3 reasons to add green tea to your skincare routine

You know when something tastes like crap but you force yourself to drink it anyway because it’s healthy? That was my relationship with green tea until I met Pukka. I don’t know how they do it, but they managed to get rid of that bitter herbal flavour that puts me (and a lot of you) off it.

I’m thrilled they did because green tea is an anti-aging elixir. It keeps wrinkles off your face, gives your sunscreen a boost and even tones redness down a notch or two. Now that it’s part of my afternoon tea ritual, it’s time to add it to my skincare routine as well. Here’s what makes green tea a skincare hero and why you should look for serums, moisturisers, and sunscreens that feature it too:

What Is Green Tea?

Green tea is derived from the leaves and buds of the evergreen shrub Camellia Sinesis plant (that’s how it disguises itself on the label, by the way). The same plant also gives us black tea and oolong tea, but through different processes. Green Tea is made by steaming and drying the leaves.

The antioxidants that give green tea its powerful anti-aging properties are polyphenols (also called catechins). They prevent wrinkles while soothing skin, too. The best, and most researched, polyphenol in green tea is Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). I know, it’s a mouthful! It’s said to be 200 more effective than Vitamin E!

Not all green tea extracts are created equal. There are vast differences in quality depending on climate, season, age of the leaf, and how the plant was grown. The best ones contain between 50 and 90% catechins. You can usually spot them by their brown hue and distinctive smell (although, sometimes a good formulation can make these traits).

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Green Tea Benefits: What Does It Do For Skin?

Green tea is one of my fave antioxidants. It has been studies for pretty much anything, from acne to wrinkles, to rosacea, and even skin cancer. Research shows it tackles both wrinkles and acne. Here’s how:

1. It Has Anti-Aging Properties

Green Tea is rich in polyphenols, a group of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols do double duty: they destroy the free radicals that cause sagging and premature wrinkles before they can wreak their damage and soothe the inflammation that generates them in the first place.

It works like this: pollution, unprotected sun exposure, a diet rich in processed foods, and even metabolic processes like breathing generate free radicals. These free radicals roam your body and attack collagen, elastin, cellular DNA, and all that good stuff that keeps your skin firm and elastic.

Antioxidants, like green tea, patrol your body looking for free radicals. When they spot one, they destroy it before they can initiate their destruction chain reaction. The result? Your skin has more collagen, is more elastic, and looks younger for longer.

Related: What Does Vitamin E Do For Your Skin?

2. It Reduces Sun Damage

My fave green tea superpower? This little plant can reduce sun damage. Studies show that “green tea polyphenols are photoprotective” and that applying them to your skin can help reduce inflammation and redness caused by sun exposure.

In particular, polyophenols prevent UVB-induced oxidative stress (the kind that causes wrinkles and cancer) and the depletion of your skin’s natural antioxidant force. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate goes the extra mile: it also prevents collagen breakdown.

FYI, green tea is NOT a sunscreen and should not be used as much. It only gives your sunscreen a boost, so it works better and provides enhances protection.

Related: How Do Antioxidants Work?

3. It Reduces Acne

Turns out, green tea can help give acne the boot, too. A 2009 study shows that a 2% Green Tea Lotion is an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne. After using the lotion twice a day for 6 weeks, patients reported that “the mean total lesion count decreased from 24 before the treatment to 10 after 6 weeks after treatment, a reduction of 58.33%”.

Green tea reduces acne in three ways. For starters, it reduces the production of sebum. Sebum is your skin’s natural moisturiser. Your skin needs it to stay soft and supple. But when it pumps out too much, the excess gets stuck in your pores, where it mixed with dead cells ad bacteria, causing blackheads, whiteheads, and acne. By reducing oil production, the excess can’t get stuck in your pores and give you breakouts.

What about the other two ways? Acne is an inflammatory disease. Green tea has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that reduce redness and inflammation. Less inflammation = less acne. Finally, green tea has antibacterial properties that can damage the bacterial membrane that cause acne. I wouldn’t use green tea alone for acne. But it’s definitely a good weapon in your anti-acne arsenal.

Related: Adult Acne: Why It Happens And How To Treat It

4. It Soothes Inflammation

I’ve already mentioned that polyphenols, the antioxidants in green tea, have powerful soothing properties that can reduce redness and irritation, including those caused by UV rays. Its soothing properties also reduce inflammation in skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis, helping them heal faster.

How To Use Green Tea In Your Skincare Routine

The best way to use green tea in your skincare routine depends on the product you’re using. Is it in a serum? Then, it goes after cleansing/exfoliation and before moisturiser. Is it in a sunscreen? Then it’s the last step of your morning skincare routine. Is it in a moisturiser? Then, it goes in between serum and sunscreen in the morning and at the end of your skincare routine at night.

Who Can Use It?

