Herbar Is Nurturing Nature’s Mighty Mushroom

Hypebeast speaks to the new skincare brand’s founders about how the humble fungi came to be at the center of their universe.

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Welcome to the ‘shroom boom. From Story mfg. with its fungi-sporing clothing to adidas, Kering and Stella McCartney all using the humble ingredient as a sustainable alternative to leather – it appears that the magic of mushrooms is everywhere. The seed was planted with mycelium (IKEA and Haeckels pioneered the material’s use in packaging), and since the start of the pandemic, many have been exploring the realms of microdosing finding peace in psilocybin. Now, the mighty mushroom has even sprawled its way into skincare: namely with the newcomer Herbar

Mushrooms and other natural elements have been used in traditional Eastern medicines for centuries. With that in mind, Herbar founders Catarina Oliveira and Rui Liu are keen to remind us that they haven’t “invented anything,” per-se. But as these earth-grown materials have fallen out of favor for chemicals, botox, and filters, they are on a mission to change our relationship with mushrooms, skincare, and the gray area between – offering an education into why these long-standing practices have stood the test of time for a reason.

To understand more about the mushroom trend, as well as how Herbar’s face oil works and what it could signal for the future of the beauty industry, Hypebeast spoke with Oliveira and Liu to dig deep into the origins of adaptogenic skincare and why we need to nurture nature’s goodness. 

Hypebeast: Where does Herbar come into the current ‘shroom boom? 

Catarina Oliveira: Adaptogens and fungi are making their way into Western culture, but if you look at other brands or in places like Los Angeles [the craze] is all about ingesting them. Bliss bowls, adaptogenic lattes. This is something that came from the beginnings of Herbar, we were going through our own health journeys and we thought about all the adaptogens were taking, but we thought about using them topically. 

There were a lot of papers talking about how what you put on your skin will be found within your bloodstream. Can we change the way people are ingesting adaptogens by putting them directly on our skin? We already stand out with this.

So how does it actually work?

CO: Our ingredients are on the back of the bottle and what you see is what you get. 

Rui Liu: We want to take clean beauty one step further. We have to fulfill what you need in skincare, so we need to offer moister, anti-oxidants to fight free radicals; so our combination starts with those and then the adaptogens that have an extra health benefit. 

Why are mushrooms so revered in the wellness industry?

CO: Mushrooms, or fungi, are adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens can be categorized as plants, herbs and fungi, but not all plants are adaptogens. For a plant to be considered an adaptogen it has to tick certain boxes: for instance, it cannot have any side effects, and a lot of mushrooms, when ingested, will have certain side effects. Some so-called adaptogens have sedative qualities or stimulative qualities, but [to qualify] it cannot have one or the other, it needs both to allow your body to come back to homeostasis, the equilibrium. 

RL: I would eat tremella [mushroom] soup. We’d have a liquid breakfast so we weren’t so hard on our stomachs after just waking up, and the same before we’d go to bed. For me and in Chinese culture, we don’t have things called adaptogens – it’s just food. I studied nutrition in Arizona and in this Western world we call it functional food, it has more benefits than just being calorific. 

Mushrooms have become a trend – from alternative leathers, to graphic motifs, to microdosing – they’re everywhere. Is this something you thought about?

CO: This is something that we’ve spoken about a lot. Our first product is the adaptogenic face oil and also a mushroom-shaped gua sha. In a way, we’re also bringing these from the East into the West, and since the beginning, we’ve wanted to tell people that this has been done for centuries. It’s important for us to constantly mention this; ancient healing methods have been in medicine for years. Fungi have been used in Finland and Scandinavia for thousands of years. We’ve been to a biohacking summit in Helsinki and it was all about adaptogens, and now people are hyper-aware of them. Now that mushrooms are trendy, people are really starting to understand. But at the end of the day, if you are coming from a place of love and helping people, you’re going to be bringing so many benefits – you are capitalizing on it, but at the same time, you are exposing it and bringing awareness. 

