If your bedtime routine consists of a skin care regimen followed by a long, blissful sleep on whatever matching pillowcase came with your bedding, you might be able to merge the two — or at least give your complexion a little more TLC while you snooze — by using a separate pillowcase designed to minimize wrinkles, fight acne, and even improve the appearance of your hair. But before you splurge on a fancy silk pillowcase for your hair, it’s worth asking whether or not there’s any truth to these claims.
According to Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, “pillowcases can’t actively reverse skin or hair damage.” What they can do, she tells Bustle, “is support healthy skin and hair and help slow down the formation of wrinkles while you’re asleep.” She adds that it all boils down to the material — and more specifically, how absorbent the fabric is and how much friction is caused between your skin and hair and the pillowcase. She points to silk as a smooth, low-friction material that doesn’t strain or indent the skin, meaning it won’t create folds or lines.
What’s more, unlike cotton, silk won’t draw moisture out of your skin or trap bacteria into the fabric, which can contribute to dry skin, inflammation, and breakouts. “I am a big fan of silk pillowcases and bedding because silk supports — not sabotages — your beauty sleep,” says Engelman. “Not only does it feel luxurious, but it’s very absorbent [in that] it won’t draw moisture from your skin and is resistant to soaking up any product that you put on before bed.”
Silk is a particularly good option for those with sensitive skin, adds Sarah Akram, board-licensed master esthetician and owner of Sarah Akram Skincare. “If you have sensitive skin, a silk pillowcase can be your saving grace. Its lightweight texture is non-irritating for the skin.”
Silk pillowcases can benefit your hair, too, says Akram. “I do believe these pillowcases help improve the appearance of hair, especially frizzy hair.” Engelman adds that the smoothness and low absorbency of silk can help your strands the same way it can benefit skin. “Any opportunity to reduce strain and tension on your skin and hair is worthwhile,” she says.
A quality silk pillowcase doesn’t have to be expensive — there are plenty of under-$30 options out there. Another cost-effective alternative with comparable skin and hair benefits is satin, says Engelman. “It also has a smooth texture, low friction, and minimal absorbency, making it a great choice for your skin and hair.” If you’re concerned about the ethical and environmental repercussions of genuine silk, Engelman recommends seeking out brands that only harvest silk threads after the silkworm has left its cocoon. “You can also find silk alternatives made out of bamboo, which yields a similar texture and the same skin and hair benefits.”
Whatever material you choose, it’s a good rule of thumb to look for a pillowcase with a thread count of at least 400 and a momme (a unit used to measure the density of silk fabrics) on the higher end — ideally, closer to 30, which means the pillowcase will be more thick and durable. Popular silk pillowcase brand Slip uses 22 momme in its mulberry silk pillowcases, which come in a range of colors like plum, bronze, and charcoal. “We chose 22 momme because it is the perfect combination of thickness and glide to have the beauty benefits to make a slip anti-aging, anti-sleep crease, and anti-bedhead,” Slip co-founder and CEO Fiona Stewart tells Bustle.
Elsewhere, new beauty brand Herb + Flora sells a pillowcase developed in collaboration with Cupron, a copper-based antimicrobial technology company that once developed copper oxide bedsheets and pillowcases for hospitals to fend off infections, explains Herb + Flora founder Marie-Pierre Stark Flora. Copper oxide has been proven to significantly reduce wrinkles and improve the overall appearance of skin.
Though materials like silk and copper oxide have been proven to benefit skin and hair, it’s important to remember that a special pillowcase is not a replacement for a great skin care regimen, says Akram. “A pillowcase cannot take the place of a great skin care product. You won't gain anything from the pillowcase by omitting a particular product. Ultimately, it feels luxurious to sleep on.”
Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon
Sarah Akram, board-licensed master esthetician and owner of Sarah Akram Skincare
Borkow G, Gabbay J, Lyakhovitsky A, Huszar M. (2009) Improvement of facial skin characteristics using copper oxide containing pillowcases: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel, randomized study. Int J Cosmet Sci. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19467028