What is Silk?

silk

(Image lifted from: https://laundrapp.com/blog/how-to-wash-silk/)

Silk is a natural protein fiber that can be woven into textiles. Its protein fiber is composed mainly of fibroin and produced abundantly by certain insect larvae to form cocoons. Bombyx mori is one of the best known silk producers. They produce silk to form cocoons for their larvae. Silk fiber has a prism-like structure which causes the refraction of light at different angles producing the shimmering appearance of silk. In addition to that, silk production occurs also in bees, wasps, ants, silverfish, mayflies, thrips, leafhoppers, beetles, lacewings, fleas, flies, and midges. 

What is Silk Fabric?

As stated above, the Silk is composed of a fibroin which is usually composed of beta sheet type of protein structure. The flat surfaces of the fibrils reflect light at many different angles, giving silk a natural sheen. In molecular level, silk can have varying shape and diameter depending on the organism that produced silk. It can be crescent-like or elongated wedged shaped. Silk is produced from the silkworm glands of silk-producing organisms. Primary filaments termed as brin are stuck together with sericin proteins which act like glue to form the silk product. The arrangement of these two proteins are: Fibroin being the structural center of the silk, and serecin being the sticky material surrounding it.

With that, unlike several synthetic fibers, silk fabric has a smooth, soft texture that is not slippery. Studies have shown that silk fabric is one of the strongest fabrics because silk has a naturally strong fiber. However, it loses up to 20% of its strength when wet. In addition to that, silk fabrics have good moisture regain of approximately 11%. The elasticity of silk fabric is relatively poor. It remains stretched when elongated. If exposed to too much sunlight, it can be weakened. In addition, silk fabric is cool to touch because it has high emissivity for infrared light, deflecting heat. It is also a poor conductor of electricity and thus susceptible to static cling. 

Silk fabric should either be washed prior to garment construction or dry cleaned because   unwashed silk chiffon may shrink  the fabric due to a relaxation of the fiber macrostructure. Moreover,  dry cleaning may still shrink the fabric but this shrinkage can be reversed by a gentle steaming with a press cloth. 

Silk fabric is resistant to most mineral acids. However when exposed to sulfuric acid,  silk fabric may dissolve due to the destruction of the molecular structure of silk. Perspiration may cause yellow discoloration to the silk fabric. Chlorine bleach can also destroy silk fabrics hence its usage should be prohibited when washing silk fabrics.

How is Silk made?

silk

(Image lifted from: https://www.rappler.com/world/regions/asia-pacific/241280-keeping-the-thread-alive-vietnam-silk-village)

The process of making silk fabrics has technically been preserved through generations. Even with modern technology, the silk industry still applies the same principles used in ancient times to produce silk fabric.

Silkworm cocoons are harvested by breeders. They expose this cocoon to high heat to prevent the development of mature worms. After doing so, silk producers carefully and slowly unravel the threads of silkworms. In order to do this, silk cocoons are usually boiled for a very short time to remove the sericin which glues the primary filaments together. When this sericin has been disrupted, it allows silk producers to meticulously extract the threads without damaging them. 

A fully unraveled cocoon results in a single string of silk because silkworms usually make cocoons out of one long strand of fiber. Silk producers or an automated machine will brush the cocoon to identify its loose end and lock it through a porcelain eyelet onto a reel. This procedure  untangles the single long strand of fiber. After that, this silk strand is immediately attached to another strand to make a continuous string. The sericin in the silk strand aids the strands to stick together. Then, silk producers twist these long strings together to make yarn. 

A wide range of post production processes can be performed by silk producers to create silk yarn that has a variety of attributes and appearance. Silk textile manufacturers can dye their yarn and bleach it or they can stiffen or use steam to soften. After post processing, the silk yarn is then put through a roller to make it uniform. The yarn that is already in a roller is now ready to be woven into a garment or another type of textile 

Health Benefits of Silk Clothing

Silk has been established in the fabric industry as a symbol of luxury. The natural sheen and elegant texture has made it as one of the most coveted fabrics in the world. It is used by almost all fashion houses to produce a wide array of different products from clothes to shoes to handbags. With this, the silk industry has definitely increased its value throughout the recent years.

More than this, recent researches have found out that silk is not only aesthetically pleasing and socially symbolic. It has various significant health benefits to people. Multiple studies have shown and proven that people who wear silk clothing and use silk bed sheets have improved overall health conditions. To explain further, here is a list of health benefits silk clothing can offer:

  1. Silk helps fight aging
silk-beauty


(Image lifted from: https://www.shutterstock.com/fi/search/silk+skin)

Skin ageing is caused by multiple and several factors. It is caused by intrinsic and extrinsic factors such as Natural cell ageing, Ultraviolet rays, Infrared, Oxidative stress, Food toxins, and many more. Due to these naturally occurring factors, there is a decreased collagen expression and an increased expression of ageing factors, making skin ageing  inevitable. However, wearing the proper clothing can actually aid in slowing down this ageing and can even help regenerate skin cells for a more rejuvenated and young looking appearance. Silk is one of the scientifically proven clothing that can do such amazing benefits. 

