Should you even bother with silk pillowcases? A sleep editor investigates

With the best silk pillowcases, you can start your journey towards clearer skin and smoother hair

Brooklinen silk pillowcases on a bed.
(Image credit: Brooklinen)

Silk pillowcases are hardly sleep essentials. When it comes to night-time comfort and support, a case of any kind is less important than the pillow it protects. With that said, adding a pair of silk pillowcases is a quick and easy way to elevate your bedding.

Some silk pillowcases are best for sensitive skin, while others are designed to smooth and shine your hair. There are pure silk pillowcases in pastel shades and true neutrals, as well as prints and patterns to brighten up your bed. These days, there are so many sorts of silk pillowcases, sold in all the specialist sleep stores, that it can be hard to split the difference.  

That's where I come in. As H&G's resident sleep writer, I lead a team of expert testers. Together, we've slept on the world's best silk pillowcases. I can tell my silk from my sateen and I know which sort of pillowcase would be most beneficial for which sort of sleeper. 

There are plenty of reasons to invest in a set of silk pillowcases. However, hot sleepers and bed sheet stickler might prefer to stick with classic cotton or linen. That's why I've rounded up a few of my favorite alternatives to silk pillowcases, so that you can have your pick of the litter. 

Choose it if: you want clearer skin

Pale pink silk pillowcase on a bed.

(Image credit: Brooklinen)

When I write about sheet sets and pillowcases, I often mention moisture-wicking properties. Usually, a pillowcase that can keep you just the right side of cool and dry would go straight to the top of my buying guide. 

That isn't the case with silk pillowcases. Silk has a low absorption rate, which means it retains more moisture, and can hydrate your skin while you sleep. Hydrated skin looks better and feels softer. 

You can apply a full face of beauty creams and settle down to sleep on your silk pillowcases, safe in the knowledge that your case won't absorb your treatments. Your beauty products will sink into your skin, rather than your sheets, hydrating you all the more. 

One more thing: silk is naturally hypoallergenic. High-quality silk is woven so tightly that there's very little room for dust, dirt and dander to sneak in. That's why I would recommend silk pillowcases to sleepers with sensitive skin. 

Choose it if: you want smoother hair

Gray silk pillowcases against pink bedding.

(Image credit: Bedsure)

If you've ever slept with silk pillowcases, you might remember how easy and effortless it felt to glide your face across the material. That's because silk is soft, smooth, and anti-static.

Silk pillowcases work to reduce friction between your hair and your pillow, lowering the risk of waking up with frizz. Since silk is naturally moisture-retaining, your hair should hold onto its natural oils and maintain its shine overnight. 

I would especially recommend silk pillowcases to sleepers with textured or curly hair, or anyone who spends a lot of time and money on their blow-out, and wants to keep it. Silk helps your strands to hold their shape and keep their sheen.

Choose it if: you want to play with patterns

Palm tree pattern on a silk pillowcase against white bedding.

(Image credit: Mayfairsilk)

Now, don't get me wrong: you can pick up a patterned pillowcase in cotton or linen from just about any sleep store or home retailer. But there's something special about patterned silk. Some of my favorite silk pillowcases combine playful patterns with delicate materials.

Silk is printed with acid dye or reactive ink to take on unique prints. A patterned pillowcase might not wash as well as a plain one, but you should be safe with a cold water cycle and low-heat dryer settings.

To put a fresh twist on silk pillowcases, I like to shop at Mayfairsilk. This bedding brand also sells silk sheets and accessories from scrunchies to sleep masks, which would make a great gift for a night owl.

Don't choose it if: you want something that washes well

Luxe Core Pillowcase on a bed.

(Image credit: Brooklinen)

Silk pillowcases have plenty of great qualities, but I couldn't in good conscience describe them as low-maintenance. If you're shopping for something that's easy to wash and quick to dry, you might be better off with a classic cotton case. 

You have to be very careful with silk. When you're laundering silk, you need cold water, low heat, no jagged edges or sharp zippers in the washing machine drum. With a cotton case, you can throw it in the washing machine, then run it through the dryer and it should look as good as new. You might not even need to iron it. 

My favorite cotton pieces are pretty as well as practical, though in a slightly less obvious sense than silk pillowcases. With cotton, it's all about clean lines and neat edges as part of a well-made bed.

Don't choose it if: you tend to sweat while you sleep

Tartan linen pillowcase on a bed.

(Image credit: Piglet in Bed)

We've already established that silk pillowcases are moisture-retaining, rather than moisture-wicking. That's great if you want to hydrate your hair and boost the brightness of your skin, but it could be a nightmare for a hot sleeper. 

Silk pillowcases retain moisture – all kinds of moisture, from beauty creams to honest sweat. That sweat then stays on your pillowcase, where it feels wet to the touch. Sweaty bedding is a breeding ground for bacteria, which could irritate the skin you've worked so hard to protect.  

If you know you run a little warm, you should consider a set of linen pillowcases. Linen might not feel as silky smooth, but it should get softer with each wash, all the while keeping you just the right side of cool and dry.

Silk pillowcase FAQs

Is a silk pillowcase worth it?

If you're keen to start your journey towards clearer skin and smoother hair, then you might appreciate a silk pillowcase. Your face and hair should glide over the smooth fabric while you sleep, reducing friction and retaining moisture. Even the best silk pillowcases prove hard to clean. If you're searching for something that washes well, you might be better off with classic cotton. Hot sleepers should consider moisture-wicking materials, such as linen, instead.

Which silk pillowcase is best?

For a skin-friendly sham that looks as good as it feels, I recommend the ESPA  Oxford Edge Pillowcase. Mayfairsilk specializes in prints and patterns to pop against white bedding: I'm a fan of their limited edition Palms Pure Silk Pillowcase. Brooklinen's Mulberry Silk Pillowcase is smooth and soft to reduce friction and prevent hair damage.

Final thoughts

Once you've invested in one, two, or a few of the best silk pillowcases, it's important to take good care of them. It's worth learning how to wash a silk pillowcase to get the most out of your product. 

Emilia Hitching
Sleep Editor

Emilia is our resident sleep writer. She spends her days tracking down the lowest prices on the best bedding and spends her nights testing it out from the comfort of her own home – it's a dream job. Her quest to learn how to sleep better has taken her all around the world, from mattress factories in Arizona to sleep retreats in Scandinavia. Before she joined Homes & Gardens, Emilia studied English at the University of Oxford. She also worked on the other side of the aisle, writing press releases for regional newspapers and crafting copy for Sky.