Shroom for improvement
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Actress Anjelica Huston recently revealed that she drinks a mushroom-laced “witch’s brew” each morning made of five different kinds of mushroom: cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake, tiger tail and chaga. She’s not alone in her appreciation of the benefits of fungi, as mushrooms are making their presence felt in everything, from supplements to chocolate bars.
“More and more brands are answering wellbeing concerns with mushroom-powered products made from cordyceps or reishi, immunity-boosting shiitake or nootropic lion’s mane for cognitive focus and memory support,” says Cult Beauty co-founder Alexia Inge. The site has seen a 302 per cent increase in searches for mushroom-based skincare and supplements in the past year; Inge points to The Nue Co’s Nootro Focus cognitive supplements (£65) as a particular favourite, with sales of the product up by 608 per cent compared to last year.
“Our interest in a plant-based lifestyle has been accelerated in the wake of the zoonotic virus,” says Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at trend forecaster WGSN, of Covid-19’s transmission between animals and people. “Shoppers are shunning animal-derived ingredients and looking for alternatives from the plant world, migrating to time-honoured traditional ingredients recognised for their healing qualities.”
London-based Wunder Workshop’s Golden Shrooms mushroom formula is the brand’s bestseller (£17.50). Containing a blend of reishi (known as the “mushroom of immortality”) and cordyceps, it is designed to promote a healthy immune system and provide energy. It also comes in a chocolate bar (£5.99). “Cordyceps is an aphrodisiac and aids energy transfer in your cells,” says co-founder Tom Smale. “I find it a big boost before exercise classes, too.”
“Mushroom-lovestruck” is also how holistic nutritionist Tonya Papanikolov, the founder of Toronto-based Rainbo, describes herself. The brand sells a range of tinctures made from medicinal mushrooms, such as its bestselling 11:11 Multi-Mushroom Synergy ($49) – a blend of 11 different mushrooms designed to be taken every day like a multivitamin, either alone or with water, coffee, tea or other drinks.
It’s not always enough just to munch mushrooms, emphasises Smale. “Most medicinal mushrooms have a fibrous protective layer that prevents us from digesting many of their benefits. This biopolymer, chitin, is broken down through the extraction process, unlocking the beneficial beta-glucans and unique compounds.” To fully absorb their benefits, Papanikolov says, mushrooms should be dual-extracted – with hot water or alcohol, and then vice versa.
“Mushrooms are excellent ingredients in skincare,” says dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross, who has incorporated four different types of mushrooms into his eponymous skincare line. He adds that formulation is key when looking for mushroom-based products. “You can’t just rub mushrooms on your face and expect them to get into the skin. We formulate our mushrooms using a unique dual-encapsulation that allows the ingredients to penetrate deep into skin and have the nutrients delivered directly to cells.”
Origins’s Mega Mushroom Soothing Hydra-Mist (£22), which launched in May, is the latest in the brand’s bestselling Dr Andrew Weil Mega Mushroom range. It is formulated with chaga, reishi and tremella mushrooms – the latter is the buzziest new ingredient in beauty. Also known as snow mushroom, tremella can hold up to 500 times its weight in water and its small particles penetrate the skin more easily, making it an ultra-hydrating plant-based alternative to hyaluronic acid.
But, as with so many western beauty fads, these brands are only playing catch-up. Many cultures have been extolling the benefits of mushrooms for centuries. “While fungi might be experiencing a surge in popularity now, they have been a part of product formulations for hundreds – even thousands – of years,” points out Michael Ahmad, senior director of global education at Herbivore Botanicals. Its Pink Cloud moisture cream ($44) and Cloud Jelly Hydration Serum ($48) contain tremella mushrooms for plump, dewy skin. “Even if consumers don’t immediately recognise that the magic is in the mushrooms, they’ll recognise the results.”