Thursday, February 3, 2011

Silk Protein - The Luxury Addition

The larvae dies in
the harvesting process
They don't call it 'smooth as silk' for nothing. Silk is synonymous with luxury – the ultimate softness, the highest attainable smoothness and the most perfect shine. Silk products of all kinds have been coveted and traded for hundreds of years. Silkworms are amazingly productive little creatures – each one producing up to a mile of thread within a mere 2-3 days! The ancient Chinese were the first to develop the process of creating cloth from these precious, protein-rich threads. It is also from the threads that the protein is 'extracted' and used for skin and hair care.

The Process

By nature, silk protein molecules are 'too big to work with' (read: you can't just add silk threads to a shampoo or body wash and expect them to have any beneficial function). The proteins need to be broken down into smaller units (until they are water soluble). The process of breaking down (any) protein into tiny bits is called hydrolysis, resulting in an end product called Hydrolized Silk Protein. For once, the INCI name for it is as straightforward as you please (INCI: Hydrolized Silk Protein).

Superior Conditioning For Hair
Silk protein has some fantastic abilities. Applied to hair, it forms a transparent film that protects the hair cuticle. It also helps to detangle the hair and promotes shine, managability, elasticity and resiliency. Silk protein is an extremely effective moisturizer for hair, adding luster, body, and manageability. It's quite simply the ultimate luxury for any hair product.

Great For Skin Too
In skin care, silk protein has water-binding properties, making it a great moisturizer. There are also some claims that it has antioxidant properties, but to my knowledge, this is 'being studied' and there are as yet no results. 

The A-B Silk Tests
As I have only used silk protein in shampoos and body washes (and not in any leave-on products like cream or lotion), I can only comment on how it works in bath products. I have tried numerous combinations and dosages – also to see if there was a noticable difference. The tests have been set up as 'A-B' tests. An example: I will make a batch of shampoo and split it into 2 parts:
'A'  (with added silk protein),
'B' (without added silk protein)
I will then test the 2 back-to-back for a period of time.
The results: even with a small dose, silk protein makes a noticable difference. I'm absolutely sold on the luxurious feel and added softness (both to hair and skin). I have even A-B tested my own silk-shampoo for hand-washing silk garments against a few different commercial 'specially-made-for-silks-and-delicates-detergents'. There was absolutely no contest. I have made and used my own 'silk wash' ever since. It even works in the machine on the 'super-delicate' cycle.

The Deep Sea Alternative to Silkworms
Although silk protein is has been used as an addition to cosmetics and hair care products for years (even in some 'cruelty-free' brands), plant-based alternatives are beginning to make their way to the market. To date, I have been using hydrolized silk protein, but would like to find a plant-based replacement – preferrably one that can do everything the silk protein can. I am therefore in the process of trying what claims to be a viable plant-based alternative. It is derived from marine algae and has an equally straightforward INCI name. (INCI: Hydrolized Vegetable Protein). More on that as soon as I have findings to report.

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