The natural soft quality of silk can significantly make you feel freshened up. These natural proteins found in the fabric produce this soft and luxurious characteristic of silk. These proteins are also the ones responsible to reduce specific signs of ageing such as wrinkles and fine lines. Sericin is one of the major ingredient proteins of silk synthesized by silk worms. This protein induces production of collagen and inhibits expression of ageing factors. This protein can synergistically improve the extracellular membrane structure of skin cells through increasing the expression of collagen. 

In aging, there is loss of moisture due to disruption of the normal skin barrier, which in theory exacerbates ageing even further. When you use silk clothing, it helps in decreasing the skin’s loss of moisture, promoting skin rejuvenation and fighting ageing through relieving dry and flaky skin conditions. This retention of moisture is due to the natural material and components of silk which makes it easier for this fabric to produce and retain moisture on its own. It visibly slows down signs of ageing such as wrinkles and fine lines and revitalizes the human skin over time. This is in contrast with clothing types that are made from cotton and polyester material which withdraw moisture from the skin. 

Studies also showed that silk contains a variable amount of the protein albumin. Albumin aids in maintaining the elasticity of the skin and thus rejuvenates the overall skin appearance giving it a more youthful look. It can also serve as a protection against harsh sun rays and help in mitigating the free radicals that disrupt collagen and elastin in the skin. Hence, over time, the long term use of silk will significantly improve the skin’s appearance through slowing down the effects of aging. 

2. Silk helps in Dealing with Skin Conditions such Eczema and Asthma

 Eczema and Asthma

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Atopic dermatitis or eczema is a serious health condition with increasing cases worldwide. It is commonly noticed as a redness and itchiness of the skin, not only observed in early childhood but can occur at any age. Symptoms can become severe and tend to present with a chronically repeating flare. This condition can significantly lower the quality of life of affected patients such as hampering their social and family interactions, lowering self-esteem, causing uncontrolled emotional distress, and sleep disturbances. Asthma, on the other hand, is a condition in which your airways narrow which can make your breathing difficult. It can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Asthma is triggered by multiple factors such as dust and bed bugs. 

Atopic dermatitis can worsen due to physical irritants such as clothing. Hence, it is important to choose clothing that can be an effective barrier against flare-inducing actions such as persistent scratching that can cause rapid improvement of the eczematous lesion. Hence, it is greatly discouraged to use some fabrics used for clothing that may exacerbate skin conditions due to their rough fibers, such as wool and nylon. In this case, silk clothing can be considered as an alternative and attractive option in textile-based therapy for atopic dermatitis due to their hygienic properties. Specifically, the thread fibers of silk are strong and consist of filaments with a rounded shape resulting in excellent smooth fibers that do not cause scratching, friction or irritation to the skin. Because of the smooth fibers of Silk clothing, they have minimal abrasive effect on atopic skin which can help in facilitating  faster recovery of irritated skin compared to the rough fibers that are found in other fabrics such as cotton. Moreover, as stated above, silk can help in maintaining the humidity of the body by minimizing the sweating circulation and moisture loss that are thought to worsen eczema. Hence, with these facts, the use of silk clothing is a good adjunct potential treatment for people suffering with Atopic Dermatitis. 

Asthma and allergy in general is usually triggered by minute material such as dust and dirt. Wearing silk clothing is an effective alternative in minimizing the triggers of Asthma. Silk prevents the accumulation of soil, dirt, and other microscopic foreign bodies that may trigger an allergy, especially in people also dealing with eczema. Due to the compact structure of the silk fabric, microscopic materials such as bed bugs, dust, and other droppings do not stick to the fabric, making it an effective defense against triggers. It also has a hypoallergenic quality due to its long and smooth fibers, hence lessening the occurrence of allergies in general. 

3. Silk is a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent

During the immobile pupal phase of the life cycle of silkworms, silk cocoons provide protection to silkworms from biotic and abiotic dangers. This protection is particularly vital for the wild silk cocoons reared in an open and harsh environment.  Hence, with that in mind, silk cocoons do not only act as a barrier to protect silkworms from the environment but they also possess chemical properties that have antibacterial and antifungal properties. 

