Satin vs. Silk: Is One Material Better For Your Hair?
I have been known to rant and rave about satin or silk pillowcases. I have been using them for years now and swear my waves and curls are springier and happier because of them. Personally, I've used both satin and silk and have been happy with both. But for newbies, you may be confused about what's the difference between silk and satin—and if there's a major difference, is one better? Understandable. Let's look into it.
What is silk?
Silk is a natural and animal protein fiber made by silkworms. Silk production dates back thousands of years, with the industry's origins rooted in China. Here's how it's made: When silkworms (baby Bombyx mori moths) reach the larva, or caterpillar, stage, they feed almost exclusively on the leaves from mulberry trees. Once full, the silkworms make intricate cocoons out of the fine silk threads of their saliva. And those threads are what we eventually turn into silk. Producers will place these cocoons out in the sun to kill off the larvae (spoiler alert: Silk isn't vegan!) and then begin the process of spinning their fibers into yarn.
It's not an easy process either: It's a time- and energy-intensive process that takes upward of 2,000 tiny silkworms to create 1 pound of silk. This is why silk has a reputation for being so luxe—and comes with a pretty price tag. Now, silk does come in a wide variety, which is why you can find more budget-friendly options out there.
Silk's weight and density are measured in momme (a Japanese unit of weight equal to 3.75 grams). The higher your silk's momme (mm), the thicker and more durable—and likely, more expensive—it is. Silk typically falls between 15 and 30 momme, with 19 mm being the average starting point. The finest silks are Mulberry silk, which is made using this traditional process and has a more uniform color and softer feel.
What is satin?
Satin is a synthetic woven fabric. It uses a weaving technique that leads to a smooth and glossy fabric that feels very similar to silk but can be made from synthetic materials like polyester and rayon. You can usually spot satin as it's typically only one side that has the glossy finish, and the other tends to look duller and more like traditional fabrics. And because it's made with synthetic fibers, and thus doesn't have the extensive product cost that comes with silk, it's usually cheaper.
Satin vs. silk: What is the better choice?
As with most things we talk about here, it's ultimately up to you whether you want to use satin or silk. Both will absolutely be great options for your hair, so rest assured your hair's being cared for as you toss and turn.
But if you want a bit of help decoding the intricacies, here are some talking points.
- More expensive.
- Better quality.
- Not vegan.
- Natural fibers.
- More budget-friendly.
- Often considered to be of lesser quality.
- Synthetic weave.
Why you want to use satin or silk pillows, caps, or scarves.
"Sleep with a silk or satin pillowcase, headscarf, or cap, which allows hair to slide as you toss and turn while sleeping. Silk and satin prevent friction (which leads to hair pulling, tugging, stretching, breaking, and tangling), and these smooth fabrics help retain the hair's natural oils," says hairstylist Miko Branch, co-founder of hair care brand Miss Jessie's Original. But the benefits of silk don't stop there: It is hypoallergenic, antimicrobial1, moisture-wicking, and breathable.
It's not just that silk and satin are fantastic for hair; other fibers can come with major downsides. Cotton or linen are porous and, therefore, rougher fabrics. For hair, this means the fabric can snag and pull at hairs, trigger physical damage, lift up the cuticle, and cause frizz. This is especially problematic for those with curly hair, which is already prone to all of these issues. They're not great for skin, either: Their porosity means the fabrics more readily absorb sebum, bacteria, and even your precious skin care products (silk and satin, on the other hand, are more repellent fabrics).
If you're looking for some options, check out our favorites here.
How to wash your satin and silk.
Considering you're paying a bit more for silk and satin products (silk, in particular), you're likely wondering how you can care for them for long-term use. Notably: How can you wash them? And here's the cool thing: Because these are moisture-wicking, you don't have to wash them with the same regularity as you might with cotton. But you should still clean them every two weeks (or so) to prevent stains.
Most silk can be machine washed on a cold, gentle cycle and hung out to air dry, but always check the manufacturer's instructions beforehand. If you do need to throw other laundry items in with them, pick things like towels and T-shirts, as they are typically less abrasive than things like denim.
Silk and satin pillowcases are great for hair, particularly if you have curly hair. But is there one that's better for you? Well, the difference is marginal—but worth asking about. Ultimately, it's up to you which one you'd rather use.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.