Roasted, fried, brewed, sautéed or smoked, mushrooms have always been the stuff of culinary delight (can you even imagine pizzas without the ‘shroom?), and a way of exploring alternate realities (remind me to tell you of my Amsterdam ‘experiences’ one day).
In fact, there is possibly no other natural ingredient that’s as versatile as the humble mushroom, and its latest job is to give you perfectly flawless, blemish-less, pore-less skin. Mushrooms as the Holy Grail of skincare? Yes, way. Origins has built a whole range around them, and other skincare brands are in fast pursuit.
And while we may consider it a recent invention, mushrooms have actually been a mainstay in beauty recipes at least as far back as the 3rd century BC.
What is so fabulous about this fungus? And which one of its 15,000+ varieties should you be seeking out? Take a look.
Shiitake: The skin brightening mushroom
Possibly the most recognisable varietals, these ‘umbrella caps’ are the second most popular, and third most widely cultivated edible mushrooms in the world. These are the ones you will find tossed into pastas and stir-fries, smoky in flavor, and rich on the palate.
Beauty-wise: Shiitake mushrooms are a dense source of kojic acid. Kojic acid is a natural substitute for hydroquinone to lighten hyperpigmentation of all kinds, ranging from acne to sun spots.
They are also packed with anti-inflammatories, and anti-oxidants, to guard your skin against environmental damage, while easing conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea.
In Japan, shiitake is considered the anti-ageing mushroom, based on its ability to improve skin vitality, and elasticity.
The shiitake DIY: These mushrooms are easily accessible, and Bustle has an excellent shiitake DIY face mask recipe that I love on long, lazy nights.
Found in: One Love Organics’ Vitamin D Mist, Murad Age Reform Invisiblur Perfecting Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 30, Aveeno Daily Exfoliating Cleanser, Kate Somerville Daily Deflector Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 50
Tremella: The moisturizing mushroom
Also known as the snow mushroom, snow fungus, white jelly mushroom, silver ear, or witch’s butter, Tremella was the favorite of Princess Yang Guifei, one of China’s four great beauties. She was so beautiful that Emperor Xuanzong of Tang allowed his dynasty to collapse just to have her. And Yang Guifei publicly credited Tremella for her glowing complexion and everlasting youth.
So, yes, that’s one seriously powerful mushroom.
Tremella continues to be popular in Chinese medicine, even though it’s most commonly found in tropical areas, such as South America, and the Caribbean. It looks like a loofah, feels like jelly, and grows on the side of trees.
Beauty-wise: A score of studies have proved that a Tremella mushroom can hold up to 500 times its own weight in water, making it comparable to the much-lauded hyaluronic acid for skin hydration. And it has an extra edge: On a molecular level, Tremella’s particles are smaller than hyaluronic acid, so it penetrates the skin more easily. Hello, softer, smoother, plumper skin!
Tremella mushrooms also help lighten hyperpigmentation, age spots, and old acne scars by inhibiting melanin production. In fact, according to several studies, they are more effective than vitamin C, and kojic acid, for skin lightening.
The Tremella DIY: This is not exactly a grind-and-go mushroom, where beauty recipes are concerned. After digging deep in the annals of Chinese history, I have found one DIY recipe for this super-hydrator. And Dr. John Layke sums it up really well for our world, in his post here.
Found in: Joanna Vargas Euphoria Mask, Glossier Priming Moisturizer, Olay Active Botanicals, Kypris Glow Philtre, Shiseido Waso Fresh Jelly Lotion, Jurlique Nutri Define Eye Contour Balm, Moon Juice Beauty Shroom Plumping Jelly Serum
Reishi: The anti-stress, anti-inflammatory, and detox mushroom
Once reserved only for emperors and empresses, Reishi is the oldest herbal mushroom, and has been used in the Far East for over 2,000 years. The earliest written mention dates from 221 BC. Its Chinese name – Ling Zhi – translates as “mushroom of immortality”, which can be seen as a clue to its superpowers. In fact, Reishi extract is officially listed as a supplemental cancer treatment in Japan.
This hard and bitter mushroom (definitely not one for a stir fry or risotto!) comes in a whole variety of colors, out of which the red is considered most medicinal. Reishi grows on decaying hardwood deciduous trees (mostly hemlock), and has become increasingly difficult to find in the wild. Consequently, most Reishi mushrooms are now cultivated in grow-rooms.
Beauty-wise: Reishi mushrooms are chock-full of beta-glucans, which are natural sugars that can penetrate through multiple layers of skin to help calm dryness and itchiness. They also contain polysaccharides, which boost skin’s natural ability to retain water. This makes them powerful moisturisers when used in topical skincare products.
And that’s not all: Reishi mushrooms are also anti-inflammatory, which makes them terrific at dealing with acne, abrasions, redness, sunburns, rashes, and stressed skin. And they contain massive doses of antioxidants that help deal with signs of premature ageing, such as fine lines and wrinkles.
Taken together, these properties make for a super-ingredient that’s a boon for stressed or sensitive skin, leaving it stronger, smoother, and irritation-free. While protecting it against environmental toxins, and other forms of daily damage.
The Reishi DIY: Reishi is a difficult mushroom to process at home, given how tough it can get. The best option is to buy pre-cut slices, and steep them in hot water for 10-15 minutes. Then strain out the slices, and apply the liquid on your face, post-cleansing. If you are looking for a more intensive treatment for dry skin, try this DIY face cream from Kristin Collins Jackson.
Cordyceps: The skin smoothing mushroom
If you are squeamish step away NOW. The origins of cordyceps are not exactly pretty. They are parasites that attach themselves to a caterpillar, and feed on its corpse. Which gives them a host of alternate names, including caterpillar fungus, caterpillar mushroom, vegetable caterpillar, golden worm, and Tibetan mushroom.
To the Tibetan harvesters (cordyceps typically grow in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau), this fungus means big money – up to $50,000 per pound. Which is testament to its benefits.
Today, Cordyceps are also cultivated on rice, and research suggests that these contain the same pharmacological components and medicinal properties as the original, wild varietal. Which may be exactly what you are looking for, if the thought of caterpillars leaves you queasy.
Beauty-wise: Cordyceps contains powerful concentrations of anti-aging compounds that can help rejuvenate the skin, eliminate dead or dying cells, and improve the appearance of blemishes, wrinkles, and age spots, effectively shaving years off your life!
The Cordyceps DIY: Brew the cordyceps in tea or chew it raw!
Chaga: The protective mushroom
Chaga grow on birch trees in some of the coldest climates in the world – including Russia, Japan, China, Korea, and Northern America – where winters are beyond harsh, and little else survives. This gives them potent anti-viral properties, which Shamans and other healers have been calling upon for thousands of years.
Beauty-wise: Chaga mushrooms are not exactly pretty. In fact, they look more like lumps of coal than something you would put in your mouth. Or on your skin. However, they have superb skin boosting benefits, not the least of which is that they are packed with melanin.
Melanin is the compound that not only determines your skin color, but also creates a shield against harmful UV rays. Drinking chaga tea is a great way of normalising the melanin production in your body, giving skin a beautiful glow, while acting as an internal layer of protection against the sun.
The chaga DIY: Chaga is most commonly brewed into a tea. How? Simply infuse slices in hot water for an hour. Or you can buy chaga powder, which can be stirred into hot water, much like coffee.
Love mushrooms? Hate mushrooms? Tried them for skincare?