The future is fungi: Experts weigh the pros and cons of mushroom sunscreen

By Emma Hobday

Published Nov 28, 2022 at 10:51 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

When we say mushrooms, a few things may spring to mind: mushrooms on pizza, mushroom foraging, magic mushrooms, the Instagram-famous mushroom lamps, mushroom leather, and even mushroom skincare.

But did you know that some mushrooms contain ultraviolet (UV)-blocking properties? Amazing, right? Could this mean that the sunscreen industry will potentially be transformed forever—all thanks to the humble shroom? SCREENSHOT spoke to dermatologists, beauty brand CEOs and scientists to find out.

Team ‘yes’ to mushroom sunscreen

Dr Tiina Meder, cosmetic dermatologist, product formulator of Meder Beauty, and practitioner at GetHarley, revealed that some mushrooms (but not all types) contain natural sun filters in their pigments—which provides great potential to absorb UV radiation and protect skin cells from damage.

“I believe in the potential of mushroom-based sunscreens as a new generation of ‘skincare sunscreens’, which could possibly be a more gentle, less irritating option than some chemical sunscreens,” she said.

Dermatologist Dr Salomé Dharamshi agreed, explaining that mushrooms are rich in niacin and vitamin C, which helps with redness and irritation—making the fungus a perfect addition to sunscreen.

“Mushrooms have also been proven effective for treating skin issues, and they also help the skin to deal with and overcome the effects of environmental damage, such as sun damage,” she explained.

Team ‘no’ to mushroom sunscreen

However, cosmetic physician, general practitioner, and founder of Luxe Skin, Dr Usman Qureshi, would not advise using a mushroom-based sunscreen.

“I would recommend using medical-grade sunscreens, specifically due to the strength of their formulas and active ingredients,” he admitted. “While mushrooms are great ingredients, medical-grade sunscreen penetrates the skin deeper, and delivers a higher concentration of active ingredients with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection.”

Standard sunscreen versus mushroom-based sunscreen

When it comes to the difference between standard sunscreen and mushroom-based sunscreen, Dr Dharamshi believes it all boils down to the skincare benefits offered by the ingredient in the latter.

“Mushrooms contain ceramides and omega fatty acids which can help build the skin’s moisture barrier, thus preventing water loss and keeping your skin hydrated,” she said.

The dermatologist also recommended other skincare-friendly fungi you can look out for, such as the chaga mushroom, which is great at reducing redness and sensitivity, or the shiitake mushroom, which has been shown to improve skin tone. “Applying these to sunscreen would be a great match—however, I would recommend speaking with your dermatologist if you have any questions,” she added.

Meet the 100 per cent mushroom beauty brand creating a sunscreen

Catarina Oliveira and Rui Liu are the co-founders of Herbar, a Berlin-based beauty brand founded in 2019 that utilises mushrooms in all of its products. The duo launched the brand after discovering the benefits of mushrooms from using them to improve their health. While Oliveira was suffering from adrenal fatigue and severe endocrine issues, Liu was experiencing skin concerns after a particularly draining degree in clinical nutrition.

“Through the power of adaptogens, we both managed to return our bodies back to normal, with our hormones and skin restored. We both ingested mushrooms and used them topically, which are protocols often used in Eastern medicine,” Oliveira explained.

“The incorporation of mushrooms into skincare is relatively new in the West, but it’s because we’ve been a bit slow to catch up. Mushrooms have long been used in Asia for their ability to maintain vitality, preserve a youthful appearance, and to counter the adverse health effects of chronic stress,” she continued.

As a result, harnessing the powers of shrooms in beauty has been a major focus for the brand, which currently markets a mushroom face oil, a mushroom-shaped gua sha, and mushroom supplements set to drop in the new year. That said, would they ever consider making a mushroom-based sunscreen?

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A post shared by Herbar (@herbarofficial)

“We would 100 per cent,” Oliveira said. “Everyone should incorporate sunscreen in their skincare routine, and it’s personally one of our non-negotiables. When we make ours, we just want to make sure that Herbar’s sunscreen harnesses the true powers of mushrooms.”

The scientist studying mushrooms in the beauty industry

Jesse Adler is a biomolecular scientist and a London’s Central Saint Martins graduate who came across the power of mushrooms while researching natural sources of colour.

She has since been able to create a collection of colour cosmetics using the pigments that she extracted from various species of shrooms, which she says made her realise the vast potential of fungal products and materials, as well as how little we truly know about what they can do. “Many natural pigments, especially those from mushrooms, have extraordinary biological functions,” she noted. “Some pigments can absorb UV radiation, preventing it from harming the organism.”

Adler explained that she is yet to conduct any testing about the degree to which fungal pigments can protect human skin from UV rays, but she has created a sunscreen using the coloured pigments from mushrooms which contain UV-blocking properties.

“The pigmented sunscreen I created has both SPF and UV-protecting pigments, and it is my hope that adding the pigments (in this case a range of browns) would both enhance the UV protection and encourage people to wear more sunscreen, as it may encourage those who choose not to wear it because of the chalky white effect on the skin.”

What does the future hold for mushroom sunscreen?

For Adler, fungi are the future. “The more we understand fungal biochemistry, the more advanced our materials will become in the beauty industry,” she said.

Dr Tara Francis, advanced facial aesthetician and cosmetic dentist, believes that 2023 may be the time for mushrooms to dominate the beauty sector, with sunscreen close behind—but there’s a catch:Only 10 per cent of mushroom species have been identified, so there is still a lot of research to be done before they can successfully and universally be added to sunscreen,” Dr Francis shared. “But as the importance of self-care, wellness, and using sunscreen every day continues to grow, I think there will be a bright future for mushrooms in the skincare and beauty [industry].”

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