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Pillowcases and Skincare | Are silk pillowcases worth the hype?

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

In terms of skincare, there was a study that looked at silk-like pillowcases for acne. This was not silk, however. The study was based on a nylon polyester blend that was woven to feel like silk. The thought was that the benefit seen for the skin was a result of a decreased friction coefficient against the skin. With less drag on the skin, there is less irritation that can leave the skin less susceptible to bacteria in the environment. Read more...
 

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silk pillowcases

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Video: Techei



How does a pillowcase impact someone's skin?



In terms of skincare, there was a study that looked at silk-like pillowcases for acne. This was not silk, however. The study was based on a nylon polyester blend that was woven to feel like silk. The thought was that the benefit seen for the skin was a result of a decreased friction coefficient against the skin. With less drag on the skin, there is less irritation that can leave the skin less susceptible to bacteria in the environment.


Acne mechanica is an acneiform eruption on the skin that is known to be triggered by friction. The theory behind considering bedding materials in your skincare routine for managing acne is based on the concept of reducing friction against the skin that can aggravate this form of acne. With this in mind, any smooth soft surfaced pillowcase can achieve this, it does not necessarily have to be silk.



What should people with acne look for in a pillowcase?



The key factors to consider in choosing the right bedding textiles in your skincare routine for acne are:

  • The texture of the material

  • The ease of washability

  • The breathability of the material


A soft smooth surfaced pillowcase will reduce the friction between the skin and the pillowcase and reduce the tendency to aggravate acne. When the skin rubs against materials from clothing or bedsheets, friction can occur. If this friction is significant it can result in irritation to the skin. Initially, it can make the skin feel sensitive or inflamed and as it progresses or the friction increases there is the risk of skin breakdown. The measure of the drag of a textile against the skin is referred to as the textile’s friction coefficient. To reduce irritation to the skin the goal is to have fabrics in contact with the skin that produce less drag or friction.


We know that some bacteria and yeast in the skin can aggravate or even cause acne. With this in mind, we also know that textiles can potentially harbor some of these microorganisms based on increased concentrations building up with prolonged contact with a source such as the skin. I tend to recommend textiles that feel like silk but are not necessarily silk itself. With the care instructions for silk textile management requiring added levels of care to be provided for these everyday products, I recommend textiles with simpler care required. Choose materials that are easily machine washable to reduce the buildup of microorganisms in the fabric and reduce inadvertent transfer to the skin.


The tendency to sweat or build heat in the skin while sleeping is a common phenomenon, especially in the head and neck areas. This sweat can accumulate in the textiles along with dead skin cells, keratin, microorganisms, skin oils, and debris. Choosing textiles that are breathable to reduce the tendency towards excess sweating overnight can also help reduce the exposure to these culprits that can aggravate breakouts.



Do you have any favorite pillowcases that are great for people with acne?



I tend to recommend cotton sateen, modal, lyocell, or polyester blends as nice options for pillowcases that offer a silk-like feel with reduced friction against the skin coupled with easy care and breathability. Even cotton jersey can feel soft against the skin depending on the construction of the material and serve as a nice option for teens. Also, remember that the use of fabric softener in the wash has been shown to condition fabrics of most types to reduce friction and irritation against the skin. Studies have shown a beneficial impact on eczema-prone skin with the use of fabric softeners.


The brand my teens have loved is Koolaburra by Ugg Extra Soft Modal Pillowcases. Modal is considered an eco-friendly alternative to cotton and is known for how super soft it can feel against the skin. I also like that this brand is found widely at various retailers and is easy for my patients to find.


A nice lyocell product is one by Under the Canopy called Tencel Lyocell Pillowcase set. These are 100% lyocell and soft, breathable, and machine washable.


California Design Den’s Buttery Soft Cotton Sateen pillowcases are soft to the touch and easy to maintain.



Are there any other benefits to choosing the right pillowcase for your skin?



A word of caution on silk pillowcases that some may overlook. Aside from complicated care instructions that are simply not practical for managing teens with acne, if you tend to sweat at night the accumulation of moisture between your face and your pillowcase can occur. When silk is wet, there is a tendency that certain silk constructions may adhere to the skin and contribute to more friction and may actually not give the effect you are seeking. As much attention as silk has been getting for acne, it is worth really delving into the available data to avoid complicating routines unnecessarily or spending money on unnecessary products.


