Why you need to add mushrooms to your skincare routine

Posted by for Beauty

Brightening, smoothing, hydrating, healing… there’s nothing the new batch of fungi-infused face products can’t do.

The first thing listed after ‘actor’ in Brie Larson’s Twitter profile is ‘mushroom forager’, which suggests it’s something she rates pretty highly in her personal accolades. Who wouldn’t? It’s got brow-raising written all over it.

Brie’s interest began in the kitchen but as her passion grew, she joined a mycological society in LA and she now attends foraging workshops and fungi festivals. But there are zero trippy side effects to be had here.

Instead, it’s all about the health and wellness benefits fungi bring. Mushrooms can help boost cells’ immunity, are antiviral and full of vitamin D. It’s why you’ll struggle to find a nutritional supplement without a helping of powdered mushrooms on the ingredients list.

It’s not just supplements and stir-fries where mushrooms are stealing the show, they’re now becoming a big thing in beauty too. Lumene, Avon and Ren all use mushroom extracts in their serums, moisturisers and masks (see over) while Charlotte Tilbury, Marc Jacobs and Laura Mercier include the new skincare superhero in their foundations. 

“Dermatologists have been using mushroom-derived kojic acid for years in topical products and medical grade chemical peels for removing problem pigmentation. But as the trend for wellness continues, there has been a renewed interest in plant-based and more ‘natural’ ingredients,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist for the British Skin Foundation.

Growing trend

Opinion-dividers at mealtimes perhaps, these rubbery, earth-grown entities are currently king of the forest and the global mushroom market is expected to increase from $35.08 billion (£28.9 billion) in 2015 to $59.48 billion (£45.5 billion) in 2021. Not surprising when it’s currently estimated that the number of mushroom species is 150,000 and only 10% have been officially identified. That’s a lot of potential.

Not all mushrooms are created equal though and they tend to fall into two camps – the medicinal and the edible. “Most of the mushrooms featured in the Dr Weil Mega-Mushroom collection are medicinal, many of which are polypores (shelf fungi). None are poisonous – most are too woody or bitter to eat anyway,” explains Dr Weil, who has immersed himself in the beauty benefits of mushrooms since 2005 when he first launched his collection with Origins.

Even fungi-haters will want to get on board. “Mushroom extracts can be integrated into almost any formula, but you will benefit most from leave-ons that can harness the antioxidant, balancing, soothing properties,” says Tiina Isohanni, vice president of research and development at Lumene.

Magic powers

Long used in Chinese medicine, studies are now stacking up on how mushrooms can benefit the skin. Full of active compounds that have antioxidant, anti-ageing, skin brightening, moisturising and anti-inflammatory effects, they tick off a whole host of wishes. Some, like reishi and maitake, are adaptogenic, meaning they support the body’s defences and protect from stresses that could leave skin vulnerable.

“Most mushrooms have high antioxidants and contain metabolites that can help fight free radicals,” continues Isohanni. “Others reduce melanin content and inhibit tyrosinase activity (melanin production), which helps brighten skin and fade dark spots, and many have anti-inflammatory properties. 

They’re also high in vitamin D, which is essential in supporting the skin’s immune system.” That’s pollution, stress, rosacea, sensitivity, spots and sun damage tackled then.

Containing polysaccharides that are fantastic for drawing moisture to the skin, studies have shown that mushrooms are a great natural hydrator, and then there’s the kojic acid Dr Mahto referred to which is touted as a remedy for age spots and discolouration.

Pick your own

Despite the 150,000 to choose from, there are a handful of mushrooms that are the real hard hitters. Dr Weil flags the cordyceps for its reparative benefits. In the Lumene range, it’s a combination of antioxidant chaga and sheep polypore, which protects skin from irritants. 

Shiitake and reishi are also popular as they encourage cell renewal, increase skin elasticity and contain those all-important polysaccharides for springier skin. Does that mean you could go foraging for food and skincare ingredients? In essence, yes. 

“Two mushrooms that are easy to identify and good to use in cosmetics are auricularia polytricha (wood ear) and Tremella mesenterica,” explains Martin Powell, mycologist and author of Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide.  “Providing you were sure you had the correct species it would be fine, but many are similar in appearance so it’s advisable to have professional training first.”

But before you dart off to your nearest forest, remember that picking mushrooms is one thing, formulating them is another. “The mushrooms need to go through strict processing to ensure that no bacteria can grow. Then they are professionally fermented to preserve the extracts,” explains chef turned beauty entrepreneur, Lisa Armitage, who has formulated her own range using mushrooms.

Or you could hunt out brands that take a more rustic approach, such as Lumene, who use wild-harvested Finnish mushrooms from dedicated collection areas to ensure they don’t disrupt the eco-culture.

Pure feel-good fungi – it’d be a crime to limit them to a slice of sourdough. Use a moisturiser with the magic ingredient and your skin will be as happy and healthy as your gut. 

Scroll down to reveal the products we’ve foraged for you…

  • Avon K-Beauty Golden Mushroom Sleep Mask

    A trio of chaga, shiitake and matsutake mushrooms help this antioxidant-packed mask repair potential damage caused by free radicals.

  • Previse Tremella Repair Cream

    Snow mushroom extract ups the skin’s moisture content for a cushiony soft complexion.

  • Dr Weil For Origins Mega-Mushroom Treatment Lotion

    The original mushroom miracle worker re-balances and strengthens the skin barrier.

  • Lumene Nutri-Recharging Intense Moisturiser

    Chaga and sheep polypore calm and cool stressed skin.

  • LA by Lisa Armitage Stop The Clock Activating Night Cream

    Adaptogenic reishi and hydrating shiitake stimulate collagen while you snooze.

  • REN Evercalm Ultra Comforting Rescue Mask

    With white mushroom that blocks heat and itchiness, any redness is instantly soothed.

  • Starskin Firming Bio-Cellulose Second Skin Face Mask

    This 20-minute mushroom fix transfers the goodness of chaga and reishi into skin via a serum-soaked sheet mask.

The best foraging courses to try

Wild Food UK - nationwide

After a short introduction, you’ll set off on a route where you’re taught to identify edible shoots, plants, flowers and mushrooms. A wild lunch incorporating your finds is included.

From £45, wildfooduk.com

The Wild Side of Life - Wiltshire

A year’s membership to this club includes 18 hours of field tuition from Fred the Forager, as well as invites to fungi meetings and mushroom picnics.

From £80, thewildsideoflife.com

Trill Farm - Devon

A half-day course, this will educate you on wild edible plants, their nutritional values, folklore, mystery and history. Mushrooms are included if in season, so an autumn visit is advised.

From £65, trillfarm.com

River Cottage - Devon

A full day of foraging, cooking and tips on how to prep your wild finds, this even touches on the laws of foraging and flags up exotic finds like birch sap fungi.

From £195, rivercottage.com

Image credits: Sara Morris

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