The Beauty Magic of Mushrooms

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A number of new beauty products are harnessing the power of mushrooms. (Photo: Levi Brown/Trunk Archive)

Having mushrooms on your dinner plate are expected, but on your face? A little less so. It may seem weird to think of formulating skincare products with fungus, but thanks to a number of beauty brands that have discovered its potential, it might become de rigueur fairly soon. Just as one gets great things from eating mushrooms (big doses of vitamin D and polysaccharides, for example), there are several really outstanding benefits they bestow when applied topically.  

“Mushroom extract has unique components that aid the skin in regeneration and help with melanin inhibition. Melanin contributes to marks and dark spots left on the skin,” says Victoria Fantauzzi, cofounder of La Bella Figura, an organic skincare brand who’s new Difficult Skin Tonic uses the anti-microbial ingredient to exfoliate, among other tasks. “There is also a high content of polysaccharides [in mushroom] which helps the skin’s ability to retain moisture and hydration and is imperative for repair,” Fantauzzi adds. The additional high dosage of vitamin D, which lightens acne spots and increases oxygen to damaged areas, makes it a perfect addition to the repairing tonic.

Brightening is another common perk of these facial fungi. Arbonne uses snow ear mushroom extract that is rich with antioxidant and brightening properties in its Revelage Age Spot Brightening Hand Therapy Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen ($39). Within that formula its role is to shield and disperse the intensity of melanin coloration, which in layman’s terms means it reduces the appearance of age spots, discoloration and hyperpigmentation. Osmia Organics’ Luz Brightening Face Serum ($75) is another product that counts on mushroom extract to aid luminosity.

Traditional Asian medicine has utilized a variety of mushrooms for hundreds of years. Mesima, or black hoof mushrooms, which grow on mulberry trees, were popular in Korea, China and Japan for treatment of ailments ranging from bleeding to gastrointestinal problems to cancer, says dermatologist Dr. Craig Kraffert, president of Amarte and founder of DermStore.com. Mesima mushrooms appear in Amarte’s brightening Aqua Cream ($93) and Ultra Veil Sunscreen ($45) formulas.

Kraffert cites scientific studies that have proven mesima’s anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antioxidant ones, which come from a reservatrol-like compound with the antioxidant efficacy of vitamin C. Those two effects make it attractive for skincare formulations, as well as the fact it’s proven beneficial to those with eczema. “Basic research in Korea and Taiwan also suggest the possibility of an adjunctive role for mesima in the treatment of melanoma,” says Kraffert. “At this time there is no rigorous clinical evidence to suggest that the extract inhibits formation or spread of human skin cancer, but it is an intriguing theoretical possibility.”

In addition, Amarte’s popular Wonder Cream ($102) uses a mushroom emollient that’s superior to synthetic emollients for moisturizing and rejuvenating the skin. “It forms a unique anti-aging shield on the skin, allowing it to reap the benefits of the 1% retinol and botanical extracts while remaining completely protected and moisturized,” says Dr. Kraffert.

Not all mushroom-based beauty-enhancing potions are topical. Mushroom Matrix is a supplement powder that can be added to virtually any juice, smoothie or food that uses eight medicinal mushroom species to rejuvenate the complexion, hydrate hair and strengthen nails—think of it as an alternative to Biotin pills. Elle Macpherson’s organic health supplement, The Super Elixir ($80), uses maitake mushrooms as a key ingredient to support the healthy function of all 11 systems of the human body—integumentary, meaning hair, skin and nails, among them. “When ingested mushrooms are wonderful sources of antioxidants, B vitamins, selenium, and polyphenols,” says Dr. Simone Laubscher, Macpherson’s nutritional doctor who formulated The Super Elixir. “It is due to these that they have an anti-aging effect on the skin and overall de-stressing effect on the face and body.” 

Laubscher points out that all types of mushrooms are not created equal—for example, standard white button mushrooms do not have these properties. Perhaps the best part is they’re effective and safe for all skin types. “All skin types benefit from less oxidation due to antioxidant ingredients acting as free radical scavengers,” she says. “Medicinal mushrooms have stood the test of time since the Ming Dynasty, so they’re a wonderful thing to add to your overall health and beauty routine.”

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