One last shockingly less talked about aspect of pillowcases- wrinkles! Facial distortion and even potential skin expansion during sleep contributing to wrinkle formation is a well-known phenomenon. During skin exams and cosmetic consultations, I can often identify the side someone sleeps on based on changes noted in the skin from crush and pressure during sleep. I have not come across any studies confirming an improvement in facial wrinkles by changing pillowcases to silk. The theory behind these claims is that the texture of the pillowcase makes it difficult for the fabric to hold the skin in position overnight making it difficult to maintain facial distortion against the pillowcase. This should theoretically be reasonable to add to your skincare routine with any soft smooth surfaced pillowcase if you have noted this challenge.



Is there a brand of silk pillowcases you recommend or a personal favorite?



I tend to recommend affordable options such as Kitsch or Casaluna. However, since many people seeking silk pillowcases do so for acne and, therefore, are likely to be younger and may not have fully developed fabric care practices as yet, I tend to recommend simpler choices that tend to be a cotton/elastic or polyester/ elastic blend.



Can you clarify the relationship between friction and hydration?



When the skin rubs against itself or another surface, horizontal shearing forces can loosen the superficial layers of skin similar to exfoliation, although the process can be harsher and more persistent depending on the time and nature of the friction occurring. Depending on the speed of friction and location, heat can build in the skin. Moisture accumulates in the superficial layers of skin allowing them to be more easily abraded or irritated when friction occurs.

The result is an abraded skin surface with potential maceration or breakdown of the skin. This leaves the skin more susceptible to the potential for secondary infection from yeast and bacteria and other microbes.


Moisture can also be introduced by external exposures.



Do you ever recommend silk pillowcases to patients to help with skincare?



I tend to recommend textiles that feel like silk but are not necessarily silk itself. With the care instructions for silk textile management requiring added levels of care to be provided for these everyday products, I recommend textiles with simpler care required.



There's a lot of talk about how silk pillowcases help prevent wrinkles or creases, is this true?



Facial distortion and even potential skin expansion during sleep contributing to wrinkle formation is a well-known phenomenon. During skin exams and cosmetic consultations, I can often identify the side someone sleeps on based on changes noted in the skin from crush and pressure during sleep. I have not come across any studies confirming an improvement in facial wrinkles by changing pillowcases to silk. The theory behind these claims is that the texture of the pillowcase makes it difficult for the fabric to hold the skin in position overnight making it difficult to maintain facial distortion against the pillowcase. This should theoretically be reasonable to add to your skincare routine if you have noted this challenge however I do have one word of caution. If you tend to sweat at night the accumulation of moisture between your face and your pillowcase can occur. When silk is wet, there is a tendency that certain silk constructions may adhere to the skin and contribute to more friction and may actually not give the effect you are seeking.



Does silk also help soothe skin conditions like acne, eczema, etc. or does it just help prevent them?



Acne is the result of the complex interplay between hormones, your skin, and the environment, amongst other factors. Silk treated with antimicrobials in some studies has been shown to decrease the number of inflamed acne lesions. However, again, this was treated silk. For eczema, in the CLOTHES trial (yes, there is a study for this!) silk did not improve atopic dermatitis. There are some studies looking at the overall literature that shows that perhaps silk can soothe the skin in those with eczema. Given the cost of silk and its limited benefit, I do not recommend it for skincare management. I prefer to recommend soft textured textiles recognizing the one unifying feature of the studies evaluating textiles and skin care points to texture and not necessarily fiber selection with the exception of treated fibers.


Are there any drawbacks to silk pillowcases or people you wouldn't recommend them to in regards to the skin?



Silk is overall well tolerated, especially in those with sensitive skin. Perceptions of silk can vary. Interestingly for my clothing brand with sun protective clothing, a customer of mine mentioned on a news segment how much she liked our textiles that are not treated with UV chemical finishes but retain UV protection based on the construction of the textile. This reduces the exposure of our health and environment to these chemicals and helps retain softness in the textile. This customer stated, “I love it- it feels like silk!”. She intended to say it was soft and used the word “silk” to indicate the soft texture. Believe it or not, this reduced sales. The comment we received was that the thought of wearing silk when it's hot out in the sun is not a desired summer textile feel. Live and learn:)

The main drawbacks to including silk are simply the cost and care.




silk pillowcases


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