There is a newfound spotlight on functional mushrooms — aka the superfood species that provide impressive wellness and beauty benefits — opening up our worlds (and taste buds) for the sake of beautiful skin and healthy insides. And thanks to growing interests in holistic healing, certain types of mushrooms like chaga, reishi and turkey tail are getting the attention they deserve.
Below, we take a closer look at the health and beauty benefits of mushrooms, including their most impressive and natural properties.
Functional vs. Produce
Before we get into the details about how mushrooms can impact our health and beauty, let’s clarify one thing: there is a difference between functional mushrooms and those available at the grocery store. “Functional mushrooms are uniquely powerful superfoods that provide many health benefits including memory support, boosting energy and immunity, anti-aging, enhancing sports performance and more,” explains Sandra Carter, Ph.D., founder of Om Mushrooms. “The mushrooms we see at the grocery store are what’s considered a ‘fruiting body,’ which is the portion found above the ground. Most people don’t realize that the portion below the ground — the mycelium — is actually so nutrient-dense,” she adds.
So, while you might get some nutrients from your stir-fry ingredient, using functional mushrooms (especially the so-called “mycelium”) in your wellness regimen is where you will see the most gain. “Functional mushrooms have so many benefits that can target specific needs [such as] supporting memory and clarity with lion’s mane, boosting energy with cordyceps, immunity with turkey tail and helping find balance with reishi,” explains Carter.
“Fungi has been used in skin and haircare formulas for centuries because of its brightening, hydrating and overall anti-aging properties,” says Biba de Sousa, a celebrity esthetician to stars like Emily Blunt, Miley Cyrus and Alison Brie. To get more specific, a type of mushroom called chaga can “promote youthful radiance and anti-aging,” says Carter. While other species like reishi help calm and soothe and, therefore, protect against the effects of stress on the skin and hair. However, when discussing skin and haircare benefits of mushrooms, Sousa prefers to call out the properties of certain mushrooms, rather than individualize each species.
Kojic Acid (KA): According to Sousa, this property is “the most important skincare ingredient derived from mushrooms” and has impressive skin brightening benefits. “Kojic acid has the ability to safely and effectively suppress pigment by slowing the production of tyrosinase, [an] enzyme responsible for melanin production,” she notes. “Overactive melanin production is an effect of inflammation (internal or external in its origin) and the very cause of hyperpigmentation. Melanin travels through the melanogenic pathways from [the] dermal layer to the skin surface where it deposits and creates visible pigmented lesions of various types and sizes.”
Natural Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is one of the most buzz-worthy ingredients in beauty, and tremella mushrooms mimic its humectant and skin-plumping abilities. “Tremella mushrooms show water-attracting capabilities very close in results to hyaluronic acid. Its softness also makes a natural alternative to silicones,” says Sousa. Also called “snow mushroom,” this type of shroom “has the ability to generate a flexible hydration film (slippery film) that enhances product spreadability and helps restore dry skin to its optimally hydrated state, similar to what silicones do.”
Fungi has been used in skin and hair care formulas for centuries because of its brightening, hydrating and overall anti-aging properties.
Vitamin B Complex: Types of vitamin B like biotin and niacinamide can also be found in mushrooms. “Vitamin B complex is crucial for skin health and the cellular growth,” notes Sousa. They enhance fluid secretion to prevent dryness [and] they help production of ceramics and fatty acids to create a healthier skin barrier,” she adds.
Vitamin D: As it turns out, mushrooms are also a natural source of essential vitamin D. “Vitamin D is an antioxidant that is important in fighting free radical attacks and is shown to heal acne scars,” remarks Sousa. It’s considered essential in skincare because it “contributes to skin cell renewal and [a] healthy metabolism.” It also “fights free radical damage that can lead to premature aging and eventually to DNA damage.”
Beta-Glucan: This type of polysaccharide is found in a variety of mushrooms and “has skin plumping and anti-cancer properties,” notes Sousa. Beta-glucans are sugars derived from the fungi’s cell walls. “Sugar is a natural source of glycolic acid [and] has long been used in skincare formulas as an ingredient that plumps the skin and boosts hydration.”
Lentinan: Like beta-glucan, lentinan is considered a polysaccharide with great benefits. Sousa says this ingredient can be added to skin creams and “stimulates the skin’s immune system and ability to fight infections.” Lentinan “is a type of sugar molecule called 1,3 beta-glucan that comes from shiitake mushrooms.” Sousa notes that some research shows the antioxidative benefits of lentinan might have a “cellular-immunity-enhancing effect.”
With growing attention on what seems like a never-ending list of health benefits, functional mushrooms have recently found themselves at the forefront of mainstream wellness with similar force as turmeric, kale and other so-called “superfoods.” Need a boost of energy? There are cordyceps for that. How about some immunity protection? There is turkey tail for that. So how do you reap the benefits of these superfood ingredients? According to Carter, the best way to get energy, immunity, clarity and other mushroom benefits is to incorporate them into your daily routine. “If taking a capsule is easier than adding a powder into your daily routine, then do that! As long as the sourcing is organic, the benefits of the mushrooms will remain the same,” she notes.
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