Does it really matter?
By now, DHA's DIY readers will know that it's really not a question of silk vs. satin.
In all things hair, satin reigns supreme.
But can the differences between the fibres in silk satin and those of synthetic satin make a difference to you?
Weave over fibre. . .
As far as your hair is concerned, getting the weave of the fabric right – satin all the way – is much more important than the components of that fabric. Quick recap: silk is a type of thread (a bunch of fibres rolled together), and satin is the way that thread is woven. For a material to be labelled as satin, it has to be composed of long filament fibres – natural silk, polyester, nylon or rayon – woven together with a minimum number of interlacings.
When it comes to picking a fabric, what hair requires most of all is a material with a slick surface that spares the strands from damaging friction, and with low absorbency fibres that don't wick away valuable moisture and oils. All types of satin can accomplish this. That said, there are some small but significant differences between satins made from silk and satins made from synthetic material.
Telling the difference between satins
If we're going to point out the differences between satins, it's worth establishing how to tell the difference between the two in the first place. Thanks to technological innovation, it can be hard to tell silk satins and synthetic satins apart, so we are left to rely on simple shopper's savvy.
Synthetic satin is the type of satin which will emphasise its satin-ness on its packaging, rather than its component material (man-made fibres like rayon or nylon). It also tends to be the shinier of the two, though not by much. Silk satin, the type that's made from natural silk threads, courtesy of the mulberry silkworm, is also the type which boasts of its component material – 100% silk – all the way from the package to the tiny cloth label sewn into the fabric itself.
Other than that, it can be hard for a non-expert to pick out the difference between well-made synthetic satin and its silken counterpart. To complicate matters, manufacturers frequently blend the two types of fibre into the same fabric. If you really want to be sure what you're getting either way, always read the label!
Satin is the weave, silk is the fibre
Clearly, comparing the fibre vs. the weave that fibre is woven into is not a valid comparison. After all, while we're used to thinking of silk as a smooth, glossy fabric, remember that it only looks like that when it's woven into a satin weave. The rest of the time, silk can look like almost anything. In fact, not unlike wool or cotton, it is a favourite component of thermal underwear.
Imagine wearing one of those on your head; aside from looking ridiculous, it's not likely to have the same smoothing effect as silk satin – or any other satin for that matter. This is because it is woven with many more interlacings, points where the threads cross over each other, which make it less smooth.
To unravel more of the confusion between silk and satin, look here. What's for certain, is that satin is what is essential for protecting your hair. Depending on your unique needs and preferences, however, one satin might just be a better fit for you than the other.
Selecting the right satin. . .
Your need: Maximum slip
Best satin: Synthetic
Perhaps surprisingly, satin made of synthetic fibres are actually the glossiest and slipperiest, so if you want to guarantee your hair minimum friction, and maximise shine, synthetic satin, woven from polyester, rayon or nylon will be that little bit more effective than a satin made of real silk.
Your need: Help with an oil overload
Best satin: Silk
Tend to go overboard with the oils at bedtime? In that case, you might need a headscarf material that takes some of the run-off. While not as absorbent as cotton, which'll gladly drink the last drop of oil or moisture from your strands, silk satin is slightly more absorbent than rayon or nylon. If, on the other hand, you want to keep every last drop of oil or moisture in, on and around your hair, go with the synthetics.
Your need: A headscarf that won't irritate skin
Best satin: Synthetic or sericin-free silk
If you have sensitive skin, then satins woven from polyester, nylon or rayon are probably best. This is because silk can actually be an irritant. When the silk fibre is excreted by the mulberry silkworm, it is covered in a natural residue known as sericin. While much of this is removed during processing, there is still some of it on most silks. Sericin is water-insoluble so it cannot be washed off from fabric – meaning it will continue to irritate sensitised skin even after numberless washes.
The good news for silk lovers, however, is that sericin-free silks have arrived onto the market. With the sericin removed, silk can actually have a therapeutic effect on skin. For example, it is used in special undergarments to provide relief from eczema. However, given that most silk is not produced in this way, if your skin is prone to reactions, then always ascertain that it is sericin-free before purchasing.
Your need: Cruelty-free garments
Best satin: Synthetic
Let's face it: the mulberry silkworm pays a grim price for us to be able to adorn our hair, bodies and homes with silk. If you want no part in its cruel fate, then you'll be pleased to hear that there is actually an alternative. Silks produced in the wild, rather than in factories, can be gathered without the demise of their natural manufacturers. Gandhi was actually an advocate of such silk, known as Ahimsa, or peace silk. The quality of these silks is more variable, however, as the silkmoth can damage the filaments as it emerges from the cocoon. Recently, wild silks have increased in popularity, due to the rise in demand for cruelty-free and eco-friendly fashion, with recent innovations leading to increased consistency in quality.
Your need: Luxury
Best satin: Silk
Of course, silk alone will cut it for those of us who want only the finest things in life – or at least, in our headscarf. The uniquely labour and resource intensive process by which silk is produced was the biggest part in making it such an exclusive material for the past millennia of its manufacture.
Though technological advances have made the process more efficient, it is still a difficult and relatively costly one. That of course gets built into the price, which is why it retains some that cache today.
So there you have it: all the info you could possibly need to select the kind of satin that's the best for you. Once you decide, be sure to protect your hair with it every night, and use it to line hats or other scarves made from material that could harm your hair.
Kjoon Lee and J. Wrusa
DHA Hair Care Experts