Catarina Oliveira and Rui Liu’s friendship took root because of a mutual fascination with adaptogenic mushrooms, and their new beauty brand Herbar has grown out of that connection.

The pair meet in a Berlin café when Liu overheard a conversation Oliveira was having about mushroom coffee. Liu, who grew up in China and learned about adaptogens through traditional Chinese medicine, interjected and began a conversation about medicinal herbs, skincare, and natural healthcare that the pair are still having five years on. 

How do adaptogens work in Herbar skincare?

Bottle of Herbar face oil, which uses adaptogens in skincare
Face Oil

The types and uses of adaptogens are varied but, simply put, they are plants and fungi that respond to physical and toxic stressors – from pollutants in the air to the anxiety of everyday life – by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands.

Their particular magic is their ability to adapt to the specific demands and deficiencies of the individual body and, as a result, effectively combat feelings of stress, anxiety, fatigue and more. 

Mushroom gua shas
Mushroom-shaped gua shas

When applied to skincare, adaptogens are equally versatile. Herbar’s first product, the Face Oil, uses three hero adaptogens in its formulation to soothe inflammation, enhance elasticity and fortify skin.

They are, tremella, or the ‘beauty’ mushroom, which is known for detoxifying and hydrating properties; the reishi mushroom, which is used to reduce skin inflammation, puffiness, signs of ageing and free-radical damage, while also promoting cell regeneration; and da zao (or Chinese jujube dates), which is rich in iron and vitamin C, and is proven to treat acne, blemishes, and scars.

Elderly woman holds mushroom gua shas for skincare ad campaign
Part of the brand’s launch campaign, including the mushroom-shaped gua shas and promoting an age-inclusive approach to beauty. Photography by Nuno Vieira 

Herbar’s launch range also includes mushroom-shaped gua shas, which can be used in conjunction with the face oil and are, frankly, adorable (see other gua sha options in our guide, how to use a gua sha). 

Artist-designed branding

While Herbar’s adaptogen-laden formulation is impressive, it is the aesthetics of the brand that really makes it stand out. Oliveira and Liu have recruited a group of their friends in the visual arts, music, and more to contribute to the brand. To kick things off, the founders sent bottles of the Face Oil to artists Laura Le Gal and Lea Woo and asked them to create whatever they wanted in response. The results are a kind of fairy music box from Le Gal and a 1960s-inspired illustration from Woo. 

Illustration featuring woodland scene and mushrooms in nature to promote face oil
Promotional illustration by Lea Woo

The brand is also promoting its launch with an ad campaign shot by Nuno Vieira that stars Oliveira’s grandmother and her best friend.

It is a sweet and playful nod to the age-inclusive beauty ethos of Herbar, which is designed to work for all skin types, tones and ages. §

Fairy woodland music box by Laura Le Gal
Project by Laura Le Gal, inspired by the brand