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Is Silicone the Fountain of Youth?

Jeff Falk

Though we’ve yet to discover any of the mythical fountains of youth, cosmetic science may have found a tributary. Silicones are one of the saviors of the wilting dermal layers. Commercially available since the 1940s, advances in silicones have improved the material’s efficacy and enabled new silicone combinations in skin care products. The properties of silicones enhance the efficacy of products designed to address the visible signs and symptoms of aging skin.

Skin Care Grows with Silicones

Skin care is the largest sector in the global cosmetics and toiletries market with a value of approximately $56 billion, as reported in GCI’s June 2006 “State of the Industry.” It also is one of the few sectors maintaining strong growth rates, with sales up 6.8%. Euromonitor cites “the continued pre-occupation with antiaging products” as a factor fueling skin care’s growth. Advances in silicone technology are keeping skin care interesting.

In general, silicones exhibit low surface tension, high lubricity, chemical inertness and low toxicity as well as softness-enhancing and non-stick properties—making them useful for a wide range of applications. According to Tony O’Lenick, president, Siltech LLC, silicone compounds are included in skin care formulations to function as wetting agents (providing a glide and “enhanced cosmetic elegance”), to provide a more uniform distribution of ingredients on the skin, lend emolliency, form films and provide a silky feel.

Doug De Blasi, director of sales and marketing, Biosil Technologies, Inc., notes that silicones in skin care can be classified into three major categories: fluids and waxes for aesthetic emollient properties, silicone polymers as delivery systems for other functional ingredients, and silicones that carry radicals while simultaneously providing desirable skin active properties themselves. “(Silicones) are able to absorb skin sebum and act as formulation thickeners and are increasingly important for oil-free claims,” said Isabelle van Reeth, global technology leader for skin care, Dow Corning. “Breakthrough technologies include new emulsions that add value to personal care products and benefit the personal care industry by providing greater flexibility in the enhancement, development and modification of formulations.”

Today, as De Blasi put it, silicones are ubiquitous in skin care.

Market Demands

It is plain to see that including silicones in skin care products is a wise choice—the market demands it. O’Lenick has stated that the creation of new performance properties in silicones is driven solely by the perceived needs of the consumer.

“While technical people do not want to admit it, our business is driven by the needs of the market,” said O’Lenick. “The consumer has the final say. Formulators need to respond to marketing to provide cost-effective products that exceed consumer demands.”

“When launching a new product, we try our best to ensure that this product is meeting market and customer needs on a local and global level,” said van Reeth. “We are also listening to customers and can come up with customized solutions.”

O’Lenick cautioned that this requires careful selection of cost-effective additives which provide consumers perceivable benefits and give marketers an edge over competitive products. “Silicones, if properly chosen and used at proper levels, can provide such advantages.”

“Modern silicone technologies deliver aesthetic as well as functional benefits, and a silicone product that combines functionality with outstanding sensory properties can truly differentiate a product,” said Beatriz Blanco, global marketing manager, personal care, GE Silicones.

“Today’s personal care products need to do more than just deliver on performance claims,” stated van Reeth. “Consumers expect skin care and color cosmetic products to provide them with a unique sensory experience before, during and after application. The concept formulations included in (Dow’s) Experience the Difference program provide customers with fully formulated products that use silicones to enhance the consumers’ experience—through the appearance, fragrance, texture and skin feel of a product.”

Silicone Selection

Silicones are a diverse class of compounds. Besides a general understanding of various silicones and their functions, it is important to understand that skin care formulas depend on a combination of silicones to achieve the product the market demands.

“One makes a mistake when classifying compounds as simply ‘silicone,’ ” said O’Lenick. “While the broad class exists, there are a wide range of compounds that provide specific formulation benefits to the cosmetic chemist. A broad brush approach limits the benefit one can get from silicone compounds. Proper selection is key.”

Employing one silicone to perform all the required functions is not possible, and this selection is dictated by structural considerations. Silicones are becoming increasingly specialized. Understanding the physical chemistry of silicone compounds in combination with other formulation ingredients produces cost-effective products that consumers demand. “Consumers have high expectations for both elegance and performance,” said De Blasi.

