Take a stroll down any beauty or wellness aisle, and you'll soon see there's a fungus among us. The ingredient taking the industry by storm isn't a rare plant, delicate flower, or even a high-tech molecule — it's the simple, homely mushroom. From supplements to skincare, mushrooms have become the darling of the beauty and wellness world, popping up in indie brands and big-name corporations.
"Mushrooms have been a part of Eastern medicine for centuries, but their benefits in skin care are now being more closely explored," says Caroline Robinson, MD, FAAD, founder and CEO of Tone Dermatology. "Despite much of the attention for natural skin care derivatives being given to plants, many mushrooms are now being recognized for their adaptogenic capabilities—in other words, their ability to modify stress responses and bring us back to equilibrium."
The Beginning of Mushrooms in Beauty
Origins is one of the first mainstream brands to see the potential of mushrooms, partnering with integrative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil in 2005 to create the brand's now iconic Mega Mushroom line.
"Origins has always been rooted in nature and inspired by ingredients sourced from our planet," explains Lizz Starr, Origins' executive director of global product development. "Similarly, Dr. Andrew Weil studied mushrooms for their nutritional value for many years. With his knowledge and our research, we discovered an opportunity to work together, making Origins one of the first skincare brands to recognize mushrooms' highly efficacious and therapeutic value in skincare." Starr notes that the Mega-Mushroom Treatment Lotion ($40) is the brand's number-one bestseller worldwide.
In the years following Mega-Mushroom's debut, countless brands followed suit and launched fungi-infused offerings. But, the last few years, in particular, have seen a literal "shroom boom." These days you'll find mushrooms in serums, moisturizers, and supplements. What gives?
The Rise of Mushrooms
"The last few years have been turbulent, and people have become increasingly focused on their inner and outer wellbeing," explains Dr. Sherwin Parikh, board-certified dermatologist, founder of Tribeca Skin Center, and co-founder and chief science officer of beauty brand A.P. Chem. "People are exploring alternative and holistic treatments for a mind-body balance. They're looking to nootropics to boost their mood or promote relaxation. Similarly, they're discovering the adaptogenic benefits of mushrooms to treat a variety of concerns such as stress, fatigue, and inflammation."
Adriana Ayales, the founder of Brooklyn's Anima Mundi Apothecary, agrees. "People are realizing that wellness comes from the inside," she says. "Humans are at a point where reconnecting to nature isn't just a trend–it's fundamental to our personal and collective resilience. Mushrooms are nutritious food and medicine. They can also beef up our gut flora and immunity."
Then, of course, there's the growing cultural acceptance of other types of mushrooms (i.e., psilocybe, a mushroom species that contains the psychedelic compound psilocybin). Psilocybin is a federally illegal drug. However, the FDA has allowed organizations like Johns Hopkins to research its effects on conditions like end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients. Several studies have shown it has potential benefits for anxiety, depression, OCD, and alcohol addiction. It has also recently been legalized in Oregon and Colorado and decriminalized in some cities and municipalities across the U.S. "The fact that we are doing research now [into psilocybin] and have a much more open attitude towards ancient, Indigenous ingredients through a scientific lens is helping to push brands forward," says FRWRD Skincare founder Vladimir Druts.
"We're seeing policy change at local and state levels to decriminalize and legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes," adds A.P. Chem founder and CEO Sandra Statz. "Our moisturizer's name, MicroDose Magical Moisturizer, is an homage to magic mushrooms. Our brand's advocacy for psychedelic medicine is inspired by my experience with psychedelic therapy following a mentally and physically challenging diagnosis with a chronic disease."
While you won't find psilocybin on the shelves at your local beauty retailer, there are plenty of efficacious mushrooms that can do a world of good for you, your skin, and your sanity.
Which Mushroom Is Which?
As Starr points out, there are over 10,000 species of mushrooms. However, the list tends to be shorter for beauty and wellness brands, with tremella, chaga, turkey tail, reishi, lion's mane, shiitake, and cordyceps being the major players. Each type of mushroom has different benefits depending on the format it's in (topical skincare vs. ingestible supplements). Reishi, for example, is used in skincare as an anti-irritant. "We have found that using fermented chaga and reishi in our skincare formulas helps visibly reduce the look of redness and soothe skin," says Starr. "The power these mushrooms have to calm and comfort skin makes it a global hero."
When used in an ingestible, like the Alice Nightcap Mushroom Chocolates, reishi works to help you get to sleep faster. "Reishi is amazing for regulating your stress levels," says Alice co-founder Charlotte Cruze. "Once you've been taking it for a while, you'll get deeper and better sleep."
This is a fact many people are unaware of and could be one of the reasons it's taken so long for functional mushroom supplements to catch on. "[Usually] if you take functional mushrooms, they need time to compound in your body," says Cruze. "What we saw happening in the market is a lot of people were trying a product, but they were not getting instant gratification from it and stopped taking it. We formulated our chocolate with functional mushrooms and supporting herbal supplements, minerals, adaptogens, and nootropics that scratch that itch for instant gratification."
On the skincare front, those looking for a moisture boost would also do well with tremella, known as snow mushroom. "It grows naturally in northern forest regions and has an amazing natural hyaluronic effect where the particle size is on par if not smaller than hyaluronic acid," says Druts. "It penetrates the skin and gives it an incredible moisture barrier that lasts. I would not have created our serum without tremella."
Origins is excited about exploring the benefits of lion's mane. It's typically been used in supplements for brain health, but the brand has its eye on developing formulations for topical use. "Vitamin-rich lion's mane [is known] for its antioxidant power and purported skin-boosting benefits," says Starr. "The notion of adaptogenic mushrooms is highly valued at Origins, and the idea that a mushroom can help build up skin's resistance to future damage is very compelling and will remain a priority for us, and, we expect, the industry."
The Future of Mushrooms in Beauty and Wellness
With so many formulas on the market featuring mushrooms, does that mean fungi fatigue is in our future? According to our experts, that's far from the case. "We have only started to understand the power of mushrooms," says founder and CEO of Wldkat Amy Zunzunegui. "The West has only recently started to use them as internal medicine and in skincare, and there are so many different species."
Brands are still discovering all the different ways to use mushrooms, including innovative uses for the mushroom's mycelium (the root network). "We have a partnership to create a mycelium sheet mask and undereye masks," says Druts. "They don't take any energy to grow—you just inject the mycelium into a mold, and they grow themselves. They're soft, smell amazing, and are biodegradable."
Speaking of sustainability, mycelium is also an incredible eco-friendly substitute for styrofoam and some plastics, a concept Origins is currently eyeing. "We are always looking at ways to expand our sustainable packaging elements," says Starr. "We are committed to sustainability in both product and packaging—and leveraging mushrooms for packaging would be an incredible advancement of our journey."
Druts continues to be in awe of the versatility of mushrooms and the new uses being discovered daily. Ayales feels similarly, stating, "I think we're just getting started with mushrooms. I have no doubt we will discover more mushrooms."
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