Why Mushrooms Are Beauty’s Latest All-Star Ingredient

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If you have sought out less-populated pastures over the past year, then you are likely familiar with All That the Rain Promises. The 30-year-old field guide to Western mushrooms (including recipes for food and hair dye) doesn’t have Didion’s prose or the urgency of a Michael Lewis exposé; but for a certain subsection of eco-curious hipster, it has become the housewarming gift for friends who have traded in city life for country living. Mushrooms—which are not plants or animals but fungi that constitute their own kingdom, with more than 10,000 different species—are having their cultural moment, and not just psychedelic varieties. Locally sourced morels and chanterelles are turning up on fine-dining menus; in March, Hermès announced that it would release an eco-friendly version of its classic Victoria travel bag made from sustainable mushroom-­derived leather; and before there were octopus teachers, Fantastic Fungi became a cult hit on the small screen. “One of the big takeaways of the pandemic is that communities survive better than individuals,” says the film’s director, Louis Schwartzberg, pointing to the appeal of mushrooms’ underground threadlike cells, which connect the roots of surrounding plants, allowing them to share nutrients and communicate. A cruise through Whole Foods suggests mycology’s influence on wellness, that other pandemic-era obsession, is similarly compelling.

As newly buzzy, immunomodulating species become a part of the better-living vernacular—Reishi! Chaga! Cordyceps! Lion’s mane! Turkey tail!—there seems to be a mushroom-based supplement, tincture, tea, and now face mask to cure whatever ails you. Four Sigmatic, the Finnish brand that has popularized a mushroom-based adaptogen coffee substitute, launched its Superfood Face Mask last year with hydrating reishi and clarifying chaga that purport to soothe skin, featuring a formula that is “so pure you can eat it.”

“Reishi and cordyceps have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to boost the body’s qi, or energy, and strengthen its ability to function well,” explains Sandra Lanshin Chiu, a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist and the owner of Brooklyn’s Treatment by Lanshin. Chiu, who often prescribes custom tinctures with these ingredients to clients—to reduce stress, inflammation, and fatigue—is wary of the modern marketing boom. But mushrooms’ allure as a panacea is growing—and it isn’t unwarranted, says Kevin Spellman, Ph.D. “Fungi have beta-glucans—or messenger molecules—that carry information to the immune system to turn it up a bit or turn it down a bit,” explains Spellman, a molecular biologist and herbalist who recently collaborated with the San Francisco–­based skin-care line In Fiore on three new tinctures, including Adapt’Âscend, which includes reishi to energize or relax you.

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“I see this as an exciting moment in the reevaluation of mushrooms”—in skin care and in our society at large, adds Andrew Weil, M.D., an integrative-medicine practitioner and a pioneer in the space. (The anti-redness Mega Mushroom treatment lotion he created with Origins 15 years ago is now the brand’s number-one global best seller). “Mushrooms may offer us even more exciting possibilities in the future,” Weil adds—beyond the brave new world of vegan Birkins.

Four Sigmatic Ground Mushroom Coffee with Probiotics

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Four Sigmatic Super Food Face Mask

In Fiore Adapt’ Âscend Herbal Supplement

Dr. Andrew Weil X Origins Mega-Mushroom Relief & Resilience Soothing Treatment Lotion

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Youth To The People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream with Ashwagandha + Reishi

Good Light Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion

Moon Juice Cosmic Cream Collagen Protecting Moisturizer

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Herbivore Emerald Hemp Seed Deep Moisture Glow Oil

Biossance Squalane + 10% Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum

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