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A Brief History of Silicones in Cosmetics

What is Silicone?

In the cosmetics industry, the term silicone indicates a group of synthesized compounds that contain the element silicon. Silicon itself can be found in the nature, found in most minerals. However, the most well-known structure of silicone is a polymer that contains silicon and oxygen atoms. The variations on the structure are almost endless, making silicone as diverse as hydrocarbons used in personal care. This wide range of molecules provides benefits that impact the performance of almost every type of beauty product, bestowing attributes such as good spreading, film forming, wash-off resistance, skin feel, volatility and permeability. Synthesized silicones were first introduced into cosmetics in the 1950s. Since then, new silicone compounds are being developed all the time.

History of Silicone

In 1953, the first use of silicones in skin care was when Revlon commercialized a hand cream named Silicare. To explain silicones in marketing, they positioned the product as a protective layer, stating that “Silicare forms an invisible glove to protect your hands. Its amazing water-repellent power keeps detergent water away.” Silicone offered a number of unique characteristics that made it useful for improving the feel, appearance and performance of cosmetic products.

In the 1960s, the use of volatile silicone dramatically improved the overall quality of antiperspirant products and in the 1980s the use of silicone materials expanded to all skin care segments. This was a turning point, allowing for entirely different feel and solubility characteristics, offering new possibilities versus conventional materials. In the mid 1990s, silicone was introduced in makeup formulations allowing manufactures to make claims that their products would last all day. At the turn of the 21st century, the introduction of silicone elastomers offered unique replacements and modification of properties for traditional high oil and fatty alcohols systems, which had dominated formulations up until that time.

Silicones have been used in skin care products for more than 50 years and still maintain a very high level of use today. The global silicone market size was valued at USD 14.4 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.3% from 2021 to 2028. However, for the cosmetics industry, there are more and more natural alternatives appearing on the market due to concerns over the environmental impact of silicones. There is also growing consumer demand to switch from synthetics to more plant-based products, putting pressure on the industry.

Recently, with the increase in consumer consciousness on natural and ethical products, ingredient makers have been developing new alternatives to synthetic silicones. Silicones have their shortfalls. In addition to environmental and health concerns, silicones provide only a short-term cosmetic or sensory fix, whereas many of the natural or naturally derived alternatives provide an array of benefits, including skin nourishing properties, delivery of fatty acids and true moisturization. This, combined with the noted impact of certain silicones on the environment and concerns about the aquatic impact they have, has led many consumers to seek out products without silicones.

What are the Advantages of Silicones?

Due to their inert nature and ability to provide a number of beneficial functions to products, silicones have clear advantages for cosmetics and are recognized as safe. Most silicone based products have an incredibly light, silky skin feel. They are proven to directly influence skin’s hydration and boost its ability to benefit from other ingredients such as antioxidants. Some silicones help keep skin matte, blur the look of pores, or even temporarily fill lines and wrinkles. It also forms a barrier which protects the skin from chemical exposure and other environmental damage when used in higher concentrations, such as sunscreens. For formulators, their diversity also means that they can be manipulated in lots of ways to provide formulation solutions, lending incredible flexibility.

Today there are many silicone alternatives in the market, which provide the unique silicone skin feel. Our company, BioAktive, carries Natralite, our range of plant-based silicone alternatives which offer not only the skin feel but also, real skin caring properties to a formulation. In the finished cosmetics space, companies such as Natrue, offer a label to provide that the ingredients inside are all natural. This includes silicones. While many brands are finding ways to switch to an all natural range, many companies including Glossier and Paula’s choice are based on natural concepts from the start, including the use of silicone.

This Article was written by Zixuan (Alicia) Wang, Marketing Associate BioAktive Specialty Products. For any information or to contact BioAktive, please email

About BioAktive

BioAktive is a supplier of functional, plant-derived ingredients for use personal care and cosmetics. Our products are inspired by nature and designed to provide real value and functionality for our customers as they develop products in skin care, hair care, cosmetics, soaps and toiletries.​

Our portfolio includes natural-derived alternatives to common chemical products such as silicone oils and petroleum jelly as well as plant based functional ingredients such as our emulsion concentrates and other lipid based emollients.​

BioAktive is an agile supplier, putting emphasis on product selection, R&D, market knowledge, marketing and distribution. We are responsive to our customer and business partners needs, and work together with them to create solutions to real problems. We are strategic, pragmatic and solution oriented, working to ensure high quality, reliability of supply and cost effectiveness.

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