Green tea is an ingredient that anyone who isn’t allergic to it can safely use. It helps reduce excess sebum production and acne in oily skin, soothe irritations in sensitive skin, and fight premature aging in all skin types.

Dr. Jeanine Downie, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Image Dermatology, believes that “green tea should be included in the anti-aging skin care regimen of anybody over the age of 35 that has a decent amount of sun exposure.” 

How Often Can You Use It?

Unlike powerhouses like retinol and glycolic acid that can irritate your skin when used too often, green tea is very gentle. You can use it every day without experiencing side effects (unless your skin is super sensitive to it.

What Can You Use Green Tea With?

Green tea is an antioxidant. Like all antioxidants, it works better when used with other antioxidants. Every antioxidant kills only one or two types of free radicals (the nasty molecules that give you wrinkles and make your skin sag). The more you use in your skincare routine, the more free radicals you destroy, and the more you slow down premature aging.

According to Dr Christine Choi Kim, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles, green tea is particularly effective when used with Vitamin C: “Vitamin C helps to reduce degradation of Epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG, and in turn, EGCG can enhance the antioxidant effect of both Vitamins C and E.”

Instead, there’s nothing you can’t use it with. Green tea is compatible with pretty much any ingredients in your skincare products.

Drinking VS Applying Green Tea: Which One Works Better?

99% of the time, ingesting an ingredient (and I’m talking about things like green tea and vitamin C that occur naturally in food, not silicones and other stuff that should NEVER be ingested!) works way better than topically applying it to the skin. Why?

This idea that your skin absorbs 60% of what you put on it is BS. Your skin has a lipid, water-repellent barrier (the reason why you don’t put on weight when you shower!) that’s very good at keeping stuff out of the body. Most skincare ingredients simply stay on the surface, unless formulated in a way that enhances penetration – and even then, there’s also so deep into the skin they can reach.

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stacy Chimento Capote says it best: “There have been no studies comparing the benefits from applying in skincare vs drinking, however it does seem there is more data that drinking green tea provides more health benefits. EGCG is hydrophilic and is limited in skin penetration, so perhaps oral ingestion may provide additional benefits.”

Green Tea Side Effects: Is It Safe?

Green tea is one of those ingredients everyone can use it. It doesn’t break out skin, cause redness, or irritations. Having said that, if your skin is so super sensitive that it reacts to everything you put on it, it’s good to do a patch test before using products with green tea. There are exception to every rule after all.

Like all antioxidants, green tea loses its effectiveness (overtime) when exposed to light and air. Choose products that come in an airtight, opaque containers whenever possible. A lot of brands (especially Korean brands) like to use jars or see-through bottles, but they’ll make green tea become ineffective within weeks.

What Are The Best Products With Green Tea?

  • Benton Deep Green Tea Serum ($17.00): This serum is packed with every type of green tea you can think of (leaf water, leaf extract, seed extract, and root extract). Plus, hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate skin and Centella Asiatica to soothe irritation. Hydrating, soothing, and anti-aging, it’s suitable for all skin types. Available at Sephora, SokoGlam, Stylevana and Yes Style.
  • Boscia Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturiser ($38.00): An oil-free moisturiser to hydrate oily, acne-prone skin that hydrates skin without adding more pore-clogging oil to it. It’s also enriched with silica to absorb excess oil and green tea to prevent premature aging. Available at Ulta.
  • Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00): A dupe for Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, this Vitamin C serum brightens skin, fights free radicals, and enhances sun protectuin. Plus, it’s enriched with antioxidants, including green tea, that help prevent premature aging. The texture is a little sticky, but if you don’t mind that, this is a wonderful serum that gives you results. Available at Cult BeautySephora and SpaceNK.
  • Mad Hippie Face Cream ($26.99): One of my fave moisturisers, it has natural oils to moisturise skin, every antioxidants under the sun (including green tea) to prevent premature aging, and niacinamide to soothe skin and help reduce acne. Best suitable for dry to combination skin. Available at Ulta.
  • MD SolarSciences Mineral Creme Broad Spectrum SPF 50 UVA-UVB Sunscreen ($30.00): This mineral sunscreen has a beautiful silicone-based texture that makes it a pleasure to use. It provides gentle, broad spectrum protection, applies smoothly on the skin, and dries to a matte finish. Plus, it has green tea and other antioxidants to fight free radicals before they give you wrinkles. Available at at Dermstore and MDSolarSciences.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol ($39.00): This lightweight serum is infused with every antioxidant you can think of (including green tea) to prevent premature wrinkles. Plus, retinol to reduce the wrinkles you already have. Available at Paula’s Choice.

The Bottom Line

Green tea is one of the most powerful antiaging weapons in your arsenal. It prevents wrinkles, fights sun damage, soothes redness and irritations, and even helps reduce acne. Drink your daily dose and give your skin its fix too.