The Benefits of Mushrooms in Beauty and Wellness, Explained

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This article first appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

Whether they’re pizza toppers or forest dwellers, mushrooms serve a multitude of purposes. From addressing various health concerns (hello, anxiety) to clearing skin, here are the newest ways these holistic powerhouses are boosting beauty.

Millions of Mushrooms

More than 1.5 million different types of mushrooms exist in the ecosystem. To name a few, there are culinary mushrooms, psychoactive mushrooms, poisonous mushrooms, and the underdog: medicinal mushrooms. “That’s the group that really changed my life,” says Kate Seiberlich, CEO and founder of medicinal mushroom brand Üphoric Urth.

Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of wellness brand Moon Juice, also loves the incredible healing benefits medicinal mushrooms provide. “The holistic-minded believe they act as a form of preventive medicine, helping to cultivate a healthy environment in the body where disease is less likely to occur,” she explains. Mushrooms also serve as an alternative to skin care’s most powerful and conventional ingredients. “There has been a recent surge in beauty brands incorporating mushrooms into their formulas,” says Elena Severin, director of brand partnerships at The Detox Market.

An Alternative Approach

Some mushrooms are filled with vitamin D, a potent environmental skin protector.

— Elena Severin

Both Seiberlich and Bacon suffered from crippling autoimmune disorders growing up, but their healing went beyond what any Western treatment could offer. “Right after I experienced my first medicinal mushroom, I knew my body loved them and wanted more. Fast-forward about eight months after using them daily, my condition was gone; it just vanished,” says Seiberlich.

While celebrity chef Charles Chen believes there’s power in both Eastern and Western medicine, and notes that “each approach looks at different lifestyle conditions,” Bacon argues that “Western medicine tends to be more allopathic, meaning it treats the problem and not the person. The integration of holistic treatments falls more into the naturopathic realm, using natural remedies to help the body and skin heal themselves.” This belief alone propelled her to add mushroom-based skin care to her powder supplement repertoire.

Shroom Squad

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Cordyceps
Ophiocordyceps sinensis
funghi family: cordycipitaceae

Internal Benefits:
Although some experts agree we need more research on the health benefits of mushrooms, many believers think cordyceps is special because it delivers a plentiful supply of oxygen to the body, fueling its cells. “It boosts adenosine triphosphate—our body’s main energy source—which can be felt within 15 minutes of ingesting the mushroom,” says Seiberlich.

External Benefits:
When applied to the skin, it offers the same stimulatory effect. According to cosmetic chemist Ginger King, “The biggest skin benefit of cordyceps is that it’s vitalizing, making it perfect for those who are struggling with dark circles, dryness or a lackluster complexion.”

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Reishi
Ganoderma lingzhi
funghi family: ganodermataceae

Internal Benefits:
Nicknamed the “mushroom of immortality,” reishi contains high concentrations of beta-glucans and triterpenoids—two powerhouses that boost immune strength, balance hormones and reduce the side effects of seasonal allergies. “These antioxidants also act as a brain tonic and have long been used to enhance mood and support concentration,” says Bacon.

External Benefits:
As we age, our body’s ceramides—the protective skin barrier that locks in hydration—begin to deplete. Applying this mushroom topically may slow this process (also thanks to beta-glucans), a reason why more brands have been adding reishi to the top of their ingredient list. Chen says reishi has been “highly praised in herbal medicine for thousands of years due to this effect on the skin’s longevity.”

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Tremella
Tremella fuciformis
funghi family: tremellaceae

Internal Benefits:
The Chinese University of Hong Kong performed a study on rats in which scientists examined whether the tremella mushroom (aka snow mushroom) would have an effect on blood and liver lipid levels. After four weeks, scientists reported a significant decrease in the rat’s LDL cholesterol, which revealed that ingesting tremella may lessen the chances for heart attack and stroke.

External Benefits:
“Tremella mushrooms have high polysaccharide levels and work like hyaluronic acid to pull moisture into the skin,” says Severin. “But, because they’re smaller in size than hyaluronic acid molecules, polysaccharides—they hold five times more water than hyaluronic acid—draw moisture even deeper into the skin.”

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Chaga
Inonotus obliquus
funghi family: hymenochaetaceae

Internal Benefits:
Chaga is a very powerful detoxifier, which is largely the result of its high levels of antioxidants. “It contains more antioxidants than almost anything else you can find in nature, so it’s great for fighting free radicals,” says Seiberlich. The longer our body can fight free radicals, the slower we will show signs of bodily deterioration (hence why it’s called the “beauty mushroom”).

External Benefits:
The chaga mushroom is full of melanin, which helps shield skin from dangerous UV rays, possibly reducing its likelihood of premature aging. But Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD warns that “the next new thing is not always better than what we have”: traditional sunscreen. “There is also a limit to how much benefit you can get from layering various antioxidants.”

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