Animal-derived components in both fashion, food and beauty have had their fair share of controversy, but one ingredient that has evaded the debate is silk. Contrary to what some people believe, silk does not come from plants, but is made by silkworms, who are intensively farmed and are often boiled inside their cocoons to extract the yarn that will become the silk fabric.
Silk is also highly polluting: the 2017 Pulse of Fashion Industry Report put it at the second place (behind cow leather) on their list of the materials that had the most highest cradle-to-gate impact on the environment per kg of material, as the process that transforms the protein into yarn is resource-intensive and polluting.
Replacing silk in fashion is one thing – but what about the silk proteins lurking in beauty products? Silk has been used in creams, moisturisers and serums for years to combat dry skin and help moisturise the skin, making these products off-limits for vegan beauty shoppers. But this is all about to change with innovation company Bolt Threads’ latest venture – skincare label Eighteen B.
Those interested in vegan fashion and material innovation will be familiar with US-based company Bolt Threads for their fabric offerings: mushroom leather Mylo and a ground-breaking vegan silk material called Microsilk, inspired by spider silk.
Spiders’ webs are highly resilient and strong, but spiders have never been farmed for their silk. These solitary, territorial animals aren’t suitable for farming in large groups – they can resort to cannibalism and eat one another if they are forced to live in cramped conditions.
Bolt Threads drew inspiration from spider silk to create Microsilk by putting genes into yeast and use yeast, sugar and water in a fermentation process – and now, they are using bioengineering to craft a skincare range with vegan silk proteins.
The high-tech products contain the high-performing b-silk protein, a high molecular weight structural protein that complements the vital functions of the skin and reinforces its extracellular matrix (aka collagen and elastin). The protein is is engineered in the brand’s laboratories through a sustainable, cruelty-free fermentation process using yeast, water, sugar, and salt.
The range contains two products: the Revitalizing Hydrogen Moisturizer and the Hydrate + Restore Rich Cream, both infused with b-silk protein. Naturally, the team is excited about the development. “B-silk protein is a clean, high molecular weight structural protein similar to collagen and elastin. It supports the skin’s extracellular matrix by forming a breathable, protective barrier, locking moisture in and keeping environmental stressors at bay”, says the team working on the products. “Our work in material innovation continues, and we’ll have textile news to share soon.”
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All photos courtesy of Eighteen B