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Reflections on healthy skin

Concern about your skin isn’t superficial. Skin is the barrier between you and the outside world. Healthy, well-hydrated, intact skin protects you from germs, parasites, water loss, temperature change, radiation, trauma, infections and other potential harms.

And it’s important to remember that the skin you see in the mirror isn’t the only skin you have. How your skin looks is a good reflection of the impact of your recent food selection, lifestyle choices and internal bodily changes you might not otherwise be aware of. Any one of these factors can also impact the moisture content of your skin, lipid and sweat production, wound healing, the synthesis of vitamin D and the strength of your immune function. In other words? Caring about your skin isn’t vain.

Anatomy of skin

Your skin is made up of three major divisions, including the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the part you can see and touch and despite the fact that it’s about as thin as tissue paper, it’s your skin’s first line of immune defence.[1] The deepest level is the hypodermis, and this layer of fatty tissue and connective tissue provides insulation and protection, as well as the easy movement of skin over muscle.[2]

The middle layer is the dermis, which is home to the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is the largest non-cellular component of tissues and skin, and it provides physical scaffolding for building. The ECM also initiates crucial prompts for tissue development and balance. Composed primarily of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, the ECM provides your skin with strength, elasticity, and moisture:[3]


Collagen is the predominant protein in the ECM and it provides strength and flexibility. Ample collagen keeps young skin firm and taut. After the ripe age of 20, however, collagen production decreases 1% per year. Eventually skin becomes thinner, loses flexibility, and you might notice some softening along the jawline. Because collagen production is linked with the hormone estrogen, collagen production drops by 30% for women as estrogen declines over time.[4]


Extensive crosslinking of the “raw material” called tropoelastin creates elastin. As its name implies, the main role of this elastin is to provide elasticity. This protein is roughly 1000 times more flexible than collagen.[5] 

Hyaluronic acid

Natural hyaluronic acid or hyaluronan (HA) is a major, natural component of connective tissue, eyes and skin. In skin, it helps skin retain moisture, provides elasticity and smoothness, and protects against skin aging.

Although dry skin might not seem all that important, cracks in skin allow dirt and germs to enter your body. Rough, peeling skin that snags on clothing can also be a source of discomfort. We want to preserve our HA.

But HA is another skin factor impacted by the passage of time. Like collagen, hyaluronic acid starts to decrease at age 20 and diminishes by half at age 50.  Depletion of hyaluronic acid is linked with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.[6]

Skin cycles change

Much like your bones, your skin is in a constant state of building, repair and break-down. When we’re brand new, our skin is soft, smooth, and perfectly hydrated. Cuts and scrapes heal quickly, usually without leaving a mark. This is partially because cell turnover happens quickly, in a matter of days.

As we gather years, however, skin changes. By early adulthood, skin cell turnover has stretched to 20 days. By older adulthood, it’s 30 days or more.[7]

Your ECM is also impacted by the ongoing skin reconstruction process. We’ve already seen that collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid production decreases as we age. However, the process of break-down continues. Enzymes called collagenase, elastase and hyaluronidase continue to work to break-down the ECM even when you’re not building it up as quickly.

You’re right: It’s not fair.

Free radical skin damage

Of course, not all the aging happens from the inside. External stressors include over-exposure to sunlight, diet, chemicals, cigarette smoke and other forms of pollution trigger free radicals that wreak havoc on your skin. Even the blue light emanating from our beloved screens contributes to skin aging just like UVA rays.[8] Free radicals slow the production of collagen and stimulate collagen break-down, which leads to thinner skin and wrinkles, and increases risk of cancer.

Skin therapy

When you think about healthy-looking skin, remember to use an inside-out strategy. Alter any lifestyle habits that could be problematic. Get your sun early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Avoid ingredients like sodium laurel sulfate in your skin care products that can be dehydrating.  

But there’s a lot you can do to rebuild healthy skin from the inside out. Avoid dietary sugar that cause proteins to fold over, which causes wrinkles. Eat plenty of vitamin-and-mineral-filled fruits and vegetables so your skin has all the raw materials it needs to stay healthy. Make sure you drink adequate water every day, to give elastin and hyaluronic acid something to work with.[9]

The beauty of mushrooms

Research has started to show how mushrooms support your healthy skin goals. Mushrooms enhance skin health by nourishing elasticity, increasing moisture content, and stimulating the synthesis of collagen.

For example, mushrooms are one of the few sources of the powerhouse antioxidant ergothioneine (ergo).[10] Research shows that skin cells internalize and accumulate ergo, which boosts their antioxidant capacity. In the presence of ergo, numbers of damaging free radicals in cells diminish, along with sun damage to DNA, collagen, and lipids.

Research also suggests that ergo may enable DNA repair in sun-damaged cells.[11] [12] Other studies have shown that ergo may increase the production of type I procollagen, which is critical for skin (and bone) health.[13]

Mushrooms also help to inhibit the enzymes that dismantle the ECM. (4) Turkey tail, for example, has been shown to halt the break-down of hyaluronic acid and elastase.[14] Research also suggests that turkey tail protects dermal fibroblasts, which are collagen-producing cells in skin.[15]

The ganoderic acids (only found in reishi) have been shown to inhibit protein break-down in the ECM. [16] As a bonus reishi, turkey tail and chaga also have anti-tyrosinase activity. Tyrosinase is involved in skin hyperpigmentation, so it’s a factor in the development of age spots or liver spots on skin.[17]

Beta-glucans from the fruiting body of reishi mushroom have been have also shown in research to provide skin benefits.[18] Studies have found that reishi also protects against UV damage and skin aging.[19] [20]

Start with healthy skin

While it’s a good idea to protect your skin from the outside with sun creams and moisturizers, be sure to amplify your defenses by providing raw materials to support how your skin functions.

