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Fascinating Silicone™ Chemistry Corner – Gloss & Shine

How silicone gloss & shine enhancers work

Silicones improve the gloss or shine of products two ways: 1) through their ability to completely wet a substrate, and 2) through their ability to absorb or reflect light.

Wetting and spreading

A formulation or coating has to cover a surface evenly to achieve good gloss or shine. Uneven coverage creates a streaky, blotchy effect. Silicones promote complete and continuous coverage.

  • Because they have such low surface tension (20.4 mN/m) and very little internal friction, silicones flow easily over all kinds of substrates and surfaces.
  • And because their critical surface tension of wetting is somewhat higher (24 mN/m), silicones are able to create microscopically thin, self-leveling films.

Playing with light

A silicone’s ability to absorb or reflect light is a function of its refractive index.

  • Silicones with refractive indices of approximately 1.4 increase gloss and depth of gloss; when used in car and furniture polishes they more clearly reveal and enhance the appearance of the surface.
  • Silicones with refractive indices of 1.5 or more add shine; when used in hair care products, they call attention to the light being reflected from the surface of the hair, giving it the lustrous appearance consumers want.

The refractive index of a polydimethylsiloxane fluid is typically ~1.4. But if some of the methyl groups on the molecule are replaced with phenyl groups, the refractive index can be increased!

Do you want gloss? Or do you want shine?


Gloss

Silicones that promote gloss let light pass through, so the light illuminates and reflects the substrate.

Shine

Silicones that promote shine reflect the light before it reaches the substrate, so the light dazzles the eye.


Silicone benefits for gloss and shine

  • The ability to wet many different substrates, from glass and metal to wood, skin, and hair
  • Self-leveling capability for even coverage
  • The ability to form very thin films that do not interfere with the bulk properties of the product or substrate
  • The availability of a variety of refractive indices to achieve the best degree of gloss or shine for the applications

Typical gloss and shine applications

Learn how other types of silicones work.

Did you know ... silicones do not always make things shiny! Certain silicone paint additives, for example, can actually reduce the shininess of the paint surface, imparting a dull matte finish.

Expand your understanding

Technical articles:
Silicones in Coatings (PDF Size 285 KB)
Silicones in Personal Care Applications (PDF Size 136 KB)

Explore your material options

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