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As the functional food trend heats up, the search is on for edible ingredients that have the most effective skin-enhancing actives. The Ganoderma lucidum mushroom (Reishi in Japanese, Lingzhi in Chinese) is classed as a "superior herb" in traditional Chinese medicine. It tones the organs and calms the heart, as well as boosts the immune system. This association with immunity and vitality earned it the moniker, "Mushroom of Immortality."
Centuries ago, the largest and most beautiful Lingzhi were considered precious enough to be presented as tributes to the court. The Qianlong Emperor (China, 1736-1795) even had a collection of table screens mounted with Lingzhi, both for aesthetic purposes and to promote well-being. More recently, in the West, mushrooms have become part of the "superfood" pantheon and are appreciated for their anti-cancer and anti-viral effects. In fact, as in a shaded wood after the rain, mushrooms are popping up in skin care formulations with antiaging, soothing, pore-minimizing and exfoliating claims.
The Japanese brand Menard was the first to use Reishi extract in premium skin care. Two versions of this mushroom are featured in its Embellir range. Black Reishi is said to eliminate toxins that slow cellular renewal while red Reishi stimulates cell production and helps repair damage caused by UV rays and free radicals. Originally launched in 1986, the Embellir range is now available in 31 countries.
Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins was among the first premium Western brands to exploit fungi in skin care. Launched in 2006, the Planti-dote Mega-Mushroom range features three mushrooms. In addition to Reishi, it contains Cordyceps, also well-known in Chinese medicine, and Hypsizygus ulmarius, which has reported calming and soothing properties. According to the manufacturers, these magic mushrooms mirror the process that sends Narcissus lily bulbs into dormancy as a means of self-protection; it claims to signal the skin to conserve its energy to optimize its defenses against age accelerators. A recent addition to the Dr. Weil for Origins range is Plantidote Mega-Mushroom Body Cream--an emollient cream containing the three-mushroom complex as well as a mix of spices such as ginger, turmeric and holy basil that together sound more appropriate on a restaurant plate rather than a dressing table.
Estée Lauder looked to the East when reformulating its Re-Nutriv sun care line. It is made with Reishi mushroom, wolfberry and ginseng. Re-Nutriv Sun Supreme Rescue Serum claims to have a triple-action repair technology to help enhance the skin's own natural defenses against the visible effects of sun exposure and sun-stressed skin.