10 years contain at least one silicone? Even though silicones have been proven both safe and effective for cosmetic and medical purposes, rumors continue claiming they are unsafe for topical use. From cosmetic concerns to worries about the development of chronic diseases, myths about the apparent “dangers” of silicones have been perpetuated for quite some time. The origin of these myths is unclear, but could be because silicones aren’t necessarily “natural” ingredients, although they are derived from a natural source (sand). So, are silicones unsafe for topical use? Keep reading to find out!
Many people get confused about the differences between the terms silicon and silicone. Silicon is the 14th element on the periodic table and the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust, after oxygen. It is everywhere around us, even making up part of our bodies.
A common misconception is that silicone is an ingredient on its own, when in fact the term silicone refers to a combination of ingredients. Generally speaking, silicones are polymers (large molecules)
that are made of repeating units of siloxane, a chain of silicon and oxygen atoms. They are often combined with carbon and/or hydrogen. Silicones can also be called polysiloxanes
There are many myths that suggest topically applied silicones can lead to chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, chronic fatigue, and cancer. However, it is not possible for topical silicones to cause or worsen any of these diseases because their molecules are too large to penetrate the skin, preventing them from entering the bloodstream. Claims that silicones can bioaccumulate (build up) in our bodies is also false since their size prevents them from being able to pass through cell membranes, a key requirement for bioaccumulation.
This fact also dispels the myth that silicones are unsafe for topical use because they are allergens. If a substance cannot penetrate the skin, it cannot react with cells of the immune system. Thus, silicones are not allergens. According to Skin Inc., silicones are so biologically inert when in contact with the skin, silicones are now replacing latex, a common allergen in adhesives, gloves and a wide array of other items. Cooking utensils, baby bottle nipples, and baby toys are just some items that are now being made with silicone due to safety issues with other plastics.
Another myth that has been asserted concerning silicones is that they can cause skin irritation and redness when applied topically. Quite the opposite is true. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests cosmetic grade silicone can reduce skin redness, stinging or irritation for cystic acne and rosacea patients.
Silicones are able to help with skin redness and irritation due to their low surface tension, which enables them to spread easily across the surface of skin and form a protective covering. This covering consists of both water-binding and water-resistant properties. The water-binding portion of the molecule is the highly flexible and mobile siloxane backbone, which binds to moisture in the air and holds it to the skin. This backbone also allows the water-repelling methyl groups to orient themselves toward the surface, creating a waterproof "umbrella” that prevents trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Furthermore, the smooth, even base that is formed helps other beneficial ingredients traverse through it to the skin more easily as well as prevent contact with potentially irritating ingredients.
Silicones also have wide spaces between each molecule, which form a molecular lattice. The lattice enables the skin to “breathe” by allowing oxygen, nitrogen, and water vapors to pass between them on the way to, or out of, the skin. However, most silicones do not allow water to pass through, which is an ideal quality for preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) - a leading cause of skin dryness and dehydration.
All of the beneficial qualities mentioned above make topically applied silicones excellent ingredients for the treatment of wounds. After a surgery, accident, burn, or other trauma, the skin is at high risk for bacterial infection and dehydration, both of which can contribute to excessive scar formation.
According to a publication in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, bacteria have the ability to induce excessive collagen production in the scar tissue, which can result in raised, discolored scars. In addition to keeping a healing wound clean and following care instructions from a medical professional, silicone gel can help reduce the incidence of bacterial infections.
An article published in the journal Advances in Wound Care explains that the key mechanism by which silicones heal scars is by replicating the occlusion properties of the stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of skin). When a wound is healing, a complex process unfolds that ultimately results in regeneration of the stratum corneum. The new, immature, stratum corneum allows abnormally high levels of transepidermal water loss, which causes dehydration. The state of dehydration signals to various cells in the epidermis to synthesize and release collagen. Unfortunately, when the body produces too much collagen, the result is a raised, discolored scar. Thus, applying silicone-based products to a newly formed wound improves occlusion and aids in retaining optimum water levels, which normalizes hydration of the scar site to that of healthy skin. Silicone “tricks” the body by acting as a mature layer of the skin, preventing any signaling to increase collagen production. This helps to flatten and soften the scar.
Overall, the claim that silicones are unsafe for topical use is far from the truth. Silicones can benefit the skin in numerous ways, even skin that is recovering from a surgical incision, burn, or other wound. In fact, the FDA classifies dimethicone, a form of silicone, as a skin protectant. If you’re searching for a silicone product for scar management, browse the NewGel+ collection to find the widest variety of silicone scar treatment products available.
August 5, 2017
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