Whether applied topically or consumed internally, mushrooms have amazing skin health benefits—with the ability to boost hydration, stimulate collagen, lighten pigmentation, and reduce skin sensitivities. In this episode of The Rogue Pharmacist with Ben Fuchs, we discuss the benefit of mushrooms in skin care.
Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) presents The Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs, R.Ph. This podcast takes an enlightening approach to supporting licensed estheticians in their pursuit to achieve results-driven skin care treatments for their clients. You can always count on us to share professional skin care education, innovative techniques, and the latest in skin science.
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Benjamin Knight Fuchs is a registered pharmacist, nutritionist, and skin care chemist with 35 years of experience developing pharmacy-potent skin health products for estheticians, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons. Ben’s expert advice gives licensed estheticians the education and skin science to better support the skin care services performed in the treatment room while sharing insights to enhance clients’ at-home skin care routines.
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0:01:32.9 Benjamin Knight Fuchs: Hello and welcome to ASCP and The Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs. In each episode, we will explain how internal and external factors can impact the skin. I'm Maggie Staszcuk, ASCP's Education Program Manager, and joining me is your skincare formulator and pharmacist, Ben Fuchs. Hey, Ben.
0:01:51.1 Maggie Staszcuk: Hey, Maggie. Nice to see you.
0:01:56.2 BF: Nice to see you. So, mushroom skincare is huge right now.
0:01:58.2 MS: Why?
0:02:01.1 BF: We're gonna find out. I'm hoping you can tell us. And I'm curious, are mushrooms really magic for the skin?
0:02:07.3 MS: Yes, they're magical. Nice pun there. Magic mushrooms. Mushrooms are amazing. Mushrooms are... There's so many reasons why mushrooms are amazing. I think mushrooms... My favorite thing about mushrooms is... Well, first of all, mushrooms are fungi. There's four kingdoms in nature. We've got the animal kingdom, we've got the plant kingdom, we've got the bacterial kingdom and we've got the fungi kingdom or the fungal kingdom, right? So, there's three main kinds of fungi. There are molds, there are yeast, and then there are mushrooms. And mushrooms are technically the fruit of a fungus. The real body of a fungus, the tree of a fungus if you will, are these long wires that live underneath the ground. They're called mycelium. These mycelium are made of individual threads. These wires are... Have you ever seen mycelium? They're like these long wires. They live underneath the ground. And then in certain mycelium, fruit will come out and those fruit will rise above the ground and we call those mushrooms.
0:03:10.2 MS: A mushroom is the fruit of the body of the fungus which is called a mycelium. The mycelium itself is made up of very, very small threads called hyphae. And these hyphae bind together and collectively they're referred to as mycelium and you have miles and miles and miles of mycelium under the ground. In fact, the largest organisms in the world if you consider the mycelium as part of the organism are the fungus. And what's really cool about these mycelium and these fungus in general is they are the link between death and life. Mycelium have an ability to decompose organisms that are dead and turn them... And break them down into their components. They're mineral components.
0:03:53.8 MS: They're vitamin components. They're really elemental components and then return those elemental components to the earth so that new life can begin. And death gets turned into life via the fungal kingdom. There's a bridge between death and life. And fungus can eat anything. I remember when I was a kid, we used to play baseball and there was a creek in the back right next to where we would play baseball. And if you hit the ball too hard, it would go into the creek and we'd get the ball out and then we'd play again. Then we'd take the ball and bring it home and we'd stick it in the closet or something. And then invariably within a week or so, there'd be this green stuff growing on top of the baseball. Well, what is that green stuff? We call it mold, of course. What is that stuff? That stuff is fungus that is eating the baseball.
0:04:38.3 MS: In other words, fungus can eat anything. They can eat old shoes. They can eat baseballs. They can eat clothes. They can eat anything that is made organically, that contains carbon. And they can break down that component, extract the nutrients and return them back to the soil where life can begin. In fact, minerals or rocks, I should say, are obviously not alive. They're dead or they don't have life force in them. Fungus can actually eat rocks. And the hyphae can actually drill into rocks and release the minerals out of the rocks so that those minerals can be returned to the soil and then plants can use them. So they perform probably the single most important role in all of nature.
0:05:19.2 MS: They turn things that are not alive into their building block components so that life can arise from them. And all things that are dead will eventually become food for fungus.
0:05:30.0 BF: You're saying something that really struck me, and I've never thought of it, is that the fungus is eating that thing. I've always thought about like mold or whatever as growing on something, not eating the thing.
0:05:47.6 MS: It's not growing... I mean, we do say that, oh, it's growing on it, but what's it doing? How's it growing? It's growing by eating the baseball or by eating your clothes or anything that's moldy. That mold is actually eating whatever it's sitting on. And not only is it eating it, but it's breaking it down so that those components can be used by the fungi. And then what's not used is actually released into the environment so that it could be used by some other life form.
0:06:06.8 BF: Yeah. I guess if you think of a fungal infection.
0:06:09.1 MS: Now, fungal infections can be kind of nasty, right?