Silk has been increasingly used in the fabric industry to produce nightwear. Studies have shown women who use silk clothing for nightwear have reduced recurrence of different infections. Specifically, women who suffered with vaginal thrush had a significant reduction in the recurrence of the disease when they used silk fabric. They also had milder symptoms compared to those who do not use silk nightwear. Researchers have also observed better cure rates with women who suffered with the disease but utilized silk fabrics for nightwear. In addition to that, Candida albicans, which is the most common fungal infection in women, thrives in warm and damp environments. The moisture absorbing capability of silk disrupts the environment suitable for the yeast, causing reduction of infection in women. 

Studies have shown that the  antimicrobial activity of the silk can be due to its physical innate properties and due to the processing procedure when making silk threads. Post processing includes mixing the fabric with dyes such as indigo, kum kum, barberry, reactive dye M, reactive dye H and sulphur dye. These dyes can cause inhibition of growth against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli which are common bacteria that infect humans. Studies have also shown that the innate property of silk such as the silk fiber, sericin, and calcium oxalate crystals embedded inside some cocoons have antibacterial properties against a wide array of microorganisms. In addition to that, modern silk has increased antibacterial and antifungal properties due to the chemical residues used to isolate and purify cocoon elements, making them effective against a range of skin conditions caused by bacterial or fungal growth. 

4. Silk Improves Sleep

silk pillow

 (Image lifted from: https://holrmagazine.com/5-benefits-of-sleeping-on-a-silk-pillowcase/)

Silk fabric is increasing its popularity in helping people to sleep better and faster. Many silk products out there are sold as night wear or beddings. The reason why people buy silk night wears or beddings is simple: it adds comfort. 

With its sheen and softness, the silk is indeed a comfortable sleepwear. However, more than that, studies show that it helps in the regulation of body temperature. It helps retain heat that you need during colder nights and helps you relieve warmth on days of the year that are relatively warmer. Because the body temperature rises and falls throughout the day, it is important to regulate it and maintain a balance in the body temperature. A feeling of tiredness occurs when you have an imbalanced body temperature. Silk can aid in correcting this and help you sleep better and faster. 

Also, as stated above, silk fabric controls moisture even in wide changing climates. Silk fabrics can all do this because they are considered as natural heat regulators and they do not conduct heat or static electricity like other fabrics do. Remember that silk is from cocoons of silkworms and it naturally functions to regulate temperature within the environment of the developing silkworm. 

Dust, mites, bed bugs and other microscopic material may irritate your skin and interfere with a good night’s rest. Silk fabric, with all its aforementioned benefits, has a compact structure that ensures dust, mites, bed bugs, and other irritants that may cause itching are not capable of attaching to the fibers. Because of this quality, silk causes your less to no itching during sleeping, making you rest better throughout the night.

Silk is an excellent sleep companion that enhances the quality of your night time rest. The softness of the material conditions your brain into relaxing, allowing you to achieve the full cycles of sleep necessary to have a complete rest. With the excellent quality of silk fabrics, it aids in mental conditioning and reducing mental stresses which in turn also help in removing body tension and helping you sleep better. It imposes negligible pressure on the human body and follows the natural contours and movement of its user, giving anyone who uses it a guaranteed full night’s sleep.

5. Silk is good for Hair Health

hair care

In order to have a youthful look then you must certainly take care of your body, that includes from head to toe. Your hair is your crowning glory, as they say. Hence, constant wearing of clothes or fabrics that cause too much friction can damage the hair, especially to women. This is the reason why most researchers suggest using silk fabric in order to minimize hair damage. Wearing fabrics with cotton or wool as the main component can cause for the natural moisture of the hair strands to be absorbed. If you are a woman with long hair, then you will certainly observe that there is significant dryness especially at the ends of your hair, if you use cotton- or wool-based clothing. Silk fabrics, having a soft and smooth texture, reduce friction to the hair. This is also the same principle why people tend to buy silk beddings in order to protect hair health. Silk fabrics can help keep your hair soft, moisturized, and free of pesky tangles. Recent studies also show that natural sebum or oil in hair do not increase as much if you use silk fabrics as clothing or beddings, reducing the risk for hair damage. 

5. Silk helps with Hot Flashes

silk

(Image lifted from: https://manitosilk.com/shop-sleepwear/night-gowns.html)

Hot flashes affect women who are approaching menopausal transition such as perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. It is caused by changes in hormone levels affecting the temperature control of women’s bodies. Symptoms greatly vary but ranges from redness of the skin to excessive sweating. This condition is often worse during hot weather. Hot flashes can happen without warning throughout the day and night, but can also be triggered by eating spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol.

