As integrative and alternative medicine became more popular, the scientific community started pushing to have more research done on many natural products to determine whether or not there was any basis to the claims that they can have skin benefits. One of the commonly used and researched botanical products is green tea (Camellia sinensis) for skin, as well as many of the active ingredients of the herb.
A shift in most of the research led to a focus on the effects of these individual purified, extracted components, and not always the whole herb or tea made from the herb.
Epigallocatechin-3-gallate: Natural Chemical with Skin Benefits
Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is likely the most well-known component and belongs to one of the groups of plant-based chemicals called catechins. EGCG has antioxidant, chemopreventive, photoprotective, and anti-inflammatory actions. Researchers looked at green tea for skin and it appears the skin benefits depend on whether the green tea is taken orally or applied topically. Oral supplementation with green tea extract and low Vitamin C over a 3-month period was not protective against ultraviolet radiation-induced sunburns. On the other hand, topical application of green tea extract appeared to have a protective effect against sunburns.
EGCG may also effectively inhibit infections like herpes labialis (cold sore outbreaks), bacteria like Pseudomonas and E. coli, and the bacteria involved in acne, Propionibacterium acnes.
One possible drawback of EGCG is that it is susceptible to breaking down in sunlight. This breakdown can be reduced by combining it with glutathione, which is an antioxidant that is found in plants, animals, and fungi.
Oral Green Tea Reaches the Skin
There is evidence that consumed green tea is absorbed and reaches the skin. After supplementation with green tea, some of the breakdown chemical byproducts of the plant, as well as catechins (plant chemicals found in green tea) that are specifically broken down by gut microbiota, can be found in the skin. Future studies may help determine methods to increase human skin penetration and distribution of EGCG or other substances within green tea.
Green Tea Components May Have Skin Benefits
Green tea is also rich in polyphenols, which have been shown to protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage and sunburn when applied topically, and other components of green tea, called terpenes, can enhance the uptake of green tea related chemicals such as the catechins.
A tea is essentially a water extraction of components within the herb. When refining the herb to obtain specific ingredients, many other forms of extraction are used. A study of Camellia sinensis water extracts found that they can inhibit the production of the pigment-producing activity of melanocytes, which may allow them to be helpful as skin lightening agents. A different type of purification called tannase-converted green tea extract may also have skin benefits due to skin lightening and antiwrinkle capabilities.
With the increased awareness of the potential skin benefits, green tea is now frequently added to skin care products in one way or another. More research will help reveal the skin benefits that the green tea may have for the skin and other parts of the body. Further research is also needed to better tell how topical application of green tea for skin care is different from oral supplementation. Scientific evaluation will help find and promote the ideal methods of using the herb.