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Fungi Face! All about mushrooms.

June 23, 2009

mushrooms

Above: The Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria),  depicted  in many fairy stories and throughout  folk-law.  This fungus is however, quite toxic causing hallucinations, sweating and stomach cramping in some people. Picture copyright of Amanda Foxon-Hill.

Fungi has been included in the natural medical and nutrition basket for many years, what we wanted to know was “what about for skincare”?    It seems that many well known brands are adding mushroom extracts to their “anti-ageing” ranges – Estee Lauder, Origins and Aveena come immediately to mind making us think that there must be more to the mushroom than meets the eye. Let’s investigate!

While there are thousands of types of fungi – derived from the Latin word for mushroom only a handful have been studied for their effects on the skin.  A “hero”  mushroom as far as skincare is concerned is the Hypsizygus ulmarius – one of the fungi found in all three of the brands listed above. Others demonstrating potential topically are Shiitake and Reishi types.

So what exactly do these fungi do to the skin? Well,  they have the potential to interact with the immune system to one degree or another as they contain betaglucans – a polysaccharide (sugar) based family of chemicals that can either suppress or stimulate the immune system based on the type of betaglucan present (and there are a few!)  The funny thing is that both suppressing and stimulating the immune system can be classed as “anti-ageing” depending on how you look at it.  In addition, other chemicals found in mushrooms have been found to have skin lightening and moisturising properties yet more tools in the anti-ageing kit.

All very interesting if not a little confusing so let’s look at each benefit in turn!

Immune Suppressing

In this instance, immune suppressing relates to the mushroom or mushroom extracts ability to reduce inflammation of the skin. The skin becomes inflamed as part of its defense against foreign invaders – bacteria, viruses, allergens etc.  The skin is the largest organ of the body and works hard to ensure that what is supposed to stay inside does and what it doesn’t like stays out.  A fit and healthy person with good nutrition who suffers from no allergies the skin does its job really well. When something foreign tries to get through our skin goes red, gets inflamed and prepares to go into bat for us. If the skin didn’t do that we would be susceptible to all sorts of nasties. This response also draws our attention to the part of the body coming under attack, enabling us to make a conscious decision to move away from the irritation source (ant’s / mozzie bites or too much sun!).

The problem is that some people have hypersensitive immune systems, reacting to things that should be quite harmless. Think of conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.  Repeated over-reactions by the immune system can lead to the skin looking older than it really is – think of the dry, puffy eyes of a hayfeaver sufferer.  Believe me, I have suffered from eczema and hayfeaver since being born – not fun!

In the cases above the immune system could do with being down regulated for the sake of the individuals overall health and wellness. The body is really fighting for no reason leaving the skin worn out and broken, which then does leave it, opens to infection.  The Hypsisygus Ulmarius extract may be a good choice for people in this category as it has been showed to reduce the symptoms of an over-reactive immune system by calming the skin and reducing inflammation (an immune response). How it manages to reduce inflammation is complex, as it would involve the extract making its way through the skin. However, the extract has been found to act as an anti-bacteria agent and if the number of foreign invaders can be reduced on the surface of the skin, the body has less reason to attack thus reducing irritation.  In this case I would say that the extract hadn’t affected the immune system at all, it had mealy removed the trigger.

Immune suppressing isn’t always a good thing though as the body’s immune system is there for a reason – to keep us well. Turning it down may slow certain aspects of the ageing process but it may then leave us open to something worse.

Immune Stimulating.

Ok so some mushrooms when eaten claim to boost the bodies immune system and stimulate it into action. Why would this be a good thing? Well, immune enhancing could have the effect of inducing (or causing) inflammation. As we age, our immune system slows down. This is probably a good thing as it saves us from attacking ourselves as ageing cells produce chemicals that a fully fit immune system may well seek out to destroy. However, as far as the skin is concerned a compromised immune system may leave the skin open to infection, make it slower to repair damage and slower to renew its self (collagen and elastin fiber manufacture slows leading to wrinkles). Now maybe up regulating the skin’s immune response would boost all of these functions therefore acting as an anti-ageing active but I am not sure. Getting the skin to become inflamed is one thing, encouraging it to produce more “cement” is another.

Skin Whitening.

There is another family of mushrooms – the jelly family or Tremella.  This family of mushrooms was cited in a patent for their ability to lighten the skin. They also contain polysaccharides (sugars) but the sugars in this fungus family are more complex – one such sugar is the glucuronoxylomannan. Examples of mushrooms in this family are Shiitake and Reishi.

The skin produces melanin as part of its defense mechanism when faced with too much sun giving you a tanned look. The colour that your skin goes depends on how much melanin is present and how long you spent in the sun.  As we age, our skin’s pigmentation can become a little patchy with age spots becoming quite common in people over 70.   With a uniform skin-tone seen as youthful, getting rid of age spots supports a products anti-ageing claims.

Patents claim that the glucuronoxylomannan inhibits (stops) the body from producing melanin by blocking the biological pathway involved.  This may well help to prevent new age spots from forming but wouldn’t necessarily remove age spots that were already in existence.  In addition,  turning off the skin’s ability to produce melanin may result in the skin ageing more quickly as melanin is one of the skin’s best weapons against sun-induced damage and the sun is right up there with genetics as a major ageing factor.

Moisturizing.

Many different actives will help to bind moisture from the environment to the skin. Good hydration really does improve the look and feel of the skin and is a great anti-ageing strategy. Again, as our skin ages it can become dryer as our body slows down production of sebum – our natural moisturiser.  Another polysaccharide in mushrooms, the Tremella polysaccharide has been shown in vitro (on people) to increase the water content of the stratum corneum which has to be a good thing.
Summary.

So, is it just hype or does it makes sense to add mushroom extract to your “key ingredient” to look out for list?  Functional foods have been cited as a hot trend in the marketing of health and wellness products and this certainly fits.  Fungi do have some wonderful properties and some of the chemicals that have been isolated and studied so seem to show promising signs.   The above extracts ability to reduce inflammation and increase hydration seems solid so on that basis I would be happy to try the products. The ability of a skincare active to work on biological pathways:  serious immunosuppressing / stimulating are something that I am a little skeptical of – after all, we want our skin creams on the body rather than in the body don’t we?    Finally many ingredients have been proven to block melanin pathways but I for one would rather just don the sunscreen and use camouflage make-up to cover up what is already there than turn off a useful skin function.

So are mushrooms magic? Well, I think so but they can’t solve everything!

not mush room

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2009 7:35 pm

    I have always found fungi interesting but am not brave enough to try out any, apparently up here in Scotland there are some fantastic tasty ones.
    After reading this article it make you realize just how much we mess about with nature, I should imagine lot’s of old remedies for all cultures really work better than manufactured remedies, I am a very keen forager and will keep an eye out

  2. June 25, 2009 4:05 am

    excellent!! another microorganism which does wonder for health is spirulina, the algae. You must write up on it as well.

  3. David permalink
    September 29, 2010 9:38 pm

    A procedure performed in vitro (Latin: within the glass) is performed not in a living organism but in a controlled environment, such as in a test tube

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      September 29, 2010 10:38 pm

      Thanks for correcting that, a silly mistake on my part so thank you 🙂

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