How my silk pillows plumped up my bank account

When Sonal Keay was diagnosed at 17 with a rare skin condition which makes her allergic to daylight, she had no idea that one day it would inspire a successful business.

Back then it made her weep with frustration. But today the former barrister, and mother-of-two, is the founder of This Is Silk, which sells silk solutions for sleep, skin and hair.

Her sustainably produced, 100 per cent mulberry silk, machine-washable pillowcases and accessories have a devoted following. In March, she launched an ethical beauty range containing silk peptides, which has proved a balm for women with sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea.

Her Silk Cream Cleanser and Radiance Renewed Silk Overnight Oil (£39.99 each, have won 2022 Global Makeup Awards, and the oil was highly commended at the 2022 Natural Health Beauty Awards.

Sonal Keay was diagnosed at 17 with a rare skin condition which makes her allergic to daylight, and back then, silk was something which soothed her skin. She founded successful brand This Is Silk in 2017 after quitting her job as a barrister and has designed silk solutions for sleep and hair 

Pretty impressive for a woman who spent years feeling acutely embarrassed about her skin.

‘I have chronic actinic dermatitis,’ Sonal, 42, explains. ‘This means I’m allergic to daylight, which is unusual because I am of Indian origin.

‘I was born with appalling eczema, asthma and hay fever and spent a lot of time in and out of hospital as a kid growing up in Lincolnshire.’

She adds: ‘After a holiday to France when I was 15, my skin started burning. It wasn’t like normal sunburn, but a severe allergic reaction. I had so many tests and was diagnosed with this allergy.’

Over the next decade she learned to control the flare-ups. ‘I covered up, kept away from water and reflective surfaces such as snow, and any photo-sensitising substances, including some medicines and flowers such as the daisies.’ 

She believes medication for teenage acne, following heavy topical steroid use for her eczema, also thinned her skin, with is why she is so passionate about using natural solutions wherever possible.

Later she trained as a criminal barrister, married and had her first child, Margaret, now eight. But when she was pregnant with her second daughter, Clara, now five, her skin became inflamed due to hormones. After the birth, her hair fell out and she had hot flushes.

She was in despair until she recalled that as a teenager the only thing that soothed her skin was the feel of silk on her face. ‘I would sleep on silk scarves. It felt so cooling. So I began sleeping on silk pillowcases.’

She also founded an ethical beauty range in March. The business turned over £100,000 in its first year (stock image)

She also founded an ethical beauty range in March. The business turned over £100,000 in its first year (stock image)

The relief was immediate, but she realised the cause ran deeper. ‘I had been a barrister for 15 years and was getting burned out. I decided life was too short and that I needed to do something I loved.’

Sonal, who lives in the Cotswolds with her software developer husband Steve, their two girls and dog Biscuit, began researching silk and was ‘blown away’ by the science behind it.

‘It’s highly regarded for its natural affinity with our skin, thanks to its anti-ageing and skin-healing properties. The proteins in silk help speed up cellular regeneration. It also protects new hair growth.’

So she put £3,000 on a credit card and launched This Is Silk in 2017. After taking a stall at a Country Living Fair, she knew she had a hit. ‘We turned over £100,000 in the first 12 months.’

She went on to launch silk hair wraps to help blowdries last longer and calm frizz. Before they go into production, everything from sheets to scrunchies is home-tested.

Sonal loves the camaraderie of her new career. ‘The Bar is a male-dominated place, so being around mainly women was new to me. I’ve been stunned by how supportive it has been, and I feel a bit sad that I missed out on it for so long.’


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