Silk proteins, sometimes referred to as hydrolysed silk proteins, are used as an additive in skin and hair care products due to its moisture preservation characteristics. It creates a protective barrier and that ‘silky’ feeling to lotions, body washes, soaps, moisturisers, cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, mascaras, lipsticks and hair styling products.
Silk is actually a substance secreted from the glands of silkworms. In order to retain a single, unbroken fibre of silk, the silkworm is killed before it emerges from its cocoon and breaks the thread. This is done by boiling, baking or steaming the live worm directly in its cocoon.
As with any other farmed animal, silk worms are bred selectively over the generations so that they are unnaturally large and the moth’s ability to fly has been expunged. Like any other moth, including the butterfly, silkworms envelop themselves into a cocoon where they undergo a metamorphosis. If they were allowed to live, or indeed in the case of wild silk worms, after they have spun their cocoons and undergone their pupal stage, they would chew their way out and fly off to live their lives. Unfortunately, this would mean the silk strands would break, therefore being much shorter and less profitable.
It takes approximately 15 silkworms to make just one gram of silk thread.
The deaths of silkworms for the production of silk and silk proteins are often seen as less cruel than the deaths of creatures such as cows or pigs for their by-products. Why? Because we are not sure how to comprehend the pain and suffering of insects.
An insect’s nervous system is very different from a mammal’s but this is not to suggest that they do not feel pain. Their nervous system still transmits signals and responds to stimuli just as a human or cows nervous system does. Does the silkworm feel pain as it is dropped into boiling water, alive? Does it matter? The silkworm is not ours to slaughter.
As always, there are a myriad of plant and vegetable based proteins that offer the same moisturising properties as silk proteins without causing the death of a sentient creature. Coconut and jojoba oils and waxes, shea butters, olive extracts and soy proteins all create protective barriers and lock in the skins moisture.
Check your shampoos and conditioners. Read the list of ingredients in your heat protectant spray, your hair straightening balm, your shine serum. Does your lipstick or cleanser claim to restore moisture or promise a silky smooth application? There is every chance that you, personally, have contributed to the deaths of the silkworm.