Today, we’re looking at a few materials that, for once, are not strictly used as a food additive. Rather, they are common materials used in the production of numerous consumer goods. These materials are ubiquitous in everyday items, so folks often ask if it’s vegan.
Is they vegan? Yes, silicon, silicone, and silica/silica gel are all considered vegan. Silicon is simply a mineral (atomic number 14) which is derived from the earth’s crust.1 Silicone and silica gel are composed of silicon along with other atoms or compounds like H2O and HCl.2,3
Why Silicone Is Considered Vegan
These Substances Are Not Made from Animals
Again, silicone derives from silicon, which is a mineral sourced from the earth’s crust—namely, sand or quartzite.1
Silicon is the 7th most abundant element in the universe, second only to elements like hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, carbon, neon, and oxygen. Silicon composes 27.2% of the Earth’s crust (by weight), coming after oxygen at 45.5%.1
Silicone, aka polysiloxane, is any polymer that includes synthetic compounds composed of repeating units of siloxane—a chain of alternating atoms of silicon and oxygen, combined with hydrogen and carbon.
Vegans Use Silicon, Silica and Silicone on a Daily Basis
Not that this would not necessarily render a substance completely vegan-friendly—to be used by a large number of self-proclaimed vegans, that is. But, a communities attitude regarding a particular material is, at least, one clue in determining whether said material is suitable for vegans.
Some substances are far from vegan, while others are more controversial. When it comes to the latter, it can often be useful to defer to the community consensus or organizations like PETA.
Speaking of which, silicon and its derivatives are not mentioned in PETA’s list of non-vegan ingredients and substances.4
In fact, silica gel is mentioned (in PETA’s article) as an alternative to gelatin (a substance derived from the collagen of animals).4
Silicone is present in a number of common products including:2
- Cooking utensils
- Thermal and electrical insulation
Other common forms of silicone include silicone grease, oil, rubber, caulk, and resin.5
Silicone rubber is a common material in baby bottle nipples (called teats) due to its cleanliness, and appearance.
Personal care products containing silicone are also very common.
- Shaving products and personal lubricants.6
- Color cosmetics.
- Haircare applications.
As for the latter, phenyl trimethicones, is one silicone family, commonly used in color-correcting and reflection-enhancing hair products, as they are effective in increasing shine and glossiness.7
I bring up the above because I often get asked about the vegan status of individual household products, many of which are made from silicone.
Silica and Silica Gel
Silica gel is also very common in household items.
Silica gel is a porous and amorphous form of silicon dioxide (silica), consisting of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms with voids and pores. The voids can contain liquids like water or may be filled by a vacuum or gas. If filled by a vacuum, the material is called Silica xerogel.
You’re probably used to seeing those silica packets that come with certain consumer items.
Moisture encourages spoilage and the growth of mold. Condensation damages items like electronics and tends to speed the decomposition of chemicals, like those in vitamin pills.
Silica gel packets allow such items to be preserved for longer periods of time.
Cat litter is another common place you’ll find silica gel, usually by itself or in combination with other materials like bentonite.8
Silica gel also tends to be used as a food additive. In the US, it’s listed by the FDA as a GRAS ingredient (generally recognized as safe).
Which, basically just means it can be added to food products without needing approval.
Silica can be added at up to 2% and 5% concentrations in the US (per 21 CFR 172.480), and EU, respectively.9
Silica is used in foods for a number of reasons:10
- Anti-caking agent
- Defoaming agent
- Conditioning agent
- Chill-proofing agent
- Filter aid
- Emulsifying agent
- Viscosity control agent
- Anti-settling agent
Another common use of silica gel is in household water filters. The substance has quite the water adsorption capacity, so it’s a favorite for use in domestic filters.11
Silica gel has a surface structure of that allows for the adsorption of minerals dissolved in the water, a process usually marketed as “Ion-exchange”.12
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work, as domestic water filtration products lack regulation, and currently, there are no studies that actually validate the manufacturer claims regarding the effectiveness of such filter systems.3
Finally, silica gel tends to be used as a humidity indicator. Silica gel is often used with a moisture indicator that changes its color upon transitioning from a dry state to a hydrated state.
Anyway, hopefully, the above will give you an idea of the vegan status of various foods and household items by virtue of the presence of silicon or its derivatives. The materials themselves (silicon, silicone, and silica gel) are never derived from animals, and thus always 100% vegan-friendly.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Is DATEM Vegan?
- Is Cellulose Gum Vegan?
- Is Maltodextrin Vegan?
- Is Salt Vegan? (Table Salt, Himalayan Pink Salt, Sea Salt, Etc.)
- Is Tapioca Really Vegan?
- Silicon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon
- Silicone. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicone
- Silica Gel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silica_gel
- Animal-derived Ingredients Resource: Living. https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
- Hans-Heinrich Moretto, Manfred Schulze, Gebhard Wagner (2005) “Silicones” in Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/14356007.a24_057
- Q. Ashton Acton: Silicones—Advances in Research and Application: 2013 Edition, ScholarlyEditions, 2013, ISBN 9781481692397, p. 226.
- Thomas Clausen et al. “Hair Preparations” in Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 2007, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/14356007.a12_571.pub2
- Andrew Kantor (2004-12-10). “Non-Tech High Tech Litters the Landscape”. https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/andrewkantor/2004-12-10-kantor_x.htm
- “Notification of the GRAS Determination of Silicon Dioxide When Added Directly or Indirectly to Human Food” (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 18, 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20130418061428/http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/gras_notices/GRN000321.pdf
- “GRAS Notice (GRN) No. 298” (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 9, 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20110409092941/http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/gras_notices/grn0298.pdf
- Zerowater Filter – Not As Illustrated – No Validated Claims. Boba – http://keeppcquiet.blogspot.com/2015/01/zero-water-not-as-illustrated-no.html
- J. B. Peri , A. L. Hensley Jr. (1968). “The surface structure of silica gel”. The Journal of Physical Chemistry. 72 (8): 2926–2933. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/j100854a041