LONDON, United Kingdom — Are silkworm cocoons the secret to baby-soft skin? That’s what Boston-based natural chemistry firm Silk Therapeutics is betting on.
The biomaterials company, co-founded by Dr Gregory Altman, chief executive, and Dr. Rebecca Lacouture, president and chief operating officer, in 2013, has entered a partnership with British luxury retailer Harrods, which will begin selling the world’s first beauty products featuring pure silk as an active ingredient from August 11, with an 18-month exclusivity term.
Products range from a cleanser, £65, to a 30ml hydrating serum, £110, a 50ml jar of hydra-rich moisturiser and a C-advance anti-aging serum, both £140. The London-based department store will also offer "liquid silk" facials for a limited period.
Silk is created by silkworms that eat organically grown mulberry leaves, a process that removes carbon dioxide from the air. But while most silkworm cocoons are used for making fabric, Silk Therapeutics uses the protein from discarded silkworm cocoons to make liquid silk. Because it doesn’t need the same high-quality cocoons that would be used in fabric, the company can use cocoons that would otherwise be wasted.
It has beneficial properties too. “Collagen and silk are skin’s good friends. Silk is a protein material, which is biocompatible and can help the skin become firmer and look firmer in a way that it binds the collagen within your skin,” said Lacouture. According to the executive, the skincare line consists of just 12 ingredients, compared to regular products such as moisturisers, which often contain up to 40 or 50 ingredients.
For Lacouture, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 27, it was important to develop simple, safe and non-toxic formulas. “For us, it was important that it performs, because we don’t want anyone to ever have to compromise the performance of skincare,” she said. "People shouldn't need to trade safety for effectiveness," added Altman, noting that the decision to launch in Britain was, in part, due to "the UK leading the charge on eliminating micro-plastics from personal care products."
There’s certainly a market for sustainable fibres. According to a 2017 study by beauty giant Unilever, the market for sustainable products was worth over $3 trillion, now that a third of consumers are choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing environmental good. The shift has seen the emergence of several sustainability-driven startups, including Bolt Threads, which makes spider silk from microbugs, and Modern Meadow, which produces lab-grown animal-free leather.
Looking ahead, the duo also hopes to move into apparel. "Our first entry into the market will likely be with partners. There are a lot of great brands out there today that are focused on improving sustainability and health. We are very interested in partnering with those brands to figure out how we can bring this technology to the market," said Lacouture.