When you think about it, we come into contact with thousands of materials in our everyday lives. Plastic bottles, polyester-cotton blend clothing, glass doors and windows, the list could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, we often overlook how many of these materials we’re exposed to and take it for granted that a majority of them have been tested and passed for safety. Another popular material that we come into contact with so often is silicone. The soft, flexible material, is used in everything from Halloween props to water bottles to medical devices.
What is Silicone?
When one thinks of silicone, the soft, bendable, rubbery substance comes to mind. For some, silicone means sports team bracelets, and to others, it means unbreakable wine glasses. The malleable material can certainly be used in almost any industry for a countless number of things. But what is it? By definition, silicone is identified as “a synthetic elastomer as it is a polymer which displays viscoelasticity – that is to say it shows both viscosity and elasticity.” In layman’s terms – synthetic rubber. Silicone is made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and silicon. Silicon (sans the “e” in silicone) is a nonmetallic chemical element in the carbon family that is derived from grains of sand. The actual process in which silicone is made “involves extracting silicon from silica and passing it through hydrocarbons. It’s then mixed with the other chemicals to create silicone.”
According to a silicone manufacturer based in the UK with 60 years experience, the bonds and reactions occur like this in the silicone making process:
The silicone polymer is mixed with reinforcing fillers and processing aids to form a stiff gum, which can then be crosslinked at elevated temperature using either peroxides or polyaddition curing. Once crosslinked the silicone becomes a solid, elastomeric material.
The manufacturer describes silicone as having a silicon and oxygen backbone with organic function groups attached. This chemical bonding is what allows for silicone to be so flexible and able to withstand high temperatures.
Why Silicone is Skin Safe
Since the application of silicone into mainstream consumer products started in the 1940s, we have seen a slew of silicone-made items hit the market. But is it safe for the skin? If we’re going to be in contact with the synthesized rubber material on a daily basis, we should know if its actually safe to do so. Luckily for us, the beauty and skincare industry research has exploded in the past 20 years and one of the top ingredients in those kinds of products happens to be silicone. Silicone is said to be added into cosmetics and makeup due to its unique fluid properties and abilities to improve the overall texture of the product. The benefit of silicone being used in the beauty industry is the testing that is involved in cosmetics, ensuring that adding silicone to new products will not harm consumers. In addition, silicone is actually considered safe by dermatologists when used in topical applications. In esteemed Korean beauty blog, the Klog, New York dermatologist Sejal Shah explains why silicone is skin safe. “Topically applied silicones are generally considered safe. Any claims that silicones can be problematic or dangerous for the skin when used topically have not been substantiated with scientific research,” says Shah. “Silicone is both hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic and not known to sensitize the skin.” The only reservations about silicone and skin health that was noted in the post were in regards to silicone’s ability to help other ingredients penetrate the skin, and for individuals with sensitive skin conditions like eczema or rosacea. If you develop a rash or irritation after the use of a silicone or silicone-based product, stop use and contact a healthcare professional.
Is it Better for the Environment?
Plenty of consumers are switching to silicone products over plastic ones to help reduce the amount of waste they create. Silicone has been found to last longer than regular plastic, in addition to it being made from natural silica instead of man-made petroleum, which is what is used to make plastic. Another benefit is that while silicone is not biodegradable, it is non-toxic to its environment. “It is not toxic to aquatic or soil organisms, it is not hazardous waste, and while it is not biodegradable, it can be recycled after a lifetime of use.” If incinerated, silicone is reduced back to its elemental factors of amorphous silica, carbon dioxide, and water vapor, and not harmful airborne chemicals.
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