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

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].”

53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?

The year 2022 will be remembered for many things—for having a record-breaking three UK Prime Ministers, the England women’s national football team (also known as the Lionesses) winning the Women’s EURO, and Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in June being followed by Her Majesty’s passing in September, to name but a few.

Even the beauty industry saw an extraordinary event occur, whereby researchers found a way to reverse ageing. Yes, you read that right—scientists at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge have been able to transform a 53-year-old’s skin cells into that of a 23-year-old’s. So, is the clock finally turning back time on ageing? Let’s take a closer look.

The research behind the science

SCREENSHOT spoke to Doctor Diljeet Gill of the Babraham Institute, who told us that stem cell reprogramming—the process of converting cells into embryonic-like stem cells—is already known to rejuvenate cells. However, it also causes cells to lose their cell type and their ability to perform functions. In other words, up until now, cells could be rejuvenated, but they weren’t able to do anything.

53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?

“Our research aimed to determine if the reprogramming process could be carried out transiently and whether this would promote rejuvenation while maintaining the cell type,” Dr Gill explained. “We developed a new method (called Maturation Phase Transient Reprogramming) where cells are reprogrammed up to the middle stage of the reprogramming process, and then stopped. This enabled cells to reacquire their original cell type, while rejuvenating multiple attributes by approximately 30 years.”

In this regard, Dr Gill’s team found that more collagen was created, cuts and wounds healed faster, and even witnessed a reverse of ageing in the genes associated with skin conditions and diseases.

53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?
53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?
53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?

Before you get too excited about this possible future anti-ageing process, there are some complications to be ironed out first. The factors that aid the reprogramming of the skin cells can also promote the formation of cancers if they are continuously formed, with Dr Gill expressing that long-term safety and stability is paramount to the research. “Further development of our method will be required so that the reprogramming is safely provided to the cells,” he shared.

What does this research mean for the future of dermatology?

Doctor Iqra Ashraf, an NHS dermatology registrar and trainee representative at the British Association of Dermatologists, thinks that the research holds a promising future for dermatology, although it’s still very much in its early stages.

“There are several potential applications for rejuvenated skin cells in surgical and cosmetic dermatology,” she told SCREENSHOT. “The reprogrammed cells may be used to promote faster wound healing postoperatively, in the management of burns or for treatment of skin conditions such as chronic ulcers, as these tend to heal slowly during the natural ageing process.”

Think about what this research could do to help burn victims, such as TV presenter and activist Katie Piper, who has had more than 400 surgeries, and dancer and model Abbie Quinnen, who suffered second-degree burns on her face and third-degree burns on her body after being caught in a horror fire accident trying to make a ‘life hack’ TikTok video back in January 2021.

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A post shared by Katie Piper OBE (@katiepiper_)

The research method could also be applied to other cell types in order to help treat different areas of the body, with Dr Gill giving the example of rejuvenated liver cells being used to treat liver disease—leading to a world of new possibilities in the beauty, health, and cosmetic sectors.

What can I do to reduce the effects of ageing?

If you want to take matters into your own hands and maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin, Faye Purcell, product development chemist and skincare expert at British beauty brand Q+A, clarified that maintaining collagen levels is key to anti-ageing.

“Collagen is a primary protein that acts like scaffolding in the dermis, helping to maintain a healthy epidermis. Once we reach early adulthood, our collagen production decreases by 1 per cent per year. While this is a slow decline, it means that our face starts to look less plump and youthful and by old age, skin can look thin, start to sag and experience more wrinkles,” she added.

Thanks, but no thanks. So what can we do to keep a tight hold of our collagen? Purcell explained that lifestyle choices such as smoking, a poor diet, UV light exposure, and pollution can all have a negative impact on our collagen levels. One easy thing you can do right now is to start wearing sunscreen every day—yep, even in the winter, as there are always UV rays hitting your skin, which will help to prevent premature ageing. Factor 30 and above is a great place to start.

When it comes to skincare, Purcell added that we should use products that are rich in antioxidants as these help to combat free radicals on the skin, and also highlighted peptides as a great addition to your skincare routine.

“Peptides are made of amino acids, which act as building blocks to form proteins that can significantly increase collagen production,” she commented. “Look for ingredients that stimulate collagen production, instead of just looking for collagen on an ingredient list.” The reason why? Collagen molecules are large, too large in fact to be absorbed by the skin, and so smaller molecules will benefit you most as they can penetrate the skin to stimulate collagen production.

There’s no doubt that collagen is the key factor in anti-ageing, and given that this ground-breaking research has been shown to create more of it, as well as turn back the clock 30 years, is an incredible result.

Dr Ashraf affirmed that she is excited to see what this research will mean for dermatology in future years. “Research in the field of skin cell rejuvenation is ever advancing and I think that this will become much more common in the future as new technologies evolve, and further progress and development in this area is made.”