Mushrooms: An Untapped Potential in Hair Cosmetics

Mushrooms, a type of fungi, are classified within the advanced phyla Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. They are characterized by having a stem (or stipe), a cap (or pileus), and gills (singularly referred to as lamella) on the cap’s underside. The term ‘mushroom’ essentially denotes a fruiting body, formed by multiple upward-growing hyphae, which generate spores known as “basidiospores”. Their unique taste, texture, and nutritional value have made mushrooms a popular culinary ingredient today, but in past times they were used for their medicinal properties and restorative qualities. Though the total number of mushroom species on our planet is believed to be around 150,000, it is likely that only 10% of these have been recognized to date (approximately 15,000 are named).

From a nutritional standpoint, mushrooms are treasure troves of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and beta-glucans, amongst others. But mushrooms don’t stop at just nutrition; mushrooms have been shown to contain several biologically active compounds such as polysaccharides, phenolics, terpenoids, lectins, ergosterols, and volatile organic chemicals that perform various biological functions. These functions include anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tyrosinase, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antitumor, and anti-hyaluronidase activities. Such a rich array of beneficial properties has made mushrooms a crucial component of cosmetics, providing nutritive, anti-inflammatory, regenerative, and antioxidant properties that address cosmetic concerns such as fine lines, wrinkles, uneven tone, and texture.

The use of mushrooms in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals extends to a variety of species, each carrying their unique mycochemicals with distinct biological activities. This range of mushrooms encompasses Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), Maitake (Grifola frondosa), also known as Reishi or Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum), Fu Ling (Wolfiporia extensa), Yartsa Gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis), the cauliflower mushroom (Sparassis latifolia, previously classified as Sparassis crispa), as well as jelly fungi (Tremella spp.). These varieties are customarily utilized in East Asian nations like China, Japan, and Korea. Examples that are more familiar in Western countries include Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Portobello mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), and oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), among others.

With the rise of consumer awareness about the side-effects of chemical products and the potential benefits of natural ones, the cosmetic industry has observed a surge in demand for natural products. This shift has led to an increased interest in various botanical extracts in cosmetic formulations, particularly for skin care products, including those from mushrooms. More recently, research has suggested mushroom-derived ingredients also have potential for hair care applications.

Shampoos are specifically designed to cleanse the hair and scalp, with their composition adjusted to address different hair types, care routines, and specific issues such as oily hair, dandruff, and androgenetic alopecia. The Tremella mushroom contains a hydrophilic compound known as glucuronoxylomannan (GXM), a polysaccharide with anti-inflammatory and healing abilities widely employed in the field of cosmetology and added to some shapoos available in East Asia. Wild Inonotus obliquus (Chaga mushroom), has traditionally been used for hair growth by Mongolians since ancient times. A recent study albeit quite limited in scope, has suggested Chaga mushroom extracts exhibit anti-5α-reductase potential. A composition shampoo intended to promote hair growth in humans combines Ganoderma lucidum with three other plant extracts and zinc is now available.

A variety of edible mushroom called Agaricus bisporus stores selenium (Se), a trace mineral, in its fruiting bodies. Shampoos have been developed using Agaricus bisporus extract to tackle hair-related issues such as dandruff and oily hair while also cleansing the hair and scalp. The A. bisporus mushroom is also rich in vitamin D and several minerals, including copper, and iron, which could also contribute to maintaining healthy hair.

Mushrooms, with their rich nutritional content and diverse bioactive compounds, provide a relatively unexplored and promising platform for the development of new hair cosmetics. With increased understanding and further research, it seems likely that the use of mushrooms will increase in the cosmetic industry, and for hair care in particular.


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