Fun fact: Lots of skincare products claim to make your skin feel “silky smooth” — but almost none of them contain actual silk. You’re more likely to find hydrolyzed silk (silk protein broken down to its component parts), sericin (a glue produced on the outside of silk fiber), or silk aminos (silk waste dissolved in acid) inside those “silk” serums and moisturizers… all three of which are more useful in marketing than skincare, according to cosmetic chemists. But two science-backed brands — Silk Therapeutics and Eighteen B — are on a mission to change all that, by offering technology-driven silk skincare products that talk the talk and walk the walk.
“Silk is what we refer to in the business as a ‘claims ingredient’ or a ‘hero ingredient,’” Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of The Beauty Brains, tells The Zoe Report, explaining that the equity of the word “silk” — which sounds super-luxe and nourishing, right? — packs more punch than the hydrolyzed protein itself. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase, on the other hand, is lauded by industry experts as a skincare must, since fibrous silk (AKA, the protein in its pure, natural form) does help lock in moisture and keep skin soft. From a consumer standpoint, it can be a little confusing.
That’s the conundrum that led Dr. Greg Altman, the CEO and co-founder of green chemistry company Evolved by Nature, and his partner Dr. Rebecca Lacouture, a biochemical engineer, to develop their patented Activated Silk, the key ingredient in Silk Therapeutics’ products. “Activated Silk is the pure, natural silk protein in water,” Dr. Altman tells The Zoe Report. “It’s the same silk protein that we’ve been wearing against our skin for 5,000 years — the breakthrough is availing it of its fiber form.” Essentially, this ingredient (a Silk Therapeutics exclusive) gives you all of the skincare benefits of a silk pillowcase… minus the pillowcase.
It also retains fibrous silk’s other enviable qualities. “Silk has the remarkable ability to bind to other silk proteins to form this fiber” — just picture the way a cocoon is spun — “and here, it binds to collagen proteins to help strengthen, smooth, and tighten the skin,” Dr. Altman explains. “It also binds to water to improve hydration,” Dr. Sejal Shah, the dermatologist behind SmarterSkin Dermatology, tells TZR. “It has been shown to have antioxidant properties, as well.” In other words, it’s pretty much an anti-aging, moisturizing, and pollution-protecting miracle ingredient.
Thanks to its purity, Activated Silk — which is sustainably sourced from discarded silkworm cocoons, without any harm to the actual silkworms — effectively replaces other ingredients in skincare formulations, too. “Because we’re using the natural silk protein, it has a variety of functions,” the chemist says. “It can bind to and interact with the collagen in your skin, and more importantly, we use it to stabilize other ingredients, such as vitamin C.” Silk Therapeutics’ products have about three to 10 ingredients each (a typical moisturizer has more like 50), which is a definite plus for those with sensitive or reactive skin. Natural silk is both non-immunogenic and non-allergenic, meaning it won’t cause irritation.
Where Silk Therapeutics’ technology is all about preserving natural silk, Eighteen B’s is about synthesizing a protein that’s essentially identical to silk. “We created the b-silk protein in an effort to manufacture silk without hydrolyzing or degrading it, retaining more of its valuable properties,” Dr. Lindsay Wray, the newly-launched brand’s Chief Scientific Officer, tells The Zoe Report. “Since b-silk protein exists in an unbroken form, it keeps more of silk’s regenerative qualities and provides a stronger, more protective barrier for your skin.”
Because Eighteen B’s patented technology is lab-manufactured, the brand’s products fall under the umbrella of "cruelty-free" — a win for conscious consumers. “It’s engineered in our labs using a simple fermentation process in which the inputs are yeast, water, sugar, and salt,” Dr. Wray explains. “Our method is clean and sustainable — and no silkworms or animals are harmed in the process of making our silk.”
Topically, it offers the exact same benefits as the pure stuff: It locks in moisture and supports your natural collagen and elastin stores. “Key benefits include improvements in skin firmness and lifting, improved hydration, enhanced skin texture and smoothness, and overall radiance and glow,” Dr. Wray says.
Ahead, eight ways to get your skin literally silky smooth, with science-approved serums, moisturizers, and more.