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You might start your mornings with a warm cup of green tea or rely on a midday matcha for a quick pick-me-up, but if you're not already applying the natural ingredient topically, it's time you make some changes to your skin routine. Known for its anti-aging, soothing, and antioxidant properties, it's no wonder green tea is popping up in more and more beauty products. To find out exactly how it works, who should use it, and ways to incorporate it into your regimen, we turned to board-certified dermatologists Christine Choi Kim, MD, and Michele Green, MD. Below, the experts explain everything you need to know about green tea and why your skin will love it as much as your taste buds do.
Type of ingredient: Antioxidant.
Main benefits: Soothes and protects the skin, reduces sebum, and minimizes signs of aging.
Who should use it: In general, green tea is suitable for almost all skin types unless you have a known hypersensitivity to it, according to Kim.
How often can you use it: Green says not only is it safe to consume green tea daily, but it's also safe to use it in your daily skincare routine.
Works well with: According to Kim, green tea is best used in combination with other antioxidants because they work synergistically. "Vitamin C helps to reduce degradation of EGCG, and in turn, EGCG can enhance the antioxidant effect of both Vitamins C and E," Kim explains. "There may also be enhanced skin penetration when EGCG is added to hyaluronic acid because of the latter’s strongly hydrating properties."
Don't use with: According to Kim, there are no products you must avoid when using green tea topically.
What Is Green Tea?
Green tea is a botanical derived from the leaves and buds of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. Kim explains that the active components of green tea are polyphenols (also called catechins) that are believed to benefit the skin due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the best-studied catechin and is used both orally and topically for its many potential health benefits. Green tea also contains caffeine and tannins, which work by shrinking blood vessels and decreasing puffiness, according to Green.
A bit of an overachiever, green tea is both protective and corrective and available in a wide range of formulations, such as cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and masks. Green says the catechins are found in the highest concentrations in fresh leaves, while Kim points out that there is a lack of standardization regarding minimal concentrations of the active polyphenol content of skincare formulations.
Kim says, as with many topical antioxidants, green tea is challenging to formulate because it is highly unstable and is easily oxidized when exposed to ambient light, and EGCG is unstable at higher temperatures and at basic pH values. Green stresses the importance of how green tea is sourced and stored (a cool, dry place is best) to maintain the maximum efficacy of the phytochemicals, which are the powerhouse of the product.
Benefits of Green Tea for Skin
"Due to its multifaceted nature, green tea has been studied as a treatment for a variety of dermatological conditions, such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, viral warts, and even skin cancer," Kim explains. Below are the main ways green tea can improve the skin.
- Protects the skin: As an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals caused by environmental stressors like UV radiation and pollution, Kim says it's a logical choice to add to any anti-aging skincare regimen to protect the skin. Green adds that EGCG has the ability to fight off DNA damage in skin cells by promoting DNA repair.
- Minimizes signs of aging: Kim says it can reduce the signs of sun damage, such as hyperpigmentation, rough texture, and fine lines.
- Reduces excess sebum: Its ability to reduce sebum coupled with its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties makes the ingredient suitable for patients suffering from acne and those with oily complexions, according to Kim.
- Soothes the skin: Green says that green tea can reduce inflammation in skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff.
Side Effects of Green Tea
According to Kim, green tea has no known side effects, provided you do not have an allergy to it. "It is truly suitable for most all skin types unless you have a known hypersensitivity to green tea," Kim explains. "Some people who have very dry or compromised skin may need to proceed with caution."
How to Use It
The best way to use green tea as a part of your daily routine depends on the product at hand. Overall, Kim says the best skincare regimens cleanse, protect, correct, and hydrate, and she stresses the importance of using a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher every morning after your antioxidant and moisturizer. She also recommends using green tea combined with other antioxidants, which work together synergistically.
Applying vs Drinking Green Tea
According to Kim, a direct study comparing the topical vs. oral green tea benefits for the skin, specifically, has not been performed, but she does point out that the hydrophilic (water-loving) nature of EGCG limits its penetration in human skin.
Green says green tea is safe to use in your skincare products and consume daily. However, Green says there are several ingredients that should be avoided when consuming green tea internally, such as quinolone antibiotics, some birth control pills, anticoagulants, some antidepressants, phenylpropanolamine, amphetamines, and any medication which can cause liver damage. Consult your doctor to discuss any potential concerns.
The Best Products With Green Tea
In case you had any doubt that this foaming cleanser for oily, acne-prone skin was packed with green tea, this K-beauty favorite (and a favorite of Kim's) has actual fermented green tea leaves floating at the base of the bottle.
This mask, which comes highly recommended by both Kim and Green, contains a one-two punch of matcha (a specially harvested green tea variety with an ultra-concentration of antioxidants) and bakuchiol (a plant-based retinol). "The combination of these two ingredients provides the skin with the antioxidant benefits of green tea and the anti-aging benefits of retinol for maximum skin protection," Green explains.
Green recommends this cream for its combination of matcha green tea and niacinamide to protect the skin from oxidative stress.
Since your scalp deserves skin treatments, too, Kim recommends this shampoo scrub. Not just another purifying shampoo, Kim calls this formula a "hair cleansing experience"—you can thank the Japanese green tea, honey, and salt crystals for that.
Kim also recommends this hydrogel eye mask that's chockfull of skin-loving ingredients, like matcha green tea, aloe, green coffee, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid. Did we mention it's also certified organic?
"This skincare line is composed of 90% polyphenol isolates," Kim explains. She adds that the body lotion is non-comedogenic and can be used everywhere–even on the face–which is key because you'll definitely want to take full advantage of its anti-aging benefits.
This cleanser relies on a powerful combination of green and white teas, aloe vera, and green tea seed oil to remove impurities without drying out the skin. It's no wonder it won a Byrdie Eco Beauty Award.
Chacko SM, Thambi PT, Kuttan R, Nishigaki I. Beneficial effects of green tea: a literature review. Chin Med. 2010;5:13. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-5-13