Once a fad, now a phenom with real staying power, fungi-spiked skincare is cropping up at spas all over.
If all goes as planned in 2022, multiple spas will be serving up a variation of the chaga mushroom- and CBD-infused House of Grō facial that’s been offered at Esencia Wellness at Eden Roc Miami Beach since last summer. Originally slated as a limited-edition “Wynwood” facial, the 50-minute treatment, built around the brand’s WOKE Rejuvenating Face & Neck Oil, was a hit right out of the gate. “It’s been super successful,” says House of Grō co-founder Irina Gottesman, who was mid-negotiation with a few major spa groups at the close of 2021, and is optimistic about the future for her year-old mushroom-meets-cannabidiol range of products.
Gottesman has a right to feel giddy about the prospects for high-quality fungi fare. While mushroom-laced skincare originally seemed like the beauty fad du jour when it began popping up a few years ago, the category is proving seriously tenacious. That’s hardly surprising, given its deep roots in Eastern wellness.
At Once Ancient & Utterly Modern
Tap “how long have mushrooms been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine” into Google and be prepared to time-travel literally thousands of years. Among those mushrooms with the longest track record: reishi, which was cited in the classic herbal text Shen Nong Ben Cao—considered the oldest Chinese materia medica—all the way back in the 29th century B.C. Evidently those ancient herbalist-authors knew their stuff; today, reishi, along with maitake, cordyceps, and turkey tail mushrooms, is recognized as an immunomodulator, which can help our bodies bounce back from challenges like bacterial infections. Pivoting to beauty, it’s clear mushrooms offer just the right balance of nature-meets-science so many wellness-driven skincare junkies and spa-goers are after right now. Yes, give us herbs, but make sure they actually do something.
Happily, fungi deliver on that front—a fact holistic doc Andrew Weil latched onto nearly 20 years ago, when he collaborated with Origins on a line of mushroom-based skincare. Launched in 2005, and still going strong, the Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom range spans multiple items, including the newly launched Soothing Hydrating Mist With Reishi & Snow Mushroom.
“Mushrooms offer a connection to the natural world, forging community and healing . . .”—Mary-Elizabeth Gifford
Though Weil was ahead of the beauty curve in connecting mushrooms to skin benefits, several recent studies, published by ScienceDirect and Penn State and aggregated by PubMed, support his theory. Not only are they efficacious in blocking oxidation and inflammation, they also have the ability to act as potent anti-agers by reducing hyperpigmentation. Out, damned age spots . . .
Harvesting From Far & Wide
When it comes to a bounty of different mushroom types, spa-based skincare rivals the culinary world. Although there are definitely a few popular fungi found on repeat in serums, face oils, and crèmes (namely reishi and shiitake), there are also numerous under-the-radar species that often yield climate-specific skin benefits.
For its Stress Control Ampoule Concentrates, Babor deploys albatrellus ovinus, which hails from the coniferous woods of northern Europe and North America and is known for its ability to calm sensitized skin. According to Caroline Rushworth, Babor’s director of education, albatrellus ovinus is a natural pain killer and quickly quells redness and stinging. With continued use, it helps skin become less reactive.
The chaga mushroom (aka inonotus obliquus) featured in House of Grō products is also indigenous to a cooler climate, specifically the remote forests of northern Maine. Located on birch trees some 30 feet above the forest floor, they appear in large, up to 15-year-old chaga “conchs” that are carefully hand-extracted during the chilly fall and winter months. (Lest anyone fret about sustainability, Gottesman and her co-founder and brother Sam Kandhorov have a chaga-replenishment plan firmly in place.)
Famed for its ability to hydrate and immediately plump the skin, the aforementioned snow mushroom figures prominently in Sonage Skincare’s Hydrating Mist, as well as two bestselling Eminence products: Snow Mushroom & Reishi Masque and Snow Mushroom Moisture Cloud Eye Cream. Also known as tremella fuciformis and silver ear, snow mushroom is actually native to tropical and subtropical pockets around the globe, and can also be found in the moisture-magnet Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Mask, as well as the blemish-zapping Renée Rouleau BHA Clarifying Serum.
In the treatment room, masks steeped in mushroom ingredients are becoming the norm. At the Omni La Costa Spa in Carlsbad, for instance, a portion of the 50-minute Ocean Alchemy facial is allotted for an application of Cerulean Intense Hydration Mask by the wild-crafted skincare line Kypris. Powered by both chaga and silver ear mushrooms, alongside algae, seaweed, tulsi flowers, and turmeric, the sea-blue soother helps quench parched skin exposed to sun and other environmental aggressors.
Whether we partake at the spa or at home, via a bit of DIY self-care, New York City-based dermatologist Jeanette Graf is thrilled to see the steady mushrooming of mushrooms, an ingredient category she’s been studying for decades. “Mushrooms have been used in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries,” she notes, citing a long list of skin benefits, such as brightening and wrinkle-softening, that they also deliver—all without the irritation that often accompanies other hero skincare ingredients like retinol. “They’re so multi-purpose, gentle, and powerful.”
More than that, mushrooms speak to nature itself, says Mary-Elizabeth Gifford. “Perhaps the current interest in mushroom-informed beauty owes a debt to the mycelial network, those slender filaments, sometimes invisible to the eye, that connect mushrooms and fungi underground and throughout the world.” Gifford, Executive Vice President of Psyence, a natural psilocybin company with a functional mushroom wellbeing collection called Goodmind, adds “In a world grappling with Covid-related isolation, mushrooms offer a connection to the natural world, forging community, and healing.”
Dana Wood is the Contributing Beauty Editor at InsidersGuidetoSpas.com. She has been writing about beauty and wellness for decades, and no matter how many times she taps the words “hyaluronic acid” or “healing modalities” into her keyboard, it never gets old. Dana spent a total of 20 years at Condé Nast, serving as Beauty Director for W, Cookie, and Brides. A transplanted New Yorker, Dana now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her peak spa experience? Dana says it’s impossible to decide between the Coco-Mango Body Buff at the Driftwood Spa at Jakes in Treasure Beach, Jamaica, The Land of Beautiful Waters Anti-Aging Facial at Four Seasons Nevis, and the 80-minute 5 Senses massage at the Spa by JW in Marco Island, Florida.