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Drinking green tea is said to be the secret to a long and healthy life due to its inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, but is the same true for topical application of Green Tea Extract in your skincare products?
And why is it usually Green Tea you find in your skincare, not black or herbal? What is it supposed to do for your skin, is there data on its topical use and can it be used for acne prone or sensitive skin?
Let’s find out!
What is Green Tea Extract?
Both green and black tea come from the same plant, Camelia sinensis. They do differ in the way the leaves of the plant are processed after harvesting though: In Black Tea an oxidation process is triggered, intensifying the flavor and darkening the leaves, leading to the characteristic dark brown color. In Green Tea however, no oxidation is triggered, leaving it both lighter in color – hence the “green” – and with a different set of antioxidants, especially the polyphenol Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG) that we will come back to later.
Green Tea Extract in skincare is basically an extraction of the beneficial ingredients, often as alcoholic extraction, allowing the antioxidants and Vitamins present in the beverage to be used in your products for topical application. (More info: Is alcohol in skincare bad for you?)
What can Green Tea Extract do for the skin?
To understand what Green Tea Extract (or Camellia Sinensis leaf extract) can potentially do for your skin, we need to look at what it contains, which is:
The Vitamins B2 and E, Caffeine, and so called polyphenols that have both antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties.
The most interesting polyphenol in Green Tea Extract is Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG) that seems to be a strong antioxidant and can not be found in black tea.
Due to these components, Green Tea Extract in skincare is said to help reduce UV damage through its antioxidant effect, reduce inflammation and sebum production in acneic people and help reverse photoaging on the skin. (More info: What is hyperpigmentation and how can you treat it?)
Is there data on the use of Green Tea Extract in skincare?
While we do have some studies on the benefits of oral consumption of Green Tea – and hundreds of years of experience with it in Asian countries – there isn’t much data on the actual benefits with topical application.
As always, we will differentiate between studies done on animals or skin models and those done on actual human beings:
In animal studies, more precisely in studies done on hairless mice, the application of an emulsion containing Green Tea polyphenols could reduce the damage done through UV radiation, but also, very important, could show that a special formulation is needed to preserve these beneficial effects in topicals as, which is often the case with antioxidants, the polyphenols aren’t very stable and can oxidize easily in the wrong environment, rendering them useless.
This protective effect could be replicated in humans as well, where application of Green Tea Extract or the different polyphenols separately did protect against redness and histological changes induced by UV radiation. Comparing the individual polyphenols, Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) and Epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG) polyphenolic fractions were most efficient at inhibiting erythema, whereas Epigallocatechin (EGC) and Epicatechin (EC) had little effect, so basically not all polyphenols have the same beneficial effect.
Another study done on humans looked at the potential to reverse photodamage rather than just prevent it and had 40 women take a Green Tea Extract supplement as well as a Green Tea Extract containing lotion and compared the changes in their skin to those of women taking a placebo supplement and a placebo lotion. While it is impossible to determine if the effect was from the oral ingestion or the topical application or the combination of both, they could demonstrate that histologically, skin elasticity and melanin distribution improved, but sadly without visible improvement for the women participating. Basically the skin got better, but not so much better that it could be seen with the bare eye – due to the short observation period of only 30 days though that might have changed over time.
In healthy male volunteers application of a 3% Green Tea Extract emulsion could reduce the amount of sebum produced, which might be beneficial for people suffering from acne, especially as oral supplementation might reduce the amount of inflammatory lesions in people suffering from post-adolescent acne – notice the might, for all the above is true that the studies includes a small number of participants and while showing promising results, usually came to the conclusion that more research is needed to see if these results can be replicated.
There is certainly more convincing data on drinking Green Tea than on applying it through your face products. (More info: The best foods and supplements for healthy skin)
How much Green Tea Extract should skincare products contain?
One of the questions I can’t satisfyingly answer is the question how much Green Tea Extract should be in your skincare for optimal performance, and that has several reasons:
The first one is that as noted above, not all polyphenols will show the same effect, so you would prefer to have as much of EGCG and ECG as possible.
But as, this is the second reason, Green Tea is a natural product, the polyphenol content will vary, as it is influenced by the soil it grew on, the light it became, the amount of water it had, you name it.
It also depends, third reason, on the extraction method and, last but definitely not least, on the way it is formulated into the product – if the polyphenols aren’t stabilized correctly, they will be gone before the lotion reaches your shelf.
While studies have been done with concentrations between 3% and 10%, that will tell you nothing about the polyphenol content and most manufacturers don’t disclose that percentage anyway.