Silk fabrics do not really cure or prevent hot flashes however, they can absolutely aid in regulating body temperature and moisture for maximum comfort. If you suffer from hot flashes, then one of the most important things in management is finding fabric that is breathable and feels cool to touch. Hence, it is usually recommended to patients to avoid wearing fabrics that are naturally warm such as cotton and wool for they may exacerbate the symptoms of hot flashes. With the silk fabric’s soft and smooth texture and quality, it can surely aid in giving you comfort even if you manifest symptoms of hot flashes. It can give you significant comfort because it has to do with silk’s unique ability to wick away moisture without getting damp unlike cotton fabrics that get damp easily and can no longer absorb the sweat your body produces during an episode of a hot flash, making you get hot much faster and more uncomfortable. Therefore, Silk fabrics keep you cool and dry. This permits your body to return more quickly to normal body temperature.

7. Silk aids relieving Joint Pains

Joint pains refer to discomfort, aches, and soreness in any of the body’s joints. This can have causes that are not due to underlying diseases. This may be caused by joint overuse such as heavy physical activity, lack of use, sprains or strains. 

In ancient Chinese times, they used silk in order to relieve people from aches or pains in joints or muscles. Up until this modern generation, Silk fabric still has that same purpose. Unlike other types of night clothing or bedding, silk lies gently onto the body. Silk fabrics put less pressure on problematic joints which helps in relieving painful pressure points through allowing it to heal. This in turn also lets you have a more comfortable rest especially at night. Today, Silk fabrics are used for elderly homes and physical development centers in order to act as an easy remedy for patients who have muscle aches and joint pains. Its negligible pressure on the human body and soft, flowy, and smooth movement relieves elderly patients from discomfort.  

With everything discussed, it is no wonder that Silk has been popular even during the ancient times. In the current era, Silk has indeed made a mark in the fabric industry for not only for its softness and luxurious feels but also for its wide range of health benefits. Silk is certainly not just made for looks. The benefits it brings is more than its aesthetic pleasure – it is slowly being recognized as an adjunct and alternative treatment for various health conditions. 

In comparison with other fabrics, silk has really a significant benefit and advantage. Its molecular protein arrangement and structure giving a soft and strong substance has a tremendous effect on the overall health of users. So if you are thinking of what type of fabric to buy next for your sheets, clothes, night wears, or even scarves, you should really grab that silk fabric. 

References:

  1. Age Berry. 2016. Great Benefits of Silk Fabric. Retrieved from: https://www.ageberry.com/great-benefits-of-pure-silk-fabric/. Retrieved on 29 May 2020.
  2. Allergy and Asthma Care. 2019. Silk is A Great Hypoallergenic Cloth. Retrieved from: http://aacallergy.com/allergist-willow-grove-pa-tips/silk-great-hypoallergenic-cloth/. Retrieved on 29 May 2020.
  3. Bowers, E. 2013. 7 Surprising Benefits of Silk. Retrieved from: https://www.everydayhealth.com/skin-and-beauty-pictures/surprising-benefits-of-silk.aspx. Retrieved on 29 May 2020.
  4. Cornforth, T. 2020. Ways To Relieve Menopausal Hot Flashes. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/relieve-hot-flashes-3520830. Retrieved on 29 May 2020. 
  5. Hung MH, Sartika D, Chang SJ, et al. Influence of silk clothing therapy in patients with atopic dermatitis. Dermatol Reports. 2019;11(2):8176. Published 2019 Dec 22. doi:10.4081/dr.2019.8176
  6. Kaur, Jasjeet & Rajkhowa, Rangam & Afrin, Tarannum & Tsuzuki, T. & Wang, Xungai. (2014). Facts and Myths of Antibacterial Properties of Silk. Biopolymers. 101. 237. 10.1002/bip.22323. 
  7. Kostler, N. Radice. 2020. 5 Health Benefits of Wearing Silk. Retrieved from: https://radicesleep.com/blogs/magazine/5-health-benefits-of-wearing-silk. Retrieved on 29 May 2020.
  8. LilySilk. 2016. Benefits of Silk. Retrieved from: https://www.lilysilk.com/us/silk-benefits. Retrieved on 29 May 2020.
  9. Mei, Lily. 2016. How Silk Helps You Fall Asleep Faster. Retrieved from: https://blog.lilysilk.com/silk-helps-fall-asleep-faster/. Retrieved on 29 May 2020.
  10.  Mulberry Park Silks. 2018. Fighting Against the Effects of Hot Flashes. Retrieved from: https://mulberryparksilks.com/blogs/mps-blog/silk-sheets-fighting-the-effects-of-hot-flashes. Retrieved on 29 May 2020. 
  11.  Rezortly. 2019. The Beauty of Silk for Anti-Aging. Retrieved from: https://rezortly.com/blogs/the-journal/healthy-the-beauty-of-silk-for-anti-ageing. Retrieved on 29 May