0:06:11.5 BF: Yeah.
0:06:12.3 MS: And in fact, fungal infections in the world of pharmacy are notorious for being very difficult to treat. Why? Because fungus grow not with seeds like a plant, but with something called spores. And spores have a really, really hard shell around them. And it's very difficult for medicine to get through that hard shell. And so fungal infections are notoriously difficult to treat. And the drugs that they use to treat fungal infections are super, super toxic and super strong. So fungal infections, in other words, it's like we were talking earlier about pigmentation. When the body wants to pigment, it's gonna pigment. Likewise, when a fungus wants to grow, it's gonna grow. Its job is to proliferate. And it has mechanisms that will protect it from anti-proliferation strategies.
0:06:58.2 MS: So fungal infections are very difficult to treat. On the other hand, funguses live in competition with bacteria. And so funguses make antibacterial compounds that we actually use. So penicillin, for example, is a classic example of a compound that's made by a fungus not for us, but so that it can compete with bacteria 'cause fungus are always competing with bacteria. Cephalosporins like Keflex and Cefaclor those are made from funguses. Again, the same, the idea being the fungus is trying to kill the bacteria. So, there's this chemical warfare going on between the kingdoms. And in fact, you probably heard of people saying they have fungal infections. Candida is a classic example of a fungal infection inside the body. Well, one of the main reasons why people get fungal infections is because we're doing things to kill the bacteria in our colon, in our bodies, drinking antibiotic laden water, taking antibiotics, antibiotics in food or in fish or in animal products.
0:07:56.0 MS: All of these conspire to kill our microbiome. And when the microbiome is killed, one of the main jobs of bacteria is to keep the fungus in check. You always have fungus in your body. You always have candida in your body. But it overgrows. When people say, oh, I have a fungal infection, I have a candida infection, what they really mean is the fungus is overgrowing. Why? Because the bacteria, which should be controlling the fungus, has been killed off by a lot of the things that we do in our day-to-day life, like drink antibiotic water or take antibiotics. A lot of the things we do kill off our microbiome. Sugar is another reason. Sugar, Fungus feed on sugar. Fungus love sugar. In fact, that's one of Louis Pasteur's great discoveries was that yeast in beer eat the sugars in the grains to release carbon dioxide and alcohol. That's how we get beer. That's how we get alcoholic beverages. The fungus eat the sugar.
0:08:47.4 MS: Fungus love sugar. So between killing off the bacteria by taking antibiotics or ingesting antibiotics in food or water and our excess ingestion of sugar, we do things that allow fungus to proliferate and overgrow. So if you wanna try and get rid of a fungal infection, you wanna make sure you're using probiotics, make sure you're supporting intestinal health, and make sure that you're not eating a lot of sugar. In fact, the yeast diet is a low-sugar diet because of the relationship that sugar has to yeast proliferation, yeast being a form of fungus. On the upside, mushrooms are loaded. Loaded with nutrients. The fruiting body of a mycelium, which we call a mushroom, is... Does that make sense when I say the fruit of a mycelium? The fruit of a mycelium, the mushroom, is packed with nutrients. And not just any nutrients, but it's specifically packed with nutrients that you can't get from plants because mushrooms are a cross between a plant and an animal.
0:09:44.4 MS: So we find the things like vitamin D, which is only found in animal foods, or vitamin A, which is only found in animal foods, or are found In mushrooms also. So for vegetarians, mushrooms make great, great sources of nutrients because vegetarians are vegans, I should say, would be missing these things like vitamin A and vitamin D. Mushrooms are good sources of them. Mushrooms are also great sources of protein. They have a solidity to them. And that's why when you are a vegan and you wanna make a steak, you'll make a mushroom steak because mushrooms have a kind of a thick amount of protein, body protein, protein that has a substance to it. So they make great substitutes. They make great substitutes for vegans and vegetarians. Mushrooms are also a good source of something called glucosamine, which I'm sure you've heard of, a specific form of glucosamine called NAG.
0:10:31.5 MS: In fact, the mushrooms, one of the main differences between mushrooms and plants is, plants have their cells contain or have a wall around them, a hard wall around them. And that hard wall around the cell of a plant is made up of something called cellulose. And we use cellulose in skincare and cellulose causes a lot of digestive problems. For some people that can't digest cellulose, cellulose is used to make paper. We use cellulose for a lot of things. Well, mushrooms have a cell wall that's not made of cellulose, but it's made of something called chitin, which is also found in insects. It's a very hard substance. And chitin is made up of long chains of something called N-acetylglucosamine or NAG. And this NAG is unbelievably important for the digestive system, for skin health, for joint health, has really wonderful benefits.
