Silicone vs. Silicon: Differences Made Clear

, Staff Writer
Updated March 25, 2021
silicone vs silicon examples
    silicone vs silicon example
    silicone: DmyTo / iStock / Getty Images Plus, silicon: RHJ / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

It's very easy to mix up the words silicone vs. silicon since the only visible difference is that one of the words has an "e" at the end. Even though they're spelled so similarly, these two words represent two very different substances. Silicon is a naturally occurring chemical element. Silicone is a manmade substance that includes silicon, as well as other elements. They both offer many practical applications.

What Is Silicon?

Silicon, pronounced sĭl'ĭ-kōn, is a natural substance. It is a chemical element that occurs in nature. As such, it is listed on the periodic table of elements as Si. It is a semimetal substance, which is also referred to as a metalloid substance. This means that it has properties of metals and nonmetals alike.


What Is Silicone?

Silicone, pronounced sĭl'ĭ-kən, is a manmade substance that includes silicon and oxygen, along with other elements depending on its form or type. Silicone materials are made in liquid, fluid, solid, or rubber form.

Examples: What Is Silicon Used for?

Silicon quickly and easily forms a chemical bond with the element oxygen (O) so it's rarely, if ever, observed in nature its pure form. However, it is present in many products and has uses in many industrial applications.

  • Silicon is used to make many types of electronic devices and equipment, including computer chips and semiconductors. This is why the area in northern California where so many big tech companies began is referred to as Silicon Valley.
  • If you have ever been to the beach or played in a sandbox, you have seen silicon in action. That is because when silicon combines with oxygen to form silicon dioxide, it becomes silica, which is a major component of sand. Quartz is another term for silica.
  • Producing glass requires the use of industrial sand, which contains a significant amount of silicon dioxide. In this form (industrial sand), silica is the main ingredient needed to manufacture glass.
  • Silica isn't just for sand. A special type of silica (amorphous silica) is a common ingredient in makeup, skincare products and other personal care items. It is very common in cosmetics designed for those with oily skin, as it can reduce shininess by causing the skin to dry a bit when applied.
  • Silicon is often used industrially to manufacture metal alloys. Ferrosilicon (FeSi) is an alloy of iron (Fe) and silicon (Si) that is used to manufacture steel.
  • Advances in medical research have led to the development of silicon nanoneedle patches that can be used to safely deliver medication directly into biological cells in a unique way. It is believed that this technology could provide a way to help organs and nerves that have been damaged repair themselves.
  • Combined with carbon, silicon forms silicon carbide (SiC). This is an extremely strong and durable ceramic material used in many industrial applications. It is used to make corrosion-resistant vessels, crude oil pipelines, disc brakes, lightning rods, and many other items.

Examples: What Is Silicone Used for?

Silicone has beneficial properties that make it useful in a wide variety of industrial applications and consumer products. Silicone can handle extreme heat and cold, holds up well to ultraviolet (UV light) exposure and is water repellent. Since silicon is used to make silicone, everything that silicone is present in also includes silicon.

  • Silicone is used to make coatings for many electronic devices, such as the material that covers computer keyboards, the outside of computers, cell phones, and entertainment systems.
  • Silicone caulk is a common substance used in construction and home maintenance. It is used to seal open areas between molding and drywall or flooring, as well as to seal the edges of sinks, tubs and other bathroom fixtures.
  • Silicone is often used to coat the exterior and components within various types of office equipment, such as photocopy machines, printers and fax machines.
  • Cooking is an everyday task that silicone can make easier. A lot of kitchen tools and gadgets are made from food-grade silicone and silicone rubber, including cooking utensils, non-stick baking sheets, individual cupcake liners, bowls, lids, and more. It is considered safer and more environmentally-friendly than plastic.
  • It also plays a role in daily transportation, since silicone is used to manufacture many vehicle parts. Airbags, shock absorbers, windshield wipers, and headlamps are just a few of the car parts that typically include silicone.
  • Silicone is often used in the manufacture of life-saving medical devices designed to be implanted in patients with heart disease. It is used in devices such as cardiac stents, defibrillators, pacemakers.
  • Some breast implants are filled with silicone gel. Those that do not contain this substance are filled with saline. Both can pose potential risks.

Learning More Scientific Terminology

In the field of science, there are many words that look similar when written yet have very different meanings and uses. Now that you're clear on the difference between silicon vs. silicone, take the time to learn even more. Start by reviewing this basic science vocabulary list to make sure you have a thorough understanding of key scientific words. From there, move on to more advanced topics such as the scientific method. Next, discover the difference between scientific law and theory. Soon, you'll have a strong and growing vocabulary of scientific terms. Then, you can start to explore other words separated only by a final "e" like borne vs. born.