Hard, brown, and wrinkly, reishi mushrooms truly do not look like an ingredient that's going to give you a soft, supple complexion. But it's good that practitioners of Chinese medicine haven't let appearances stop them from healing various ailments with the fungus, also known as ling zhi (or Ganoderma lucidum), for millennia. Today the compounds in these mushrooms are finally being recognized in the West for myriad medicinal powers—and are becoming the subject of some tests—and reishi mushroom extract is on its way to being a favorite skincare ingredient.
Since they grow on hard woods in Chinese forests, wild reishi mushrooms are rare. They also taste bitter, and aren't likely to make it into fungus-based gourmet dishes anytime soon. Luckily, the mushroom can instead be farmed and extracted into a potent liquid form. Within that extract, you'll find two key substances, triterpenes and polysaccharides, that are the secret to the reishi mushroom benefits for skin. Here's how they work:
Fight inflammation and protect from damage
When triterpene molecules are extracted from reishi mushrooms, they interact with the immune system, and are particularly effective at combating inflammation. This can reduce redness and puffiness, two rather undesirable skin conditions caused by inflammation in the skin. That's one reason people recommend reishi mushrooms for acne.
Polysaccharides are a type of complex sugar molecule, and one called beta-glucan that is found in the cell walls of reishi mushrooms (as well as in oats) can act on the skin in a couple of important ways. For one, they're also anti-inflammatory and for another, they can act as antioxidants. That means they bind to the free radicals, molecules that might otherwise cause damage to skin cells that have been exposed to UV rays and pollution.
Beta-glucans also give this ingredient its ability to moisturize dry skin, as they are a humectant. These molecules draw moisture to the skin, and are able to penetrate deeply, rehydrating as they repair the outer barrier of the skin. A healthy skin barrier then prevents moisture in the deeper layers from evaporating. Thus nourished, skin looks plump and healthy, with fewer visible fine lines—making this a perfect ingredient for high-quality firming eye concentrates.
The skin-brightening effect
Reishi mushroom extract can also treat dark spots on the skin that cause it to look older. It does this by blocking skin cells from producing melanin, which usually happens in response to excess sun exposure.