Skin Cream with Unconventional Ingredients: Mushroom & Pearl

by Sensuke Konno, Ph.D.



For centuries, consumers have sought solutions to improve beauty and fight aging. The cosmetic industry is a $100 billion global business offering a huge variety of creams and lotions to make consumers look and feel young, healthy, beautiful and attractive. In addition, modern high-tech efforts offer plastic surgery, injections (i.e., BOTOX®), laser treatments, implants and other medical procedures. These not only are expensive, but literally cut, inject or burn the skin, causing some level of pain and discomfort.

Fortunately, consumers have choices in today’s marketplace. In particular, there are new non-invasive topical products formulated to fight the signs of aging and enhance the skin’s appearance. Two unconventional natural ingredients recently studied for use in a skin cream are a type of mushroom and powdered pearls.

This particular mushroom, Tremella fuciformis, has long been used in Chinese cuisine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as an elixir for longevity. Interestingly, Yang Guifei—a legendary imperial concubine from the Tang Dynasty known as one of the most beautiful women in the Chinese history—is said to have regularly consumed this mushroom to maintain eternal beauty.

During the past decades, scientific research has found tremella has antitumor activity due to immunomodulating effects on both humoral and cellular immune factors.1,2 It has also been demonstrated to have anti-diabetic, hypocholesterolemic and anti-inflammatory activities.3,4,5

Moreover, tremella contains high levels of vitamin D (38,800 IU/100 g) and dietary fiber (68.7 g/100 g).6 Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium from the intestine, facilitating bone growth and mineralization, and is also involved in various cellular metabolisms.7 Recently, its potential protective effect against skin cancer has been demonstrated.8 Dietary fiber is well-known for its role in digestive/colon function; however, it also has hypoglycemic, hypocholesterolemic and immunostimulatory activities.9

Another interesting bioactivity of tremella is attributed to the acidic polysaccharide glucuronoxylomannan (GXM), found in its fruiting body or produced in pure culture condition.10 Characteristically, GXM is a water-soluble polysaccharide with a molecular weight of >1 x 106 Da, consisting of a linear backbone of (1-3)-alpha-mannan with xylose and glucuronic acid in the short side chains. GXM has a great water-absorbing/retaining capability; it can absorb nearly 500 times more water than its own weight. This is 25 percent greater than what sodium hyaluronate, a known, highly water-retentive compound, can do (absorbing 400 times more water than its weight).11

Once GXM is dissolved in water, it forms a colorless, odorless, highly viscous solution. But, its viscosity is stable, despite changes in temperature (77 to 140°F) or pH (pH 4 to 12). It is thus conceivable that such a high water-retaining ability and stable viscosity could provide moisturizing and smoothing effects when applied topically. Another study showed GXM would be unlikely to cause stiffening or tightening of the skin when applied topically because GXM is structurally stable, hardly contracted or shrunk regardless of humidity change. It would therefore provide natural, comfortable feelings of hydrated but less-coated skin. Moreover, a study on volunteers with dry skin ascertained their skin was well hydrated and skin texture noticeably improved after four weeks of GXM application. GXM also had no apparent adverse effects or allergic reactions on these volunteers, confirming its safety. Taken together, GXM appears to be a natural substance that could be used in skin care formulations because of its remarkable moisturizing and water-retaining abilities; smoothing and non-stiffening effects; ability to improve skin conditions; and physical stability.

Pearl Beyond Price

Pearl is one of the oldest gemstones, although it is formed inside of the shell of a live oyster, not found in a core of rock like other gemstones. Pearl is a hard, lustrous compound, consisting of aragonite or calcite (crystalline forms of calcium carbonate) and a unique protein called conchiolin.12 Although pearls are commonly known as fine jewelry, they are also crushed (as pearl powder) and used in cosmetics or paint. According to TCM, pearl powder can be applied topically or taken internally. When applied topically, it may accelerate skin cell metabolism to rejuvenate the complexion, heal blemishes, minimize large pores and reduce redness. It may also soothe inflammation and help heal minor open wounds. When taken internally, besides further improving the natural radiance of the skin, it may detoxify the system, calm the liver and nerves, tranquilize the mind, and take part in other physiologic actions. In fact, wives of Chinese emperors are said to have applied pearl powder on their skin and consumed it daily to keep their young, freshlooking skin smooth, soft and supple.

However, despite a large volume of these anecdotal documents and the long history behind them, scientific studies of pearl powder on the skin, to define and elucidate its bioactivity and biological significance, have not been fully performed. Such cosmetic effects/mechanisms of pearl powder thus require further studies and confirmation. Yet, limited studies and available information on pearl powder may support its possible beneficial effects. It has been shown pearl powder slowed the development of melanin (pigmentation), reducing skin discoloration and lightening uneven skin tone. It markedly reduced the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while maintaining smooth and firm skin, and also properly repaired sun-damaged or scarred skin. This is due primarily to “conchiolin”, a major protein present in pearl powder.

