I heard that drinking green tea was good for your skin? That it could prevent acne and help prevent premature aging of the skin as well?
Green tea is known for its high antioxidant content, mainly due to the polyphenol antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG for short. Green tea has been purported to have anti-cancer properties, boost the immune system, increase alertness and decrease your waistline. These benefits are more than enough to justify making green tea a part of your diet.
Studies have shown that drinking green tea produced a measurable increase in EGCG in the blood. One study found that only 800 mg of EGCG (about 16 cups) a day caused notable increase in blood EGCG levels. Another study found that EGCG was best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach.
In regards to the skin, most of the research looks at the effects of applying green tea or its extracts to the skin, not drinking it. There’s a few interesting ones in the topical realm, some findings that green tea could be used as a disinfectant in a hand wash to prevent flu transmission, 2-3% concentration of green tea extract applied to the skin had photoprotective effects, as well that topical green tea helped reduce the immune-suppression effects of UV exposure in the skin.
Could drinking green tea help reduce acne?
I was unable to find any research indicating directly that consuming green tea had an effect on acne, but I did find a possible link between consuming green tea and acne.
One study using biopsies of the skin found that those with acne had reduced glutathione activity in their skin. Another study also found that blood levels of different markers of oxidative stress was higher in those with acne than those without.
Other studies have shown that green tea was found to reduce the reduction in glutathione caused by toxins such as lead. I didn’t find any studies that showed that consuming green tea had this effect on the skin, but other studies have shown that applying green tea topically did have a glutathione protecting effect.
While these are interesting findings, it doesn’t mean that increasing one’s levels of antioxidants (presumably by drinking green tea) will reduce your acne. Anecdotal evidence from Acne.org shows interesting results, but take these with a large grain of salt.
I did find a study that showed that a cream containing 2% green tea applied to the skin almost halved the amount of lesions and severity of acne. However there was no control group in this study, so the results are not conclusive.
So the research hasn’t really made a conclusion on whether or not drinking green tea will reduce acne, but it does seem to help reduce the difference in antioxidant markers in the blood and skin between those with acne and those without acne. Whether that has a significant effect on acne remains to be seen.
Research on the effect of topically applied green tea and acne is more promising, however, more in-depth and better conducted studies will need to be performed before we can reach a definitive answer.
Can drinking green tea reduce UV aging?
As I covered in the acne section, studies have shown that drinking green tea can increase antioxidants found in both the blood and the skin. Theoretically this should help provide the skin with extra antioxidant protection from free-radicals generated from UV exposure.
Studies have shown (mentioned at the beginning of this article) that increased EGCG levels in the blood were only found in certain dosing conditions. Most studies of the effect of green tea and UV damage are in vitro, where the test medium may have a higher EGCG level than actually possible through diet.
Even though EGCG may not be found in the blood at lower doses, green tea seems to still increase the body’s overall antioxidant activity.
In a 12 week study with women, green tea was found to reduce skin erythema (skin reddening) after UV exposure as well as increase microcirculation, increased elasticity, reduced roughness and increase moisture content of the skin.
The differing results in skin erythema may be due to the duration of UV exposure in the studies, one study found that the photo protective effect of green tea only had an effect after 12 minutes of UV exposure, but not before.
A study with mice found that consuming EGCG reduced water loss in the skin and skin thickening caused by UVB exposure.
A 2 year, double-blind placebo controlled study only found a reduction in erythema and telangiectasias (dilated blood vessels, photo of the results from the study) after 1 year of supplementation of 250 mg of green tea polyphenols. They found no difference in overall sun damage such as fine and deep wrinkles, pore size and skin pigmentation after 2 years between the placebo and study group.
As you can see from this summary of just some of the research, the results of green tea and the skin aren’t clearly understood. However the amount of green tea and how it’s consumed seems to have a great effect on whether or not it is present in the blood. A dosage of 800 mg of EGCG taken on an empty stomach seems to produce the greatest blood levels of EGCG.
Consumption of green tea seems to produce short-term beneficial changes in the skin, such as increased moisture and smoothness and reduced redness. It also seems to provide some photoprotection in the skin, increasing antioxidant activity in the skin and reducing DNA damage. However over the long-term this does not appear to translate to visible reduction in skin aging.
While consuming green tea won’t provide you with “fountain of youth” results, it may still be a worthwhile addition to your diet, especially if you enjoy it. Drinking or supplementing with green tea extracts can provide synergistic effects in your UV protection regime (sunscreen and topical antioxidants), but it can not replace a well-formulated sunscreen.
How much do I need?
A cup of green tea can contain anywhere from 4 mg to 450 mg of EGCG according to the FDA. The more unprocessed the green tea leaves are the more EGCG is generally present. Extracts of green tea are standardized and will display the amount of EGCG on the package.
In the studies covered, the best results (in terms of EGCG detection in the blood) were a once daily dosage of 800 mg EGCG, consumed on an empty stomach. High doses of green tea can cause nausea and stomach upset in some, so reduce the dose accordingly.
What about other teas?
All teas contains a group of chemicals called polyphenols that have antioxidant activity. However the types of polyphenols in the tea differ by the type.
For example green tea contains epicatechin, epicatechin 3-gallate, epigallocatechin, epigallocatechin 3-gallate, catechin, and gallocatechin.
Black tea contains the polyphenols theaflavin, theaflavin-3-gallate, and theaflavin-3,3-digallate.
These different types of polyphenols may have different effects on the skin. Some animal research indicates that black tea may have greater antioxidant activity when consumed compared to green tea, however green tea has been more extensively studied at the present.