“Also, they want quick results and assurances that the environment is protected. Silicones have an important role in all of these expectations by providing essential benefits and by complementing and enhancing other key ingredients synergistically to provide a truly great feeling and skin beautifying product.”

When the benefits are defined and the advantages of various silicones are understood, the better the chance for a cost-effective concentration of silicone.

“Most formulations need several silicone compounds present at low concentrations to provide a cosmetically elegant product,” said O’Lenick. “Comparing formulations to gourmet meals, silicones most likely will not be the meat or potatoes, but rather the spice that adds the desired flavor. Optimization is key; picking the most cost-effective silicone, which is directly dictated by structure.”

Evolution: The Silicone Solution

De Blasi pointed out that the Society of Cosmetic Chemists course on silicones notes that evolution in silicones has taken formulators from construction (emollients) to functionalization (polymeric delivery systems) and finally to derivatization (silicones as actives).

“Formulators embraced the first class in the 1980s. Delivery systems was a favorite buzz word of the 1990s, and that included silicones,” says De Blasi. “Today, we are seeing the emergence of skin care treatment formulations and dermatological actives for skin protection and rejuvenation based on silicone technology. These hydroxyl functional silicones are used to bind exotic ingredients that beneficially stimulate skin metabolism and improve skin appearance by working below the stratum corneum.”

Possibly inspired by marketers’ and consumers’ continual push for new, improved and better skin care products, manufacturers of silicone seem energized about what tomorrow may bring for their star ingredient. They speak of a thriving entrepreneurial environment, unique opportunities and proactive solutions.

“The postmodern cosmetic user is driven by performance skin care products that are desirable; desirable in that they fit individual life styles while protecting the environment,” said De Blasi of the source of these opportunities. “Complementing this is the demographic imperative. Our aging population will be with us a long time, but the good news is that most also will enjoy vitality and vigor. Antiaging, antiwrinkle, antiglycation and similar challenges are driving much of our development. Innovation should celebrate that good news, and that is the opportunity.

“Silicone and ‘actives’ development will contribute in at least two key ways. First, by providing skin protection from harmful stimuli such as UV, oxidation and pollution, coupled with a nourishment component such as moisturization, restored homeostasis and even enhanced biocommunication at the cellular level. Second, new developments will offer prevention formulations that counter the effects of both intrinsic and extrinsic skin antagonists,” De Blasi said.

These manufacturers also are vocal about their commitment to educating the industry on the use and benefits of silicones, and their grasp of the consumer impetus behind silicone’s growth makes them an invaluable and potent partner to both formulators and marketers.

“To move beyond being just a raw materials supplier, Dow Corning decided to share its application expertise, market understanding and global awareness with customers through a solutions approach,” said van Reeth. “In addition to developing and delivering new ingredients in a timely manner, the company strives to uncover consumer needs and opportunities throughout the world. Using this understanding and expertise, Dow Corning develops unique consumer product concepts that are aligned to market trends and demonstrate the benefits of silicones while stretching the imagination beyond existing solutions.”

GE operates application research centers in the U.S., South America, Europe and Asia where scientists are focused on achieving an in-depth understanding of the structure-function relationships of the company’s products and helping customers formulate innovative and value-added products.

“While formulators are responsible for selecting silicones that will meet the requirements of their end-use, GE is proud of taking an active role in educating formulators of personal care products,” said Blanco. “GE is committed to continually developing innovative materials that serve the long-term strategic interests of our customers.”

“Going forward, we would like to educate formulators on the benefits of combining silicones with natural ingredients,” said De Blasi. “Biosil has been fortunate to enjoy strong relationships throughout the industry by providing both ingredients and formulations that demonstrate performance. We will continue to provide guidance in silicone technology in addition to our broad library of skin care treatment actives.

“Silicones are outstanding vehicles and are key structure/property components in complexes that bring out the best in natural product formulae,” De Blasi said. Ponce de Leon couldn’t find his fountain of youth, but silicone technology brings that magic to modern skin care formulations.

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