Exploring the use of nature's strongest but lightest fibre in skincare: silk
Silk has been used in skincare for thousands of years, dating back to its discovery in Ancient China, 2640 BC.
The discovery of silk
The most common tale on the origins of silk state that Si-Ling-Chi, a Chinese Empress was walking through her garden, when a cocoon dropped into her tea. Upon picking it up, she found it began to unravel, forming a beautiful string of what is now known as ‘Silk’.
Revealing the secrets of silk
After more than 3,000 years, in the mid 6th century two poor monks told Emperor Justinian of Constantinople that they had learned the secret of Silk after arriving back in Constantinople from China. Justinian sent them back to China to get some eggs and mulberry shoots for him, so that he too could raise Silkworms and create beautiful products made of Silk. The Monks returned many years later with the eggs and shoots hidden inside their hollowed-out walking sticks. Since Justinian was the emperor of Constantinople, a crossroads city, the secret soon spread throughout Europe. The trek taken by the monks, has now come to be known as the Silk Road, and this road was a major breaking point in what in now modern-day trade.
Through a number of factors namely; closely-guarded trade secrets, high costs of production and lack of expertise, Australia has never had a silk industry - unfortunate given the fact that Australia is blessed with a near-perfect natural environment to rear.
Seresilk founder, Taylor Battistella, first started rearing silkworms as a primary school student and quickly started his first business supplying schools and retail customers over the country. Fascinated by the strength and beauty of nature's strongest but lightest natural fibre he wanted to know more. Hearing that ladies working in Chinese silk farms have the softest hands in the world and noticing that many overseas skincare formulations used silk in skincare, it was during this time that he first discovered the benefits of silk in skincare. Battistella decided that he needed to do more to bring the wonders of Silk to Australian skincare...
Silk in skincare
While silk is a common and well-researched skincare ingredient, it is under-appreciated and not as prevalent in western formulations as other ingredients. This is largely down to the fact that silk is often reared using cruel methods and most of the world's silk production occurs in China - where it is still a heavily guarded secret as it has been for over 4,000+ years
Typically, the silk cocoon is boiled 8 days after it has been spun, killing the pupa inside and allowing the 1,000m long thread to unravel for a cleaner and more effective spinning process. This is pointless and unnecessarily cruel in the world of skincare though, given the final silk product is boiled down to a liquid form. The beauty of Seresilk, is that we allow the silk-moth to emerge naturally and continue its natural life-cycle thanks to the synergies between founder Battistella, and his business focusing on silkworm-related products to the education sector - meaning that all Seresilk formulations in the product range are using 100% cruelty-free and Australian-made silk.
Scientific benefits of silk in skincare
Silk is made of two different types of proteins: fibroin and sericin. Fibroin is the filaments of silk itself and makes up to 80% of the silk by weight while sericin is the "glue" that binds the filaments together and is approx. 20% of the cocoon's weight.
Without getting too "sciency", all proteins are made up of amino acids. Silk has 18 amino acids, which is remarkable given that there are only 20 amino acids in the human body! In saying this, 80% of this total is made up of only three: alanine, glycine and serine.
Silk not only has great benefits, but its retaining properties let the other actives do a great job.
The silk fibroin - which gives silk its strength - mimics the body's "natural moisturising factor" (NMF), which improves hydration and reduces "trans-epidermal water loss" (TEWL). Together, this protects our skin from the effects of pollution and scoops up free radicals thanks to its antioxidant properties.
The sericin has a number of hydrating and remedial properties, which can help wound-healing and even anti-ageing.
Alanine is found mostly in fibroin and is a conditioning and hydrating agent that helps reduce TEWL thanks to the fact that it is small enough to penetrate the skin barrier.
Glycine is also found in fibroin and is known to improve signs of ageing by increasing water retention and stimulating the production of collagen.
Serine, as the name suggests is found in sericin and has significant moisturising benefits, which is why it is often found in haircare products in addition to skincare.
Is hydrolysed silk the same silk as what is in my clothes? No... but yes! Hydrolysed silk is a liquid, but it is 100% natural silk - which we use in all of our formulations. The "hydrolysation" is the breaking down of the silk proteins into smaller peptide chains
The steps to this process are quite simple:
1.) Allow silk-moths to peacefully emerge from their cocoons
2.) Collect waste silk
3.) Boil waste silk with soapy solution to prepare for liquefaction in a process called "degumming"
4.) Through a series of chemical reactions the silk dissolves and we are left with a beautiful Iiquid form of silk called "hydrolysed silk" which is then used in our formulations.
Benefits of these components in skincare
Part of the beauty of silk is that its proteins strengthen the skin's barrier by producing a shield around your skin to protect it from outside aggressors. This aids in hydration retention and active substance stabilisation. Maintaining the skin's barrier function reduces fine wrinkles, smoothens texture and improves skin firmness and elasticity meaning silk is the perfect ingredient to accompany actives such as Vitamin A for an extra kick - which is included in the Seresilk Silk Night Serum, for example. This also explains why the products don’t need crazy amounts of silk… and only small amounts are necessary.
We will continue to zero-in on the topics explored briefly in this story. Interested in finding out more about silk in skincare? Join the Seresilk mailing list and message email@example.com for any topics you'd like to see covered in future articles.