What is the Difference between Silk, Satin & Polyester

Megan Dominion

When it comes to fabrics, silk reigns supreme for its properties, feel and durability. But can the differences between the fibres in silk and those of synthetic satin make a difference to you?

What is Silk?

Silk is a natural fabric produced by silkworms. The silkworm feeds on mulberry leaves and spins its cocoon out of silk fibres. Once the moth has left its cocoon, the fibres are steamed and spun into silk.

Fact! It takes around 35,000 silkworm cocoons to make 5.5kg of raw silk.

Silk can also be made by beetles, honeybees, bumble bees, hornets, weaver ants, and other insects.

For centuries, silk has been used in the fashion industry because of its shine, strength, and durability. Due to its high cost to produce, soft feel and elegant appearance; silk is a popular textile in high-end and couture fashion design. That’s why we use it in our silk hair wraps and pillowcases.

Is Silk Breathable?

As silk is a natural fibre, it is breathable. How breathable it is can be dependant on the thickness of the fibre and the tightness of the weave, but compared to its counterpart satin, it is lightweight and breathable by nature.

Is Satin Breathable?

This will depend on the material the satin is made from – if the satin is made from polyester or a synthetic material, it will be less breathable than a silk satin.


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What is Polyester Satin?

Polyester Satin has a lustrous soft feel and a lovely drape for a gorgeous flowing look. This fabric is woven using a technique in which at least four weft yarns are woven over a single warp yarn at a time. After being woven together these yarns can be used to create a fabric that is strong and durable.

Silk is a naturally made animal protein fibre, whereas polyester is an industrially produced fibre made from petroleum, so it is essentially plastic. It can be mass-produced and is a lot cheaper than silk because of this, but it doesn`t have the same properties as a natural fabric.


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Common Satin fibres

For a material to be labelled as satin, it must be composed of long filament fibres. Natural silk, polyester, nylon, or rayon woven together with a minimum number of interlacing’s. The main difference lies in the way these materials are produced.

Satin products are often labelled as being silk satin, but on closer inspection, you will find there is a higher percentage of polyester than silk, Therefore, it is important to check the label to see what the material make up is. In the same way that there are different types of silk, there are variations of satin fabric including charmeuse, sateen, and duchess to name a few.

How to Wash Polyester Satin?

  1. Always check the label!! In addition to describing the fabric blend, it should provide instructions on how to care for it.
  2. To wash the polyester satin garment, place it in the washing machine or into a bowl.
  3. Depending on the size of the item you may need to adjust the water level.
  4. Add detergent and water (if you wash by hand) or set up the water temperature according to the label instructions.
  5. Turn on the washing machine or wash the polyester by hands, after being soaked.
  6. Set the clothes dryer to low temperature and dry the polyester satin. Or simply leave it on the clothes dryer rack.

Silk vs Polyester Satin – Which One is Better for Hair and Skin?

The difference between naturally spun silk and factory-produced polyester extends beyond the simple contrast of feel and comfort. The amino acids in silk fibres can help replenish lost collagen in the skin, and the high moisture-wicking properties of silk help keep your skin at just the right humidity. Polyester, while also smooth, pales in comparison in this regard – although it is also somewhat effective in reducing morning hair and sleep wrinkles, you will not get the same benefits as silk purely down to the what the fabric is made of.

Another important aspect is that silk is made up of proteins just like our hair. Fibroin, the main protein in silk, is what gives its sheen. Fibroin molecules stack in sheets, following a structure like a folded leaflet. These sheets then stack together to form long tubes that resemble a triangular shape. The flat and smooth surfaces of this triangular prism-like structure make silk good at reflecting light. When light strikes a silk fibre, it is reflected in many different directions. The result is different colours, which makes silk cloth appear shiny.

Silk Polyester – Does it Offer the Same Benefits for Hair and Skin?

Poly silk is a blend of polyester and silk. Although, in many cases, is made 100% of polyester fibre to imitate the silk, rather than real silk. It is often used in formal gowns such as wedding dresses or for ladieswear, for example for lingerie, embroidery, or prints. People prefer polyester silk because it`s structure is very soft and shiny similar to silk, and it costs a fraction less than the real one.

Being a synthetic fibre, it does not offer the same benefits of silk for hair or skin.

Cotton Satin

In contrast to polyester silk, that is a synthetic fibre, cotton satin is always and only 100% cotton.

Cotton satin is a kind of fabric that is weaved by a weave called the atlas. Thanks to this technology, the resulting fabric is shiny on the face side.

Sometimes known as sateen, this material is commonly used in bedding and clothing due to its durability and because it takes on dyes better than polyester satin. Sateen materials feel soft to touch and have a lustrous sheen to them on one side. Due to the production process, they resist mildew, which makes them ideal for those who suffer from allergies. Unlike silk, sateen is not a breathable moisture-wicking material, and because it is 100% cotton it is not great for solving your bed head problems.


How to tell the difference between silk, satin & sateen?

These materials are easily confused as they all appear soft, smooth and can feel quite luxurious! The best way to tell the difference is that silk has a shimmering appearance on both sides of the of the sheet of material, while satin and sateen are very commonly only smooth and shimmery on one side, with a more matte feel on the other side.

Which one is right for me?

From a maintenance point of view, silk is a bit more difficult to wash due to it being more delicate and require more attention. Some silks can be machine washed, however, dry cleaning is the preferred method. Satin can be machine washed; as can sateen. However, silk is hypoallergenic and repels common household allergens including bacteria, mould, fungi, and dust mites alike, so you will most likely find less allergy-inducing substances on a silk sheet/pillowcase than a polyester one. Finally, silk offers more qualities, such as moisture-wicking, temperature regulating, reducing bedhead and split ends. Therefore, we use silk in all of our products.


Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.