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Typical straight, black East Asian hair naturally has low porosity, with the outside cuticle lying very flat. This means that water and other ingredients don’t go in or out of the hair strand easily, so using the wrong product didn’t have a huge effect.
But the bleaching process causes the cuticle to end up with lots of gaps in it, so the porosity changes. This meant that choosing the wrong product would make my hair weird and limp, or worse, rough and prone to snagging and tangles – and since bleach also made my hair weak, this would mean a ton of new split ends and damage.
So in the past 6 months I’ve gone through a long process of trial and error to work out which products and ingredients would work for my bleached hair – and it turns out, amodimethicone is my hair saviour (apart from Olaplex, of course).
What Is Amodimethicone?
Amodimethicone is a silicone. Silicones have a bad reputation in haircare, and I think it’s because of the huge range of hair types and needs. One person’s saviour is another person’s kryptonite.
Dimethicone, for example, was Michelle’s Old Hair’s hero. Dove Damage Therapy Intensive Repair Conditioner, heavy on cetearyl alcohol and dimethicone, was amazing at making my hair smooth and tangle-free. It’s still my sister’s favourite conditioner of all time – she uses it daily, and her hair hangs down to her buttcrack like a silky shiny curtain.
But after bleaching, dimethicone was no longer my friend. It made Michelle’s New Hair weird and limp.
Enter amodimethicone. It’s a silicone, but it has unique properties that have translated to soft, smooth shine for my bleached hair, although I found it underwhelming for my hair pre-bleach:
Selectively attaches to damaged hair
Amodimethicone is an amine-functionalised silicone, with NH and NH2 groups. In an acidic environment, like in a hair conditioner, amine groups become protonated when H+ ions attach to them, and it acquires a positive charge.
Healthy hair is covered in a protective water-repellent (hydrophobic) layer of a fatty acid called 18-methyleicosanoic acid (18-MEA). This layer, known as the F-layer, is chemically bound to hair, but wears off during lots of chemical processes like bleaching.
When the F-layer is worn off, the water-attracting (hydrophilic) proteins underneath are more exposed. These proteins acquire a negative charge in water, so damaged sections of hair are more negatively charged than the undamaged portions. Opposite charges attract, so this means that amodimethicone will selectively stick to the damaged sections of hair more strongly.
One of the issues that’s commonly associated with silicones is the fact they can form durable coatings on your hair that can’t be easily washed off. As you repeatedly use silicone-containing products, they keep attaching to your hair, leading to buildup. This makes the hair feel dull and lifeless.
Amodimethicone’s amine groups decrease the chance of this happening. Since strands of amodimethicone have positive charges, they repel each other. Any amodimethicone that’s already stuck to the hair will repel any extra strands that try to latch on. This means that the silicone film doesn’t get too thick, so buildup is much less likely than with regular silicones.
Forms a durable film
There are two reasons for amodimethicone staying on your hair more strongly.
The first reason is the positive charge, which gives an extra stickiness to the silicone layer.
The other reason is cooler (in my nerdy opinion, anyway!). After the amodimethicone sticks to your hair, it also crosslinks. This is when the OH groups on adjacent amodimethicone strands react to form a more durable film.
This film can last through multiple washes. According to one study, some of the benefits lasted for 20 washes! On my hair though, the silky soft feel is gone enough to require topping up every 2-3 days, even without washing – I’m guessing there’s lots of variation between products and hair types.
Benefits of Amodimethicone
These are the benefits of amodimethicone according to cosmetic scientists:
- increased softness, smoothness and shininess (from locking moisture into hair, and leaving a silicone film)
- reduced fly-away
- faster drying time
- colour protection (since the film can lock dye molecules against the hair surface)
- thermal protection from heat styling (since the film helps hair retain water, which leads to gentle, even heating
- improved combing
- no reduced body or volume
- increased hair strength (possibly because the silicone film protects the hair when stretched, or because the porosity is decreased so a good moisture level is maintained inside the hair)
I’ve noticed some of these effects in my hair after using conditioners and masks that have amodimethicone high in the ingredients list.
- My hair is very noticeably smoother and softer. Instead of feeling grippy and tangle-prone, or dry and spiky, it’s soft and smooth – like a lighter version of my old hair. Sometimes I’m even tricked into thinking it’s healthy (although that illusion disappears once I go too many days without using an amodimethicone product)
- There’s no silicone dullness or limpness when I just use a rinse-off amodimethicone mask or conditioner, unless I also use other silicone products on top (sometimes still necessary when my hair is feeling too fluffy).
- I can comb my wet hair easily in or out of the shower with my fingers or a wide-toothed comb.
- My hair feel stronger and less prone to breakage, especially during brushing and combing – after using some other products, I can sometimes hear strands breaking!
- I haven’t been monitoring drying time, colour or thermal protection.
- My flyaways haven’t decreased, but I think this is because they tend to come from my hair being coarse and stiff rather than from static repulsion.
Amodimethicone Products in My Routine
I’ve only tried rinse-off amodimethicone products so far, but I’m hoping to try some leave-in ones soon… if I can locate any!
Make Hair Soft Treatment – This was the product that got me hooked on amodimethicone. It was nice in my unbleached hair, but when I tried it in my hair after bleaching, there was a complete transformation. I thought I was doomed to years of babying my hair, but after using this once it was almost like I had my old resilient hair back. I’m yet to try anything else from their range, but since this wasn’t designed for damaged hair, I’m optimistic that they have even more effective products for my hair.
Essano Acai Berry Colour Protect Conditioner – I’m currently using this as my conditioner every time I wash my hair. I leave it in for around 3 minutes before washing it off. I’m incredibly impressed by how well this works, although I haven’t noticed a difference in hair colour fade time.
Kerastase Discipline Fondant Fluidealiste Conditioner – This has a similar effect to the Essano conditioner in my hair.
All three of these products also contain cetearyl or cetyl alcohol near the top of the list, but I found that other products with these fatty alcohols and no amodimethicone didn’t have the same effect.
I still find I need to use Olaplex about once every 4-6 weeks, when my hair is too brittle despite the protective silicone coating.
Since there’s such a wide variety of hair textures, I don’t think everyone will have the same experience with amodimethicone. But if your hair is snag-prone from damage, amodimethicone products might be worth a try even if other silicones haven’t worked for you in the past.
Disapio A & Fridd P, Silicones: use of substantive properties on skin and hair, Int J Cosmet Sci 1988, 10, 75-89. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-2494.1988.tb00004.x
Yahagi K, Silicones as conditioning agents in shampoos, J Soc Cosmet Chem 1992, 43, 275-284.
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