0:11:19.6 MS: And this is all part of the mushroom plant. We could actually change through industrial procedures and chemical procedures, we can change that chitin to another molecule called chitosan, which you may have heard of. And chitosan has some really nice skin health benefits, especially for wound healing. And in fact, mushrooms in general have compounds that are very important for wound healing. Something called beta-glucan. I don't know if you've ever heard of beta-glucan. That's an awesome skincare ingredient. And that's rich in mushrooms. Polysaccharides in mushrooms, these long sugar chains in mushrooms, are good for softening the skin. And they're very hygroscopic. They absorb water. And these polysaccharides also have wonderful immune boosting properties. And traditionally, mushrooms have been used to boost the immune system because of these polysaccharides. These polysaccharides function as adaptogens. And in fact, cancer, these polysaccharides are used to treat cancer. And so cancer patients will oftentimes use mushrooms for their immune boosting properties, largely based in their polysaccharide content.
0:12:19.6 MS: And then there's also... In addition to vitamins, there's another substance, an amino acid called Ergothioneine. I don't know if you've ever heard of that. That's getting a lot of buzz in the world of skincare. Ergothioneine is an adaptogen. And in fact, mushrooms are wonderful sources of adaptogens. These polysaccharides that we talked about, beta-glucan and Ergothioneine, they have adaptogenic benefits that help upregulate the genetics of the organism that eats them, specifically the genes that are associated with immune boosting and with stress management. So mushrooms are tremendously, tremendously valuable. As food sources, topically, as medicines. And of course, as I said, they're the bridge between the dead compounds and living compounds, or death and life.
0:13:01.4 BF: Are there any precautions?
0:13:02.7 MS: Yes, absolutely. Mushrooms can be toxic. In fact, mushrooms, while... Or fungus, I should say, can be toxic. And fungal infections are notoriously difficult to treat. And there's all kinds of fungal infections that kill organisms. There's a really neat fungus, actually, called an ant fungus. Or I forgot the technical name of it. But this fungus will actually inject itself through its hyphae into ants.
0:13:25.3 MS: And then eat the ants from the inside. They'll eat the ants and then, but they won't eat the part of the ants. Any parts of the ants that the ants need. They'll eat parts of the ants that the ants can live without, so that they can sustain the ants so they can keep feeding, 'cause if it's dead, they won't get the same benefits apparently. So they'll eat the ants and then check this out. This is so cool. They'll go into the ant's brain and they'll set, they'll compel the ant to go to a nice moist section of the forest where they will then explode through the ant and release their spores into the forest. These are called, this is called a Zombie Ant Fungus. Isn't that wild?
0:14:02.6 BF: That is crazy. What about in terms of using topical product that has some kind of mushroom extract in them?
0:14:09.4 MS: Yeah. Well, adaptogenic number one, Polysaccharides, which have hygroscopic, meaning water trapping property for softening the skin. If you've ever ground up a mushroom, you know how it feels kind of slimy. That's slime is the polysaccharide and slimy substances have an ability to attract water. So using mushrooms topically is a great skin health strategy. Plus maybe one of the most important skincare ingredients. One of the most important underappreciated skincare ingredients from an adaptogenic and wound healing and anti-aging perspective is Beta-glucan. And mushrooms are one of nature's best sources of beta-glucan. So yes, mushrooms used topically, can do some wonderful things for the skin.
0:14:48.9 BF: Great benefits.
0:14:49.6 MS: Great benefits for skin.
0:14:50.6 BF: But are there precautions topically?
0:14:52.8 MS: No, you don't have to worry about that topically, but there are mushrooms that you definitely don't wanna ingest, poisonous mushrooms.
0:15:00.3 BF: Are there, mushrooms commonly used in skincare?
0:15:03.2 MS: Not necessarily, but the most common mushrooms that you hear about are reishi mushrooms, maitake mushrooms, cordyceps mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms. There's about, there's like nine or 10 of, there's thousands of mushrooms. But I think there's something like, there's probably over a million different forms of fungus, but about a 100,000 have been classified, but there's about nine or 10 that you hear a lot about. And those are the ones that are mostly used, but really all mushrooms are gonna have some benefits for the skin. Of course, you don't wanna put toxic mushrooms in your skin, but the bodies of the mushrooms, the substance of a mushroom contains wonderful, wonderful compounds for the skin, absolutely.
0:15:38.2 BF: So a lot of the benefits or the ingredients that you're talking about could come from other sources.
0:15:44.6 MS: Yeah.
0:15:45.3 BF: So when a company says, that this product has mushrooms or whatever their marketing is, is that just marketing or is there a benefit that's coming from mushrooms?
0:15:54.4 MS: It's uniquely from mushrooms?
0:15:55.5 BF: Yeah.
0:15:55.6 MS: No, I don't know of anything that's uniquely found in mushrooms. Mushrooms are just another form of, another wonderful, living substance on the earth that can give us humans benefits along with, fruits and vegetables and even trees and anything that lives, even bacteria, anything that lives on the earth has compounds in it that support its life, and we can take advantage of those compounds for our life, or for the health of our bodies or skin.
0:16:19.1 BF: That concludes our show for today, and we thank you for listening. But if you just can't get enough of Ben Fuchs, the ASCP's Rogue Pharmacist, you can listen to his syndicated radio program at brightsideben.com. For more information on this episode, or for ways to connect with Ben Fuchs or to learn more about ASCP, check out the show notes.