What Is Activated Silk? What You Need To Know About This New Skin Care Formula

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.

Image by Eddie Pearson / Stocksy

When you think of silk, images of luxurious bedsheets and buttery fabrics will most likely come to mind. But what if I told you that this luxe threading has the potential to become a baseline ingredient for natural skin care? 

Silk is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the clean beauty industry, especially in its liquid form. Specifically, a technology company called Evolved By Nature (EBN) has created a formula that extracts and activates silk, and the result has the potential to revolutionize natural skin care. 

"We're trying to advance the world's health by unlocking one of nature's greatest assets, which is the natural silk protein," CEO and co-founder of EBN Greg Altman, Ph.D., tells me. While it hasn't reached market quite yet, the company expects to advertise it within the next three to six months.

Here's exactly what you need to know about activated silk. It's biocompatible, organic, and completely sustainable—a triple threat for clean beauty. 

First, what is activated silk?

To put it simply, activated silk is a protein extracted from natural silk fibers. "It's basically nature's form of plastic," Altman tells me. But instead of harsh synthetics and byproducts polluting our oceans, activated silk comes from nature itself and involves only two ingredients: silk protein and water. 

The silkworm produces these silk fibers as they create their cocoons, and the textile industry unravels the cocoons to create thread to make the fabrics and garments we're familiar with.

What makes the silk "activated," however, is the process of dissolving natural silk fibers in salt and water—this releases the silk protein from the fiber. When the protein is separated, it can be used to bind to materials like other fibers, fabrics, and for the purpose of this story—oils in skin care

The most exciting part is that EBN can do all of this work without the need for any additional chemicals, whereas the making of plastics sometimes involves 4,000 additives, chemistries, or byproducts that are routinely released into our environment. 

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What's the sourcing process like?

The manufacturing process is actually quite simple: All it takes is hot water and salt. To begin, EBN imports discarded silkworm cocoons. They purify the cocoon in the water and salt mixture—which leaves them with a natural silk fiber—and dissolve the fiber to release the silk protein in its liquid form. 

"At the end of the process, we end up with a natural silk protein in its activated state in water, ready to bind to other materials and ready to bind to human skin cells," says Altman. 

Not only is the product itself natural and nontoxic, but the process is entirely sustainable. Altman assures me that the cocoons are farmed organically and cruelty-free. The company even recycles the water, salt, and heat used in the process.

What are the benefits of using this ingredient? 

We already know that silk's texture can be beneficial for our skin—there's a reason there are so many silk pillowcases and eye masks on the market that advertise better moisture retention and the reduction of fine lines. Silk in its liquid form, however, is a little more finicky: It requires just the right amount of protein in order to work successfully at the cellular level.

"Think about the silk protein giving the cell a really big hug. If you squeeze too tight, the cell's not happy. If it's too little, they're not feeling the love. In scientific terms, that was figuring out the right size of the silk protein and figuring out the right concentration," Altman notes. 

And this particular form of activated silk—they coined it "Activated Silk 27C"—is just small enough to penetrate through the skin and deliver those results. When it does, our skin cells start producing collagen, and research has shown how important collagen is for healthy aging and radiant skin.

"Those cells feel so excited that they start producing as much collagen as if you had treated those cells with a specific drug designed to up-regulate collagen production," Altman adds. 

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How is it different from other silk-infused products on the market?

Some hair care and cosmetics brands might say they incorporate silk into their products, but they usually are derived from one of two faux versions on the market: vegan "silk" and hydrolyzed silk.

Vegan "silk" is essentially not silk but rather a "genetically modified protein that uses a petrochemical-laden process that's not sustainable," Altman says.

Hydrolyzed silk, on the other hand, "takes sericin (the glue that silkworms produce to protect their cocoons) and silk and blasts it with acid as a way to dissolve it." In doing so, the natural protein has been destroyed, nullifying the benefits of silk in the first place.

What's in store for the future of liquid silk? 

Altman and his team have started to use this formula in clothing and in the personal care industry. 

"We found that if you coat the surface of nylon—like for a pair of yoga pants—with activated silk, you can replace silicone, odor treatments, and any wicking agents. The nylon fabric will feel like silk, and we can also achieve moisture management," Altman says. Yoga pants that feel like silk and stand up to the sweat test? Say no more. 

So, activated silk can treat skin, and it can treat the surface or "skin" of fabrics as well. But according to Altman, there's even more to be excited about: In their quest to treat fabrics like cashmere and wool, they realized they could also implement activated silk into hair care. This means conditioners, shampoos, and color protection materials that actually use real, natural silk protein rather than the hydrolyzed version mentioned above.

A few brands have been thinking of making the switch to activated silk—while Altman wouldn't divulge just who was on board with the formula just yet, he did mention that we can expect some brands incorporating this ingredient in their new campaigns. Chanel invested in the technology earlier this summer—maybe we can expect a clean campaign from the luxury brand's beauty atelier? 

But until this new technology makes it to the shelves of our favorite beauty retailers, we'll just have to make do by investing in a silky pajama set or pillowcase. The skin-brightening benefits might not be as potent, but you'll sure look elegant as you get some shut-eye.

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