There are nearly 150,000 different known species of mushrooms in the world. Some of the most popular are shiitake, reishi, maitaki, enoki, oyster, lion’s mane, hericium erinaceous, coriolus versicolor, cordyceps, cloud, chager, cremini, astragalus, agarikon and agaricus.
All of them contain polysaccharides, those long-chain molecules composed of sugar units, which seem to be responsible for their action as immunopotentiators. Many ancient civilizations used mushrooms for more than just food. They believed mushrooms had significant healing powers.
Mushrooms are fungi, and they do not belong to the plant or animal kingdom. Whereas plants reproduce with seeds, mushrooms rely on spores. These fungi break down dead organic material and continue the cycle of nutrients through the ecosystem.
Topical applications of a variety of mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake and tremella are used widely for their skin beautifying qualities. They contain antioxidants as well as compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties, which help treat many skin problems caused by inflammation and excessive free radical activity. Several mushroom varieties contain kojic acid, which is renowned as a skin lightener. Kojic acid is useful as a natural alternative to dangerous, and often toxic, chemical skin lighteners, such as hydroquinone which has recently been linked to skin cancer.
Shiitake mushrooms contain the antioxidant L-ergothioneine, which helps prevent cell breakdown and helps exfoliate the skin. Shiitake mushrooms, as a rich source of kojic acid, are used to brighten the skin, and fade sunspots and acne scars. Shiitake’s anti-inflammatory properties help improve vitality and also encourage faster skin renewal and increase skin elasticity. Hence, this variety is often found in skin care products particularly those with anti-aging benefits. Reishi mushrooms have superior antioxidant characteristics, making them applicable in a broad range of products to treat pathological aging.
Many health food stores carry capsules, liquid extracts and dried varieties of mushrooms, which are promoted for their overall immune-boosting benefits. They enhance the immune system, are anti-inflammatory, and have antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Maitake variety contains beta-glucans, which has a wide range of immune-stimulating and protective effects within the body. Mushrooms have numerous and diverse health benefits including: treating cancer, fighting infections, treating diabetes, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and helping prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dietary substances known to be good for the complexion are sometimes better applied topically rather than ingesting them because, “you can get higher concentrations in the skin this way,” observed Dr. David McDaniel, director for the Institute of Anti-aging Research and an assistant professor of clinical dermatology and plastic surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Other experts specifically acknowledge the benefits of these fungi.
“Mushrooms are packed with compounds such as proteins, lipids and phenol and are rich in vitamins and amino acids,” noted Dr. Leslie Baumann, director of the University of Miami Cosmetic Medicine and Research Institute. “There is even greater evidence that some species have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and tumor-inhibiting activity when applied topically, but their effectiveness is not based on the ingredient alone. Extracts must be specially formulated so that they get into skin.”
Dr. Andrew Weil contends that mushrooms straddle the line between food and medicine and can combat the effects of aging, including specters such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Think of penicillin, Weil says, which is derived from mold, which is a lower fungi. Mushrooms are higher fungi, with immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects.
In addition, at the recent Annual American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) meeting in March 2013, world renowned mycologist Dr. Paul Stamets said that mushrooms and fungi are the key to creating necessary biodiversity, by producing a lot of interesting compounds that are medically significant.
Cosmetic chemists are taking note of the mushroom’s anti-aging benefits. Popular mushrooms are found in everything from anti-aging serums to daily moisturizers. The extracts are often cited as potent antioxidants.
The researchers at Aveeno, a Johnson & Johnson brand that is known for harnessing the powers of innovative, active natural technologies, created a natural shiitake complex that is featured in the Aveeno Positively Ageless range of products. According to J&J researchers, these formulations have been shown to enhance the youthful appearance of skin.
Weil has developed a mushroom-based skin care regimen for Origins that claims to reduce skin’s inflammatory response and calm redness. According to Origins’ studies, there is a dramatic improvement to dull, ashy skin and facial redness including rosacea. More than 80% of those using mushroom-infused products felt soothed and calmed.
Long valued in the nutritional medicines of China, Korea and Japan, mushrooms are now attracting more interest from researchers and clinicians in the West. Mushroom-based products support the natural defenses of the skin and improve its appearance by keeping it healthier. Many scientists believe the beta-glucan content of mushrooms offers anti-aging skin care-related benefits. There is a lot of enthusiasm for developing mushroom-based skin products, but more basic research is still needed.
Navin M. Geria
Senior Technical Advisor and Principal Doctors Skin Prescription
Navin Geria, ex-Pfizer Research Fellow, is senior technical advisor and principal of the dermatological research company, Doctors Skin Prescription (DSP), Boston, founded by dermatologist David J. Goldberg M.D.J.D. and plastic surgeon William P. Adams M.D.F.A.C.S. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Clairol, Warner-Lambert, Schick, Bristol-Myers and most recently SpaDermaceuticals. He has earned nearly 20 US patents, has been published extensively and has been both a speaker and a moderator at cosmetic industry events.