Lisa Petty, PhD has written extensively on skin health and is author of the book Living Beauty: Feel Great, Look Fabulous & Live Well (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2006).




[3] Frantz, C., Stewart, K. M., & Weaver, V. M. (2010). The extracellular matrix at a glance. Journal of cell science123(Pt 24), 4195–4200.  OPEN ACCESS

[4] Sujarit, K., Suwannarach, N., Kumla, J., & Lomthong, T. (2021). Mushrooms: Splendid Gifts for the Cosmetic Industry. Chiang Mai J. Sci. 2021; 48(3): 699-725 

[5] Debelle, L., & Tamburro, A. . (1999). Elastin: molecular description and function. International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, 31(2), 261–272.

[6] Goberdhan, L.,  Makino, E., Fleck,T., & Mehta, R. (2016). Immediate and Long-Term Effects of a Topical Serum with Five Forms of Hyaluronic Acid on Facial Wrinkles and Intrinsic Skin Moisture Content. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 74, no. 5 (May 2016): AB18–AB18

[7] Maeda, K. New Method of Measurement of Epidermal Turnover in Humans. (2017). Cosmetics. 4(4):47.

[8] Nakashima, Yuya, Shigeo Ohta, and Alexander M Wolf. “Blue Light-Induced Oxidative Stress in Live Skin.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 108 (July 2017): 300–310.

[9] Sparavigna A. Role of the extracellular matrix in skin aging and dedicated treatment - State of the art. Plast Aesthet Res 2020;7:14.

[10] Kalaras, M. D., Richie, J. P., Calcagnotto, A., & Beelman, R. B. (2017). Mushrooms: A rich source of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione. Food Chemistry233, 429–433.

[11] Markova NG, Karaman-Jurukovska N, Dong KK, Damaghi N, Smiles KA, Yarosh DB. Skin cells and tissue are capable of using L-ergothioneine as an integral component of their antioxidant defense system. Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Apr 15;46(8):1168-76. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2009.01.021.

[12] Hseu, Y.-C., Vudhya Gowrisankar, Y., Chen, X.-Z., Yang, Y.-C., & Yang, H.-L. (2020). The Antiaging Activity of Ergothioneine in UVA-Irradiated Human Dermal Fibroblasts via the Inhibition of the AP-1 Pathway and the Activation of Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant Genes. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2020, 2576823–2576823.

[13] Tsay, G. J., Lin, S.-Y., Li, C.-Y., Mau, J.-L., & Tsai, S.-Y. (2021). Comparison of Single and Combined Use of Ergothioneine, Ferulic Acid, and Glutathione as Antioxidants for the Prevention of Ultraviolet B Radiation-Induced Photoaging Damage in Human Skin Fibroblasts. Processes, 9(7), 1204–.

[14] Sułkowska-Ziaja, K., Grabowska, K., Apola, A. et al. Mycelial culture extracts of selected wood-decay mushrooms as a source of skin-protecting factors. Biotechnol Lett 43, 1051–1061 (2021).

[15] Choi, J. et al. (2022). Aqueous Extracts of Pleurotus ostreatus and Hericium erinaceus Protect against Ultraviolet A-Induced Damage in Human Dermal Fibroblasts. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 24(2) 63-74. DOI: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.2021042348

[16]Bharadwaj, S., Lee, K. E., Dwivedi, V. D., Yadava, U., Nees, M., & Kang, S. G. (2020). Density functional theory and molecular dynamics simulation support Ganoderma lucidum triterpenoids as broad range antagonist of matrix metalloproteinases. Journal of Molecular Liquids, 311, 113322–.

[17] Zolghadri, S., Bahrami, A., Hassan Khan, M. T., Munoz-Munoz, J., Garcia-Molina, F., Garcia-Canovas, F., & Saboury, A. A. (2019). A comprehensive review on tyrosinase inhibitors. Journal of enzyme inhibition and medicinal chemistry34(1), 279–309.

[18] Kao, P.-F., Wang, S.-H., Hung, W.-T., Liao, Y.-H., Lin, C.-M., & Yang, W.-B. (2011). Structural Characterization and Antioxidative Activity of Low-Molecular-Weights Beta-1,3-Glucan from the Residue of Extracted Ganoderma lucidum Fruiting Bodies. Journal of Biomedicine & Biotechnology, 2012, 673764–.

[19] Lee, Sung Hoon et al. “The Protective Effect of Ganoderma Lucidum Extract in Ultraviolet B-Induced Human Dermal Fibroblasts and Skin Equivalent Models.” Annals of dermatology 32.3 (2020): 251–254.

[20] Xiang, L., Jie, L. (2013). Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide prevents oxidation and skin aging. Chinese Journal of Tissue Engineering Research. doi:10.3969/j.issn.2095-4344.2013.41.013