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Take a look at any soothing, brightening, or oil-balancing skin care product, and chances are you’ll find green tea (or green tea extract) stamped on the label. It’s a hero ingredient used for thousands of years, after all, with a treasure trove of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers—many derms even consider it a must-have ingredient in a skin care routine.
What exactly makes the brew so special, and how can you incorporate it into your regimen? Here, your green tea guide for the skin. Drink up!
Benefits of drinking green tea for skin.
What you consume shows up in your skin, full stop. That’s why derms often praise a hydrating, high-fat, antioxidant-rich diet for glowing, supple skin. And in terms of antioxidant-rich players, green tea ranks pretty high on the list.
Specifically, the tea is supercharged with polyphenols: “Green tea is approximately 30% polyphenol antioxidants by weight,” says board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D., founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care. The most notable of the bunch is the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG), which research shows has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Another review even found that drinking green tea (or applying it topically, which we’ll get into later) helped inhibit UV-damage and oxidative stress—both of which can lead to early signs of skin aging, like hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and fragile, crepey skin.
Which type of green tea is best for skin?
Make sure to purchase high-quality green tea, if you can: 100% pure, organic and non-GMO. Read your labels to make sure there aren’t any added flavors or ingredients (some common ones include soy lecithin, cornstarch, and corn syrup).
As for matcha, green tea’s jade-colored cousin, it’s just as top-notch for skin—if not more so. It’s grown in the shade, and the leaves are ground into a powder once harvested, which creates a more concentrated blend with a pea-green hue. In fact, one study found that matcha contained 137 times more EGCG than green tea. Again, make sure to buy 100% pure and organic matcha if it’s available to you, but it’s a worthy sip for skin.
Benefits of using green tea topically for skin.
Behold, green tea’s batch of benefits:
1. Controls sebum production.
“Topical use of green tea reduces sebum production, gets rid of oiliness, and protects against acne-causing bacteria,” licensed acupuncturist Antonia Balfour, LAc (who specializes in skin care), once told mbg about the best teas for acne. In fact, one study found that a topical 2% green tea lotion was an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne. (Some even swear by the supercharged tea to get rid of a pimple overnight!)
2. Helps protect against UV damage.
We discussed how consuming polyphenols from green tea had a protective effect on the skin, and studies found that topical application of polyphenols can help repair skin as well, protecting it from sun damage and even reversing signs of skin aging (like dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles).
3. Helps heal acne and scarring.
Considering all acne stems from inflammation, treating a zit with green tea can help the zit appear smaller and less noticeable. Not to mention, “the caffeine in the tea will increase blood flow to allow more rapid healing of the blemish,” says board-certified dermatologist Suneel Chilukuri, M.D., about using green tea to treat acne.
Again, green tea’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are well documented, and it’s these benefits that make it so wonderful for skin brightening and repair.
4. Soothes inflammatory skin conditions.
“Green tea is anti-inflammatory for skin conditions such as rosacea,” notes Bailey. “I’ve used it in my practice for years to help control rosacea, and it works well for even the most sensitive rosacea-prone complexions. Bathing in green tea has also been shown to soothe atopic eczema.”
Green tea contains caffeine (28.8 mg, to be exact; 70 mg for matcha), which can constrict blood vessels in your skin when applied topically. In turn, this can reduce inflammation and the swollen skin that tends to pair with it. “That’s why green tea lotions used under the eyes can help with puffiness,” board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, once told us about using caffeine in skin care.
What to know about using green tea topically.
“Green tea is safe, soothing, and well tolerated by even the most sensitive skin types,” says Bailey. “It is my top choice for an antioxidant-rich botanical to add to a skin care routine.”
Skin reactions, more often than not, typically stem from other irritating ingredients in the formula. In market products, it could be things like fragrance or preservatives (especially if you use it around the delicate eye area); in DIY concoctions, the culprit could even be another botanical in the tea blend. “I recommend that you only use pure green tea and avoid tea blends that contain botanicals that might be allergens, such as citrus or jasmine,” Bailey notes.
Of course, you should consult a derm if you’re experiencing any reactions or if you think you may be extra sensitive to the effects of caffeine (especially if you slather a green tea lotion on larger surface areas). And while green tea does have some UV-protective properties, it shouldn’t ever replace proper sunscreen.
How to make a green tea face mask at home.
When it comes to DIY, the world is your oyster with green tea. You can always brew your cup, let the bag cool, and place it directly on your breakout or under-eye area for a few minutes. Or you can have some more fun with it: Feel free to whip up a green tea toner (find a recipe here) or this soothing matcha-oat face mask:
- Whisk together 3 parts finely ground colloidal oatmeal to 1 part matcha.
- Add a few drops of water and mix until it becomes a paste.
- Optional: Add a few drops of oil to the mix (like jojoba or sweet almond oil) for even more moisture.
- Apply the mask and let it set for about 10 minutes before rinsing with lukewarm water.
- Follow with moisturizer or oil to lock in hydration.
There are so many reasons this potent sip continues to withstand the test of time. Whether you stick to a morning matcha or use green-tea-infused products, the supercharged tea is a worthy add to your skin care routine, in some form or another.