Green Tea

Skin Care in a Cup

By Shelley Burns, N.D.

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, February/March 2006.

A longtime Chinese elixir, green tea has been used historically to treat head- aches, body aches, poor digestion, and improve life expectancy. And it’s also good for skin.

Green tea, like black tea, comes from the plant Camellia sinensis. The difference is in the way the leaves are processed. Black tea leaves undergo a crushing and fermenting process, while green tea leaves are withered and steamed, leaving them full of polyphenols, which serve as powerful antioxidants that help fight free radicals encountered from food consumption and environmental stress. Polyphenols also prevent skin damage and skin cancer caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation due to long-term sun exposure. One particular polyphenolic extract of green tea, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), seems to produce dose-dependent oral and topical protection against UVA and UVB sunburn.

EGCG functions as an antioxidant that is about 25–100 times more potent than vitamins C and E. One cup of green tea provides more antioxidant protection than a serving of broccoli, spinach, carrots, or strawberries. In fact, green tea contains 350–400 mg of polyphenols, as compared to 150–200 mg per cup of black tea.

In addition, green tea is also effective in blocking the actions of carcinogens that promote other forms of cancer (specifically colon, pancreatic, and stomach cancers). It is rich in vitamin K, which allows calcium to be formed in the matrix of bones and supports mental acuity. Green tea also has thermogenic effects, which aid in weight loss without causing unwanted side effects, such as the “jitters.”

Drinking 6 to 10 cups of green tea daily, preferably by steeping the leaves, will provide you with all the benefits associated with its polyphenols. If you are sensitive to caffeinated beverages, consider using decaffeinated green tea, which has all of the antioxidant benefits without the caffeine side effects.

While drinking green tea will benefit skin, topical treatments are also available. Green tea creams can lighten skin color and improve overall skin complexion, making them an effective treatment for acne. The topical treatments cause fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide, meaning fewer dry skin, itching, and allergic effects.

So raise a cup to green tea and reap the benefits!