“Silk has the ability to dramatically improve skin on a cellular level.” Founder on formulating with silk

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

Formulating with silk can be a challenge according to the brand founder
Formulating with silk can be a challenge according to the brand founder

Related tags Ingredients Silk Cosmetics Formulation Skin care Science Innovation Skin health Personal care Hair care

We spoke to the founder of indie brand This is Silk about the challenges of formulating with this ancient ingredient.

Silk has been used in ancient beauty rituals in Asian countries for centuries and its benefits are currently being rediscovered by cosmetics brands.

The founder of UK brand This is Silk, Sonal Keay, first discovered the benefits of silk to help ease symptoms her allergy to daylight. She started her business by selling silk bedding and branched out into creating topical skin and hair care products when she discovered more about the skin care benefits of the ingredient.

“Silk has the ability to dramatically improve skin on a cellular level,” ​she shared. “As the amino acids in silk activate cells and tissue to protect, heal and renew our skin.”

The scientific evidence for silk

Keay spent many hours at the British Library reading peer-reviewed scientific articles about silk to gain strong scientific evidence for her use of silk in beauty products. Her main discovery was that silk is an incredibly powerful active ingredient that is gentle yet potent, with an ability to protect, heal and renew skin.

Silk has a unique affinity with the human body, with 90% of the amino acids in common,” ​she explained. “It has the ability to activate our own skin cells to produce more fibroblasts, keratinocytes and collagen, which is where much of the current interest lies, because this is the mechanism of skin renewal/anti-ageing.”

She said that studies have revealed that silk also has significant antioxidant abilities – as it forms a protective film on skin, increases hydration levels and begins the process of renewal. She claims that the reason silk works so well is that in nature it is a barrier, just like skin.  This means it must protect against oxidative stress and ultraviolet radiation, maintain excellent levels of hydration and be able to heal and renew itself against damage.

The company has just finished conducting research with a professor of tissue regeneration at Brighton University, which discovered that skin cells treated with silk peptides clearly showed an increase in collagen, fibroblasts and keratinocytes and the production of new, denser skin tissue.

The research made plenty of discoveries about silk, such as strawberries dipped in silk stayed fresher for a longer time because of its natural antioxidant effects. And that wounds treated with silk resulted in less scarring because the ingredient led to the skin cells knitting back together in a ‘more orderly’ fashion.

Using silk in beauty products

This is Silk’s first beauty product launch was Radiance Renewed’ Silk Overnight Oil, an oil that contains silk peptides, rosehip oil, bakuchiol and jasmine and rose essential oils. It’s designed to brighten and renew and is especially good for mature skin. Keay said it can be used as an alternative to retinol.

Next, the brand launched Silk Cream Cleanser, which cleans without stripping and leaves skin soft. It also features and jasmine and rose oils.

The third product launch was a serum called The Power Up Silk Booster, which can be mixed into any other skincare product. According to Keay, this serum has received excellent results in an independent consumer trial.

All products are intended to nourish skin with nutrient-rich ingredients and are made to mimic the experience of silk.

The challenges of formulating with silk

When Keay considered creating beauty products, the first challenge was finding a cosmetic formulator who was willing to work with silk.

“I needed someone who was willing to work from Ground Zero, and someone who was intellectually curious enough, to be driven by innovation and experimentation,” ​she explained. “After that, it was about ensuring that there was a longer and more thorough development period assigned to the products.”

“Silk is not easy to incorporate into formulations when the dosage is for therapeutic use,” ​she continued. “Some products use a ‘tip in’ – a tiny amount of silk for label appeal – which is not sufficient to have an effect.”

Keay explained that because silk attracts a lot of water a lot of the initial development work was testing different levels of silk and putting the tests on stability. This meant that the product development time took much longer than the average skin care product.

According to Keay, everything was done “from scratch,” plus, working with silk required a practised hand and a lot of patience. Instead of adding ingredients all at once, each one had to be added separately to check its compatibility with the silk.

What’s in the NPD pipeline?

The next product to launch will be Silk Moisturiser, which has been in development for over 18 months. Then the brand plans to launch its Silk and Silver serum, which is designed to repair skin on a cellular level. Keay said this has been in development for over a year.

There is also a facial mist made with rose water in the pipeline that’s been in development for around six months.

In terms of hair care, the brand plans to launch a hair styling cream for textured hair that’s rich in silk and lanolin, which was created to “transform dry and frizzy hair” and is currently being tested by a Trichologist.

Looking to the future, Keay has set her sights on developing silk-based sun care. “I would like to develop a silk sun cream,” ​she shared. “Silk naturally provides some protection against ultraviolet radiation, so it would be a natural progression.”

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