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Are Mushrooms the Next Miracle Skin Treatment?

Joanna Douglas
Senior Editor
July 24, 2014

Photo: Levi Brown/Trunk Archive

You love them in your omelets, with your pizza, and even in your kombucha, but what about on your skin? Many brands at all price ranges are singing the praises of the magic mushroom, known for its healing properties in traditional Chinese medicine. But can this fungus do wonders for your skin when applied topically? Dr. Sejal K. Shah, a New York City-based dermatologist, gave us the dirt on the trendy toadstool.

"In Chinese medicine lots of mushroom extracts are used since they have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and have even been used for anticancer purposes," says Shah. They’re also a good source of vitamin D and selenium [a mineral with antioxidant properties that’s been studied for treating everything from asthma to dandruff to infertility]." But while there’s an abundance of studies showcasing the benefits of mushrooms taken orally, there’s limited information on their effectiveness as a topical treatment.

"There is some data that shows shitake extract could improve collagen and have an antiaging effect on the skin," Shah says. Kate Somerville’s Daily Deflector Waterlight Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($48) and Aveeno Positively Ageless Youth Perfecting Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($18.97) both include shitake mushrooms, and Shah says they’re worth a try if they’re in your budget. “You may see those benefits, but it’s important to keep in mind that products do have other ingredients in them that will help your skin, too.” 

Shah checked out the new Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom skincare line ($30-$63) and found that it contains three mushroom extracts. One of them, reishi, is an antioxidant. “I love Origins and think they have great science behind their products that have potential beneficial results,” says Shah. “But it is hard to say that it’s just the mushroom extract having positive effects, and we don’t know the optimal dose of extracts to include in any product to achieve the best results.”

Another brand, eLure, offers some legitimate data on its use of lignin peroxidases, which are derived from a fungus. “This enzyme breaks down lignin in trees and causes decoloration, and works in the same way to decolor melanin in the skin,” says Shah. “Treating dark spots is a challenging thing to treat in general, but I believe people would see a noticeable improvement with this product like you would with traditional beauty lightening agents, so it’s definitely worth trying.” Shah says hydroquinone is considered the gold standard of lightening agents, but many people have a sensitivity to it. Also, some reports have linked it to cancer, so eLure’s treatment could be a safer alternative.

"If you’re using a product that’s giving you results, you may not want to give it up. But if it’s in your budget, there’s no harm in trying something new," says Shah. There are many branded treatments as well as topical kombucha that could improve your skin tone and treat fine lines and wrinkles. "Sometimes brands use a trendy ingredient to push a product, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have potential."