Conchiolin is a unique pearl protein that acts like keratin, one of fibrous proteins (collagen) found in skin, bone, cartilage, tendon, hair, etc. Characteristically, conchiolin is known to have the ability to hydrate skin cells, promote skin cell metabolism, facilitate repair of damaged skin cells, and enhance peripheral circulation.13 In addition to conchiolin, pearl powder contains dozens of amino acids and minerals, which also play an important role in various cellular activities, maintaining normal physiology, and repairing and constructing cells and tissues. Therefore, it is plausible that pearl powder may provide the skin with these beneficial effects, giving it a sheer, radiant glow.

While further studies on GXM and pearl powder are in progress, a new skin cream (Aquamella™ from Maitake Products), containing both GXM and pearl powder, was recently developed and introduced to the market. This skin cream contains two additional anti-aging ingredients: alphalipoic acid (ALA) and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, M.D., described the importance of ALA and CoQ10 in skin care in his books.14,15 He states ALA (taken orally) helps restore a healthy radiance to the skin and also can tighten pores and diminish fine lines. He also recommends taking CoQ10 daily because CoQ10 can help slow or even reverse the skin’s aging process. Moreover, studies investigating the topical application of ALA and CoQ10 have verified their clinical efficacy to prevent the adverse effects of photoaging on facial skin.16,17 Along with GXM and pearl powder, ALA and CoQ10 (in Aquamella) may further facilitate creating and maintaining pure, fresh, silky and radiant skin.

There is great interest in the cosmetic market in unconventional skin creams that contain such bioactive ingredients as green tea, gingko and other herbal extracts, as well as vitamins A, C and E. Combining these various bioactive substances is an interesting and innovative concept for developing a variety of unconventional skin creams.

Sensuke Konno, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Urology, New York Medical College, Valhalla.

“Unconventional Ingredients in Skin Cream” References

1. Gao Q et al. “Characterization and cytokine-stimulating activities of acidic heteroglycans from Tremella fuciformis.” Planta Med. 63:457-460, 1997.

2. Xia D, Lin ZB. “Effects of Tremella polysaccharides on immune function in mice.” Acta Pharm Sinica. 10:453-457, 1989.

3. Reshetnikov SV et al. “Medicinal value of the genus Tremella Pers. (Heterobasidiomycetes).” Int J Med Mushr. 2:169-193, 2000.

4. Kiho T et al. “Polysaccharides in fungi: XXXIII. Hypoglycemic activity of an acidic polysaccharide (AC) from Tremella fuciformis.” Yakugaku Zasshi. 114:308-315, 1994.

5. Cheung PCK. “The hypocholesterolemic effect of two edible mushrooms: Auricularia auricula (tree-ear) and Tremella fuciformis (white jelly-leaf) in hypercholesterolemic rats.” Nutr Res. 16:1721-1725, 1996.

6. Kagawa Y. Standard tables of food composition in Japan. Kagawa Nutrition University Publishing Division pp122-123, 2002.

7. DeLuca HF. “Overview of general physiologic features and functions of vitamin D.” Am J Clin Nutr. 80:1689S-1696S, 2004.

8. Dixon KM et al. “Skin cancer prevention: A possible role of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 and its analogs.” J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 97:137-143, 2005.

9. Gao Q et al. “Characterization of acidic heteroglycans from Tremella fuciformis Berk with cytokine stimulating activity.” Carbohydr Res. 288:135-142, 1996.

10. Yui T et al. “Chain conformation of a glucurono-xylo-mannan isolated from fruit body of Tremella fuciformis Berk.” Carbohydr Chem. 14:255-263, 1995.

11. Ohashi Y, Yamamoto Y. “Tremella fuciformis polysaccharide.” Fragrance J. 3:45-50, 2005.

12. Matsushiro A et al. “Presence of protein complex is prerequisite for aragonite crystallization in the nacreous layer.” Mar Biotechnol. 5:37-44, 2003.

13. Schweizer-J et al. “New consensus nomenclature for mammalian keratins.” J Cell Biol. 174:169-174, 2006.

14. Perricone NV. The Perricone Promise.

15. Perricone NV. The Perricone Weight-loss Diet.

16. Beitner H. “Randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind study on the clinical efficacy of a cream containing 5% a-lipoic acid related to photoageing of facial skin.” Br J Dermatol. 149:841-849, 2003.

17. Hoppe U et al. “Coenzyme Q10, a cutaneous antioxidant and energizer.” Biofactors. 9:371-378, 1999.


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