Satin vs. Silk Pillowcases for Hair: What's the Difference?

Silk pillowcases

@lilyandadora / Unsplash

The closest thing most of us will get to sleeping on a cloud is with a satin or silk pillowcase. If the best gift you can give someone is a constant cool side of the pillow, well, clearly, they were referring to what fabric you should be sleeping on, and satin and silk tend to always be a cooler option—both literally and figuratively.

So what's the difference between satin and silk? One comes from worms, and the other doesn't? Sure, that's a rather... simplistic view on the entire, slightly complicated affair. We asked natural hairstylist Bridgette Hill and trichologist Cheryl Bergamy to break down the differences between silk and satin, and which one is best for you and your hair. Read on for what they had to say.

Meet the Expert

What Is Silk?

Remember the thing about the worms from earlier? That wasn't exactly a joke: Silk is a natural protein fiber produced by a few dozen types of insects around the world. It was first developed in ancient China around 8,500 years ago and by 1100 B.C., Chinese silk was found in Egypt.

Silk is a luxurious, decadent fabric, and Hill believes we should treat our hair with the same mindset: Hair fibers are our own unique luxurious fabric, spun from our head. "Silk is beneficial to the hair because it is a breathable fabric allowing circulation and preventing the moisture from night sweats from getting trapped at the root of the hair," says Hill." It also helps to minimize the friction between our hair fibers and cotton fabrics. The texture of the fabric helps to retain natural shine and freshly blown out and styled hair."

Silk is hypoallergenic and less absorbent, preventing the trapping of oil or bacteria on the pillowcase, which benefits the skin and complexion as well. "Silk hair protectors like scarves or bonnets help reduce the friction caused by laying on a cotton pillow, which causes split ends, knotting, frizz, tangles, and hair damage," explains Bergamy. "Silk helps to keep the moisture in the hair, while cotton pillows or scarves absorb natural oils leaving hair dry and brittle."

What Is Satin?

You know how a dress is not a gown, but all gowns are dresses? Satin and silk are kind of the same way—satin is technically a type of weaving, rather than a type of fabric. At one point in time, satin was traditionally made from silk, but in the modern-day, it's not uncommon to find blended satin mixtures that include synthetic fibers like polyester, rayon, and cotton.

Blending satin with synthetic fabrics can result in fabrics that can be much more flexible and smoother than real silk, which is a great benefit to hair and scalp. "Satin is much more forgiving, as it moves with the hair which reduces the friction between the hair fiber and the pillowcase or surface," explains Hill. Satin also provides the same benefits as silk: It is hypoallergenic, less absorbent, and breathable.

What's the Difference?

The biggest difference between silk and satin is cost: Silk is more luxurious and pricier, while satin is less expensive and often blended with other fabrics, which means it can be an easy way to save some coin.

Hill also points out that satin pillowcases are more accessible and easier to clean because they are made with synthetic materials that can be thrown into the washing machine. Remember that silk is a natural fiber and satin is not, and check to make sure you're actually getting the real thing—you'd be surprised. "Be leery of sateen, which is cotton with a different weave," says Hill. "Even though sateen can feel smooth and silky like silk or satin, it is cotton, and will not deliver the same benefits to scalp and hair as using silk or satin will."

The Final Verdict

When it comes down to it, whether satin or silk is better for your hair is determined by how rough of a sleeper you are. As long as it is silk or satin, and you can make it through the night with it still on your head, bonnets rule. For those who are rowdy and rambunctious under the covers, pillowcases might be a safer bet.

"My expert advice is [to] use what works best for your sleeping situation and hair texture, type, and length," says Hill, explaining that she's personally pro pillowcases because of the dual benefit to the skin on her face. Bergamy believes silk is better for all hair textures, but especially as an added layer of protection for curly and textured hair.

Related Stories