Believe it: Fungi is good for your face.
Few things are quite as versatile as the humble mushroom (seriously, find us something else that can be both a delicious pizza topping and a mind-altering substance). Their latest role? Complexion perfector. A whole host of new skin-care products are cropping up—pun intended—and touting the fabulous fungus. Still, despite the fact that the topical trend is just now taking off, mushrooms have always been a mainstay in ancient medicine and skin-care practices.
"Mushrooms have been used by healers and holistic formulators for hundreds, even thousands of years. But now that there's scientific data proving their benefits, even mainstream companies are using mushroom extracts in their formulations," explains Elina Fedotova, founder of Elina Organics and the Association of Holistic Skin Care Practitioners.
What makes mushrooms unique is the extreme variety; there are some 150,000 species of mushroom on this planet containing an equally vast amount of compounds and nutrients that would be impossible to list in full. While they're obviously not all created equal, "most mushrooms have multiple benefits including anti-aging, detoxifying, hydrating, and brightening effects," says Fedotova. Credit first and foremost sky-high levels of antioxidants, which help combat free radical damage caused by exposure to sun and pollution. (Related: Skin-Care Products That Protect Against Pollution)
They're also loaded with skin-saving vitamins: "Mushrooms are rich in B complex vitamins, which can do everything from calm inflammation to brighten the skin," explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Specifically, we're talking about B3, also known as niacinamide, a multitasker with a capital M. "It has anti-inflammatory properties, prevents abnormal pigment production, improves hydration, and promotes healthy collagen and elastin," says Dr. Zeichner. "Niacinamide is a jack of all trades when it comes to the skin, which is why botanical extracts that contain it naturally, like mushrooms, are such popular ingredients in skin care." (Related: 5 Skin-Care Ingredients That Get Rid of Dull Skin and Help You Glow from Within)
To the point of brightening the skin, oyster, shiitake, and other mushrooms also contain kojic acid, known for its lightening abilities (it slows pigment production), says Fedotova, Other varieties also deliver hydrating benefits: Truffles contain ceramides, an essential component for maintaining a healthy skin barrier (and locking in hydration), while the tremella mushroom is often used in place of hyaluronic acid in China and Japan, thanks to its water-retaining capabilities, says Fedotova.
The bottom line: There's no shortage of different types of mushrooms nor the different types of skin-saving compounds they contain, making them a good choice to seek out in your next skin-care purchase. Just keep in mind that, as with any other topical ingredient, you'll need to use it for several weeks for the mushrooms' effects to show up on your complexion, notes Dr. Zeichner.
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Rather than foraging around the skin-care aisle (get it?) start with any of these six picks if you're interested in getting in on the mushroom magic.
1. Plantioxidants Chaga & Ginseng Serum: This organic serum contains chaga, a species that grows on white birch trees in Northern climates; it can stimulate the skin's own self-repair mechanisms and touts a high concentration of antioxidants. Here, it's paired with collagen-boosting ginseng for added anti-aging effects. ($110; plantioxidants.com)
2. Moon Juice Beauty Shroom Plumping Jelly: Hydrating tremella is coupled with anti-inflammatory reishi in this lightweight and bouncy serum. Not only does it work to plump up and fill in fine lines on your face, but you can also dab it on lips to fake a fuller pout. ($58; moonjuice.com)
3. Youth to the People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream: It took nearly two years to formulate this rich moisturizer, which contains reishi mushrooms rich in polyphenols and antioxidants to combat oxidative stress and inflammation. Reishis also have adaptogenic properties, meaning they can naturally help the body adapt to stress. ($58; sephora.com)
4. One Love Organics Vitamin D Moisture Mist: A moisturizer-toner hybrid, this spritz touts shiitake mushrooms, which have high levels of B complex vitamins and are also a great natural source of vitamin D, says Dr. Zeichner. Time-released aloe and vitamin E deliver long-lasting hydration, even long after you mist it on. ($39; oneloveorganics.com)
5. Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom Relief & Resilience Soothing Treatment Lotion: With three different types of mushrooms—reishi, chaga, and coprinus, to be exact—swipe on this liquid lotion to bring sweet relief to dry, irritated, or red skin. Mushrooms aren't the only standout ingredient; the formula also contains good-for-you skin probiotics. ($34; sephora.com)
6. Four Sigmatic Golden Latte with Shiitake & Turmeric: Okay, so this isn't a skin-care product, but you can reap the beautifying benefits of mushrooms by eating—or in this case, drinking—them, too. (Related: The Health Benefits of Mushrooms That Make Them One of the Hottest New Superfoods) Founded by a 13th generation mushroom forager, this brand (which will soon sell a sampler box in Sephora) offers a range of different powdered mushroom-based mixes. This delicious option combines shiitake with turmeric to promote glowing skin. ($20; foursigmatic.com)
7. Volition Snow Mushroom Water Serum: Quench parched skin with this moisturizing serum, which uses tremella (AKA snow mushrooms) to deliver a heavy hit of hydration. With the ability to hold up to 500 times their weight in water, this variety is choice for dry skin types. This vegan, hypoallergenic, and cruelty-free serum, also touts mineral-rich marine water, ideal for calming and soothing stressed skin. ($62; sephora.com)