So between 3% to 10% is a good rule of thumb, but in all honesty won’t really tell you if a product has the ability to give you results or not.
Which skin type is Green Tea Extract best for? Is Green Tea Extract good for acne?
Based on what we know Green Tea Extract is beneficial for everyone due to its antioxidant abilities and might be especially helpful for those with photodamaged skin and/ or acne. It is not comedogenic, so – of course depending on the formulation – should be safe for acneic skin and might help reduce the inflammation and the amount of sebum produced, so if you suffer from acne, it might be worth trying it to support your regular acne medication.
All skin types that can have caffeine will also benefit from drinking green tea, maybe even more than from applying it topically.
Are there side effects to using Green Tea Extract?/ How often can you use products with Green Tea Extract?
Aside from potential allergies, Green Tea Extract doesn’t have reported side effects, so it should be safe to use topically.
There is also no limit to how many times a day you can use it, if you want to, you can have products containing Green Tea Extract in every step of your routine.
Products with Green Tea Extract
I don’t seek out Green Tea Extract in my products specifically, but I have a few that I tried and liked. First is a cleanser by Beauty of Joseon, their Plum Refreshing Cleanser (100 ml for 13 $, full review here), that is aimed at more oily skin and might help reduce sebum production. Similar, but a little more stripping, is the Youth to the people Superfood Cleanser (237 ml for 36 $, full review here).
The fresh Tea Line has Black Tea and fermented tea, not Green Tea, even though it says Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract on the label – remember that it is the same plant, just a different way of processing the leaves that determines if it is green or black tea in the end. (More info: fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence Review and fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Eye Concentrate Review)
Innisfree also has a range of products with the focus on Green Tea, for example the innisfree Green Tea Hyaluronic Acid Serum (80 ml for 30 $) and their innisfree Green Tea Hyaluronic Acid Cream (50 ml for 29 $) that I have here, but not yet opened – I will report back in a few weeks.
If you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments below.
Drinking Green Tea has multiple benefits due to its antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties, but while studies have shown promising results in reducing the damaging effects of UV radiation, reversing photoaging and reducing sebum production, the data on topical application isn’t quite as good yet. One of the many reasons for that is that it is individual parts of the Green Tea Extract, mainly the polyphenols and out of them mostly the EGCG, that are responsible for these beneficial effects and that it is almost impossible to say how much of them are n your skincare, as their concentration in Green Tea Extract might vary wildly. They are also hard to keep stable, just like other antioxidants are.
So while Green Tea Extract is surely an interesting ingredient in skincare for those with acneic or photodamaged skin, drinking Green Tea is what I will rely on for now.
Chiu, A. E., Chan, J. L., Kern, D. G., Kohler, S., Rehmus, W. E., & Kimball, A. B. (2005). Double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of green tea extracts in the clinical and histologic appearance of photoaging skin. Dermatologic Surgery : Official Publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery [et Al.], 31(7 Pt 2). https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1524-4725.2005.31731
Elmets, C. A., Singh, D., Tubesing, K., Matsui, M., Katiyar, S., & Mukhtar, H. (2001). Cutaneous photoprotection from ultraviolet injury by green tea polyphenols. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 44(3), 425–432. https://doi.org/10.1067/MJD.2001.112919
Li, H., Jiang, N., Liu, Q., Gao, A., Zhou, X., Liang, B., Li, R., Li, Z., & Zhu, H. (2016). Topical treatment of green tea polyphenols emulsified in carboxymethyl cellulose protects against acute ultraviolet light B-induced photodamage in hairless mice. Cite This: Photochem. Photobiol. Sci, 15, 1264. https://doi.org/10.1039/c6pp00073h
Lu, P. H., & Hsu, C. H. (2016). Does supplementation with green tea extract improve acne in post-adolescent women? A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 25, 159–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.CTIM.2016.03.004
Mahmood, T., Akhtar, N., Khan, B. A., Khan, H. M. S., & Saeed, T. (2010). Outcomes of 3% green tea emulsion on skin sebum production in male volunteers. Bosnian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, 10(3), 260–264. https://doi.org/10.17305/BJBMS.2010.2697
Saric, S., & Sivamani, R. K. (2016). Polyphenols and sunburn. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 17(9). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms17091521
Wisuitiprot, W., Ingkaninan, K., Jones, S., & Waranuch, N. (2022). Effect of green tea extract loaded chitosan microparticles on facial skin: A split-face, double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 21(9), 4001–4008. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.14707
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