When it comes to skincare ingredients, mushrooms are a bit of an anomaly. With their dull appearance and slimy texture, it’s understandable if you dislike them, in general. But, when used in skincare products, they have a surprising amount of benefits that you’ll appreciate. From face masks to sunscreen, mushroom-infused skincare products are making their way into our daily routines.
In topical treatments, different types of fungi can be used to improve your skin — and it’s been backed by science. In a 2016 study, researchers found that mushrooms help combat signs of aging, cure skin inflammation and reduce hyperpigmentation. In a 2019 study, doctors discovered beta-glucan, one of the main components found in most mushrooms, can help to improve the skin’s barrier. With promises of clearer and calmer skin, this versatile ingredient is gaining popularity from skincare brands who have started adding mushrooms into their products.
Here’s what we know about the rise of mushrooms in the skincare industry, plus a few products you can try.
Where the fascination with mushrooms began
“Mushrooms — more for consumption historically — have been used in traditional Chinese and Eastern medicine practices for thousands of years,” Vancouver-based dermatologist, Dr. Monica Li explains.
Due to their celebrated healing properties, mushrooms were used by holistic doctors and naturopaths for things such as potent antibiotics or to help boost the immune system — and it seems the Western world is finally waking up to the magic of this superfood ingredient in skincare. “There’s a growing consumer interest in plant-based or natural ingredients, so it’s not surprising to see in recent years [the] different types of mushrooms integrated into skincare products in the market,” Li adds.
The benefits of adding mushrooms to skincare products
The benefits of mushroom-infused products are endless, as different types are designed to help your skin in different ways. Mushrooms such as chaga, cordyceps and reishi are high in antioxidants, which tackle facial scarring, inflammation and anti-aging. Other mushrooms, such as shiitake and tremella, produce active ingredients which can be used in skin-plumping products and keep skin consistently hydrated.
“In the past several years, there [has been] some early evidence showing that mushrooms in skincare may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits,” Li says. “[Certain] ingredients may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, hydrating and pigment-lightening effects. When the skin barrier is supported with improved moisture retention and is not red and flaky — representing some signs of skin inflammation — the skin appears healthier and smoother to convey youthfulness.”
Tess Gigone and Savannah Cowherd, co-founders of the Toronto-based indie skincare brand, Madalyn, have incorporated mushrooms into some of their products. “The mushroom world is extremely vast, and each variety comes with its own benefits,” the duo says. “Generally, mushrooms are high in antioxidants which can help with free radicals like sun exposure and environmental toxins, which helps with aging. Our mushroom mask uses reishi and shiitake, particularly because of their anti-microbial properties, which fights acne and inflammation.”
How mushrooms work in skincare
Since mushrooms are a natural ingredient, you might be wondering if they have a distinct smell or add a strange texture to products. Thankfully, they don’t — based on the type of skincare product, developers work to seamlessly blend the mushroom extract into the product’s other ingredients. “Mushrooms are typically integrated either as a powder or a liquid,” Gigone and Cowherd explain. “Mushrooms are used to support your skin — powders are used in products like masks, where benefits are gained by contact, while products like serums and moisturizers may need [a] liquid form to sink into your skin.”
Li adds, “Formulation is key in any skincare product. Taking a mushroom and rubbing it on the face does not work. Skincare companies will need to find a formulation such that the purported benefits from mushrooms are delivered through the skin surface to exert its effects, and this may mean using other ingredients to mask its smell. There may be different effects when [using a mushroom] as a skincare ingredient. For instance, shiitake mushrooms contain kojic acid which can help lighten uneven and unwanted skin pigmentation.”
Is this trend here to stay?
With new wellness trends popping up every week, it’s fair to be skeptical of the longevity of mushroom-infused skincare — yet, the superfood ingredient has been around for thousands of years. “As the focus on self-care evolves and we spend more time on social media, especially during the pandemic, consumers may be considering natural options and alternatives to a greater degree in their selection of skincare products,” Li says. “I expect the focus on self-care and wellness to continue to grow, with consumers being able to access a growing body of information and opinions [on mushrooms in skincare] via social and popular media when they make decisions about caring for their skin — so time will tell!”
See also: 20 foods to eat to combat dry skin.
Try these mushroom-infused skincare products:
This deeply hydrating moisturizer from Youth to the People is formulated for people with dry, sensitive skin. The use of squalane keeps the skin hydrated while working with fermented reishi to combat and detoxify signs of aging.
As a first skincare step, this gentle cleanser from Herbivore is infused with ingredients such as rose hydrosol to calm the skin and tremella mushroom, a hydration powerhouse.
When your skin needs a break, this mushroom face mask from Madalyn Skincare — made with reishi and shiitake mushrooms — is used to soothe the skin and help with blemishes.
Formulated with hyaluronic acid, this Moon Juice plumping serum aims to maintain skin elasticity. Its use of tremella and reishi mushrooms helps to hydrate the skin and prevent inflammation.
This zinc-oxide sunscreen from Dermalogica features cordyceps, which helps to keep skin moisturized and reduces any dryness or redness caused by UV rays.