Nigella loves Ergothioneine Serum for keeping her skin pristine, but what on earth is it?

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If Nigella Lawson, who let’s face it looks fabulous at 64, says she likes a beauty product we take note. So listen up, the TV cook has a new favourite serum, which she rates as “ten out of ten". It's a bit of a mouthful though (not that this would put her off, we imagine, as she loves getting her chops around unusual ingredients). Meet Ergothioneine Serum, £26, by pharmacist-led skincare brand Dose by VH. “It’s saved my poor jet-lag-stressed skin!” said Nigella on Instagram after a recent tour of Australia.

She’s not alone in her fandom. Since the affordable ingredient-led brand by Victoria Health launched last week, one serum has sold every two minutes.

Image: Instagram @victoriahealth

What on earth is ergothioneine?

And why is it so good that it features in almost every one of the other 11 serums in the Dose by VH range?

Ergothioneine is an amino acid derived from mushrooms that can help the skin look younger and help fade discolouration because of its ability to inhibit surface melanin that can show as brown spots. 

“Ergothioneine isn’t a newly discovered antioxidant by any stretch, but clinical research is doubling down on its status as a brilliant skin protector,” says GTG Directory Editor and cosmetic science journalist Becki Murray. “In particular, research suggests it can help prevent oxidative damage to your skin from UVA light (the one that gives you troublesome sun spots and other signs of premature ageing) potentially better than popular antioxidants such as vitamin E and coenzyme Q10. I expect to see it  much more referenced in the beauty industry in 2024.”

The makers of Dose say that the serum contains “a bioidentical form of L-ergothioneine, an amino acid which displays powerful antioxidant, anti-ageing, collagen enhancing, anti-inflammatory, and super hydrating properties.” Its formulator, pharmacist Shabir Daya, told me that 'ergo' (as they are calling it for ease) has 41 proven skin benefits, more than any other ingredient he'd found, which is why it's in everything apart from the oil-based serums.

Image: Nigella Lawson in Australia in March 2024. The serum helped with her jet-lagged skin @adelaidefescent

The serum costs £26 and is the most expensive in the range, which starts at £15. It’s blended with squalane, a very light oil to lock in moisture, hyaluronic acid for hydration and superoxide dismutase (SOD) which, in skincare, is another age-proofing hero to reduce free radical damage to the skin and so help prevent wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. 

We tried the unscented light milky serum and while it’s too early to give a proper verdict, it definitely feels light, easy to use and suitable for everyone interested in all-round age prevention.

What else is in the Dose by VH skincare range and is it any good?

Nigella has said in an interview in The Guardian that her complexion was down to “no sun and eating lots of fats" but she likely gravitates towards products that keep it flawlessly pale, as is her trademark. In that case, she'll find lots to love in the Dose range, that is slanted towards damage prevention. It describes itself as “a wardrobe of serums and oils dedicated to skin health.”

Says Murray: “What’s really interesting is that it seems focused on improving skin health by preventing damage using a host of antioxidants within the formulas - from ergothioneine and resveratrol to kojic acid - rather than aggressively ‘tackling’ ageing. There are a lot of brightening and pigment-fading ingredients too, signalling that a hydrated lit-from-within glow is seen as an indicator of healthy skin, not just simply a lack of wrinkles.”

There are also two Dose by VH supplements: Liposomal Vitamin C, £35 and Limitless Plus, £32 a nootropic focused on brain health.

Like Victoria Health’s existing and highly-rated budget skincare brand Garden of Wisdom, Dose is formulated by Trinny Woodall’s favourite pharmacist and VH-co-founder Shabir Daya and is firmly in the ingredient-led skincare space. 

You’ll find a Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £15, a Alpha Arbutin 2% and Kojic Acid 1% Serum, £18, two peptide serums, £18, one ‘Anti-Ageing’ and the other a destressing ‘Rescue’ serum featuring neurophroline, which counteracts the effects of cortisol on the skin.

GOW once had a dedicated Neurophroline Serum, but it seems to have been discontinued, ditto Nigella’s favourite GOW Prickly Pear Seed Oil. In 2019, she sent Twitter into meltdown by declaring the oil “as essential to me as washing my face. Put it on at night and you’ll wake up looking as if you’ve been to a spa by the sea, slept 10 hours a night and been off Twitter for a month.”

Luckily for her,  Dose’s new Prickly Pear Oil, £22 can step in to fill the void.

We’re told that Dose is the ‘evolution of GOW’. However, if it’s budget retinoids you’re after, stick with GOW’s Retistar Retinol Serum, £12 and Granactive Retinoid, £16  as Dose offers only the gentler plant-based alt-retinol bakuchiol.

Like GOW (and VH’s hair-and-nail-growth range Ful-Vic) Dose relies on the consumer knowing enough about their skin to ‘dose’ things like azelaic acid (for gentle brightening), alpha arbutin and kojic acid (both for pigmentation), salicylic acid, bakuchiol, niacinamide and so on. 

We’re definitely going to have to familiarise ourselves with the benefits of ergothoneine, but if Nigella’s skin is anything to go by, this is one mouthful we’re savouring. As for how she pronounces it, we'd love to ask Nigella. We could have another “mee-cro-wahve" on our hands. 

Shop Dose by VH £15-£26.