Amid all the talk about tea and its health benefits, it’s easy to overlook a modern trend among aestheticians and other skin care professionals. More salons and spas are using tea as an ingredient in their treatments. Likewise, tea in all its many varieties is beginning to turn up in all sorts of skin care products like masks, facial scrubs and others.
So, what is the medical evidence for this new phenomenon? Is it just a fad, or is there science behind the mask? We’ll take a look at the real link between healthy, glowing skin and tea. Everyone agrees that tea is a wonderful drink. What people want to know is whether tea really can help us look better. One of the huge benefits of tea over some other skin care products is that it is a natural substance, not an artificial chemical.
The science behind the claims
Green tea’s uses in skin care are well-documented, but there is no direct evidence that drinking a particular kind of tea, matcha tea for example, is better for the skin than other varieties. But, there are several skin treatments that specifically call for green tea. In those cases, matcha tea is probably the best choice because of its high levels of antioxidants.
The high levels of epigallocatechin in green tea have been shown in studies to fight against skin cancer. While not technically a salon treatment, it’s good to know that tea is an overall beneficial ingredient for human skin health. But what about on the outside of the body?
Not all teas have the cancer-fighting catechins that green tea does. Black tea has the chemical in lower doses, while white tea contains them in a different combination.
Green tea alone has four essential catechins that are thought to work wonders for skin. They are the aforementioned epigallocatechin, epicatechin, gallocatechin, and epigallocatechin gallate. For purposes of sanity, most researchers refer to them, respectively, as EGC, EC, GC, and EGCG. Catechins are a subtype of polyphenols, a chemical substance that has many other medicinal properties.
So far, there have not been any long-term studies of the effects of green and white tea catechins on human health. Most of the major science has been done in test tubes and in statistical research based on observed disease patters and tea drinking. But, there is good news about the benefits of tea as it pertains to skin health.
Internally, green and white teas can help fight skin cancer. Topically, as in salon use, green tea and its extracts appear to be able to reduce skin damage as a result of overexposure to the sun. Note that green tea does not protect the skin before the damage takes place. That’s the job of sun-block lotions! But for those days when you forget to lotion up, a green tea topical treatment could reverse some of that damage.
How does tea do this? Its catechins are able to destroy free radicals (skin’s biggest enemies in the chemical world) and cut down on inflammation. For those of us who do use sunscreen creams, tea treatments are a good form of insurance against any rays that do sneak through the lotion’s shield while we frolic at the beach or pool.
Other studies have shown that a topical ointment with green tea extract in it can alleviate rosacea, a particularly difficult skin disorder. The tea actually causes the lesions to shrink.
Tea, skin, and “the glow”
As for sagging skin and wrinkles, massive studies are currently underway to help determine whether tea’s antioxidant properties are able to reduce inflammation and micro-stretching that leads to wrinkled skin. Many products that we routinely see on the shelf in spas and massage therapy clinics boast of “anti-aging” properties and “glowing skin.” Whether these inflated claims are true is a question.
But, the hard science seems to point in the direction of backing them up, at least partially. Put another way, green tea is good for skin health when you drink it, and it has been shown to work topically to repair sun damage. That much we know. Whether it can actually reverse aging is another question for another day, but it wouldn’t be a huge leap of logic if that hypothesis turned out to be correct.
The many uses of tea in skin care
There are so many “green tea cream” products on the market; no one is in agreement as to which is the best. Choose your favorite and combine it with a zinc-oxide sunscreen for a double dose of skin protection in the sun. Try to use zinc oxide sunscreen rather than others when combining with green tea creams. That’s because zinc oxide is non-reactive to other substances. Many commercial sunscreens contain chemicals that might react negatively with green tea cream.
Some of the high-end day spas and salons in Scottsdale, Arizona (the sun capital of the U.S.), offer a special skin regimen for summer golfers who show up late in the afternoon with burned skin. After a soothing aloe massage, therapists apply green-tea ice cubes to the entire body via a vigorous rub down. If you want to do this yourself and save a significant amount of money, be sure to let your green tea ice cubes melt for a few seconds after pulling them from the freezer. Otherwise they’ll stick to the skin and cause all sorts of problems, like skin burns.
Another “homemade” salon treatment is to purchase a bottle of green tea extract capsules, break them open and use the powder to make your own skin cream. Go easy on the dosage at first in order to properly calibrate the amount that works best for you.
If you visit a salon regularly, ask one of the professionals about other ways to use green tea extract in between visits. The capsules don’t cost very much, and the ice cubes are simple to make. So, as Arctic explorers use to say, “Go forth.”
Tea, especially green tea, is good for the skin. Drinking it helps us fight skin cancer. In topical applications it is able to reduce inflammation and other sun damage. The next time you plan on spending the weekend outdoors, remember these important facts.