Not just a tasty mealtime ingredient, mushrooms contain vitamins and minerals that provide great benefits for our skin.

Great for topping pizza, salads and in sauces, mushrooms hold a place all their own as an excellent source of various powerful nutrients. What many of you might not know is that mushrooms, aside from tasting great and packing a nutritional punch, offer real benefits for your skin and overall appearance.

Whether taken in as food or through topical formulations, mushrooms are beneficial to our skin through rich amounts of two key vitamins and minerals:

Selenium A trace mineral that serves as an important antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. Although more research is needed, studies have shown that it might play a role in preventing cancer; it also appears to minimize skin damage from UV exposure in its oral form. In addition, selenium is essential to proper thyroid function.

Vitamin D Best known as the vitamin that our skin produces when exposed to ultraviolet light, vitamin D is actually a hormone and a powerful antioxidant. In addition to benefiting almost all of your body’s organ systems, it is often helpful in treating psoriasis, and like all antioxidants, it can help slow the effects of aging.

Extracts of medicinal mushrooms have also been used for centuries in the Far East to treat arthritis, allergies, bronchitis and other serious ailments. A number of studies using lab samples have revealed that mushrooms can provide a boost to the immune system, including a Tufts University study published in The Journal of Nutrition that showed the enhanced activity of critical cells in the immune system promoted by white button mushrooms. The thousands of types of mushrooms that range from those basic white button types to more exotic varieties reveal anti-inflammatory properties that can help improve acne, rosacea and eczema. A few in particular are gaining notice for dermatological applications:

  • Kombucha is a type of mushroom popular worldwide that is commonly known as one of the ingredients in a type of black tea. Research is limited onkombuchas efficacy, but past studies on lab rats have shown that it has a positive effect on oxidative stress (i.e., free radical damage) when taken orally. In addition, topical application has revealed visible anti-aging effects while improving skin tone and reducing lines and wrinkles.
  • Shiitake mushrooms have received a lot of attention, starting with the ability they’ve displayed in research to fight the proliferation of cancer cells in humans as well as mice. Rich in proteins, lipids, vitamins and amino acids, these mushrooms present tangible benefits for our skin through their anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to enhance immune function.
  • Reishi mushrooms are another species with notable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can make a difference as skin ages.

While evidence of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of mushrooms is emerging, more research is needed in the form of independent randomized controlled trials. From anti-aging serums to moisturizers, new topical formulations present an exciting opportunity to harness the great potential of these healthy mushroom species. Now that’s food for thought!

Leslie Baumann, M.D., FAAD, is an internationally renowned, board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author, media personality and lecturer. CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute and founder of the University of Miamis Cosmetic Medicine & Research Institute, she authored the best-selling Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice and The Skin Type Solution, and has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show and The Discovery Channel.