Reishi is nature’s ibuprofen, so it’s also democratizing it for a lot of people. Sure enough, you’re better off taking reishi. 

“It’s important for Herbar to say that we haven’t “invented” anything.”

And obviously, a face oil is good for your physical appearance, but once it’s in your bloodstream are there any other benefits?

CO: You have things like hemp oil that will replace your salicylic acid, bakuchiol oil replaces the need for retinoids, your tremella is for hyaluronic acids, reishi adds longevity, and there are anti-oxidants and vitamin C. The thing is, we would need to run clinical studies [to verify this],  but reishi is an anti-inflammatory and that’s why it’s nature’s ibuprofen, so if your skin barrier is inflamed – we had a beta group testing the product from different backgrounds with different skin issues – and those with severe face skin issues, reishi really helped. But we’d need to go to a doctor’s office to know how much is in the bloodstream. 

RL: But it also depends on the area of your face, your dosage, and your lifestyle. If you have a weak barrier it might go in more. But if we have the capability we would love to run experiments. 

What Herbar has done is find natural alternatives to clinical products. Do you hope this changes the skincare industry?

CO: We’ve been trying really hard for two years to cut through the noise of the saturated beauty industry. The technology that is used doesn’t work for Herbar. They appropriate constantly and don’t give credit where it’s due; a lot of brands have gua sha and certain oils but don’t mention where it comes from, and it’s important for Herbar to say that we haven’t “invented” anything. 

We want to stop the use of terminologies like “anti-aging” or “poreless,” what does that mean? Aging is a normal process, you have to go through aging. Should I not age? There’s this whole thing about clean beauty too – there are aisles of “toxic-free” [beauty products], and that’s confusing because that’s telling me that everything else is toxic. It constantly demonizes other products and brands.

We want to cut through the noise, be careful about what we say and make it clear that these ingredients have been used for centuries, and that telling people your skin is already beautiful, just take care of it. 

“It’s about transparency, telling people that these ingredients can make your skin look and feel a certain way. It’s about being very real with your language.”

Do you think the materials and ingredients Herbar uses will change the younger generation’s perception of “clean beauty,” especially as we live in an era of filters and social media expectations?

CO: The TikTok generation can smell the BS. [These influencers] have thousands of followers and thousands of dollars, they can do facials twice a week and it does not [always come] from the products [they promote].

It’s about transparency and telling people that these ingredients can make your skin look and feel a certain way. It’s about being very real with your language. 

Society has been through so many changes, sociopolitically and also technologically, and now brands like Herbar want to take skincare back to the bare basics. How does it feel to be pushing this resurgence?

RL: If there are no changes then we will never know what really works. We all love new things, but because of the comparison that we have, we can see that “zero” works. 

CO: People will care about the bakuchiol oil because [of its similarities to] retinol. Retinol makes your skin photosensitive, and people love retinol but they don’t love the side effects. Is there a natural alternative to this? Yes, bakuchiol oil.

Because we have tried these things, know we know that the foundational thing was the right one all along. 

RL: We didn’t have the science back then to understand why things worked, you just inherited the knowledge and understanding of it working – but now we know why. 

Do you think ancient healing methods will take us back to a time when skincare was simpler? 

CO: It’s going to be a fusion – a combination of Western and Eastern methods. I am not opposed to synthetics; in the face oil we don’t use synthetics but that’s not to say we won’t in the future. The clean beauty industry has skyrocketed because people have become more aware of their health, so we wanted to look at what we could do with what we have and look toward traditional mediums. 

RL: For me, nothing is 100% good. The key is selectivity. We need to be careful with the good and bad [products], and we should enhance the good with technology. The knowledge is always changing so we have to be more flexible, but also cautious in the long run. I think we just need to be aware and constantly learn about what is good, and what is bad, and make changes accordingly.

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