For the biggest skin-protective and anti-acne (yes, really!) benefits, you're going to want to apply the tea topically.

Jessica Migala
January 15, 2020
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It's not enough to just drink your green tea—slathering it on your skin has become on-trend too. Chock-a-block with antioxidants, you can find the ingredient added to everything from masks to moisturizers and more.

Overall, green tea delivers a bevy of skin benefits. "I love green tea. It's the most studied of topical antioxidants," says Leslie Baumann, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist in Miami, Florida. The star plant compound of green tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate—what you've no doubt heard of by its more common name: EGCG.

Antioxidants, like those from green tea, are important for skin health: they help protect the skin from free radicals (from things like UV rays), research shows. Free radicals are nasty scourges that speed up the signs of aging, like fine lines, sagging skin and discoloration. Including a good antioxidant like green tea in your skin-care routine can help keep skin smooth, springy and even-toned. (Learn more about the best antioxidant-rich foods to eat.)

Can green tea help with acne?

Green tea can fit into an anti-acne regimen. Preliminary research in 2017 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology analyzed the skin of adult acne patients using a topical product that contained green tea and caffeine; after two weeks, there was a reduction in the bacteria that cause breakouts, and participants said their skin looked clearer. Other research shows applying green tea may reduce sebum (oil) production in skin to keep pores clear.

Green tea can reduce the inflammation that makes pimples so red and angry, says Baumann. What's more, if you find that anti-acne products (like retinoids or benzoyl peroxide) make your skin dry, red and peeling, layering with a green tea product may help soothe skin so you can tolerate these top-notch breakout banishers better, she notes. That said, green tea is more of an add-on treatment; it won't replace the current blemish-fighters in your regimen, including benzoyl peroxide, retinoids or salicylic acid.

How to choose the best green tea product and when to apply

For an ingredient to deliver on its promises, it needs to be able to get into the skin, where it can get to work. That's good news for green tea. "We know it penetrates into skin when a strong enough amount is applied," says Baumann. To know if yours has enough EGCG (without being a scientist yourself), the product should look a little brown, she says. "If it's not brown-tinted, it's probably not strong enough."

Green tea is water-soluble, says Baumann, so it's best used in a toner, serum or light moisturizer. (A light moisturizer will be thinner or runnier than a cream.) Skip heavy creams or oils, she says.

As for when to use it, you have options. You can apply topical antioxidants in the morning before sunscreen for protection from the free radicals the day has in store (pollution, UV, blue light emitted from electronic devices). Your skin repairs itself at night, so using an antioxidant-rich green tea product before bed can help correct damage. While applying green tea both in the a.m. and p.m. is ideal, Baumann says that if you're just using it once a day, make it the morning in order to "protect from the sun, which is the worst form of free radicals."

Drinking green tea for beauty benefits

A healthy diet certainly supports skin health, and that can include green tea, which research has already flagged as a cancer fighter, immune booster and heart protector. "Drinking green tea helps skin, too, by decreasing inflammation and free radicals. However, not much gets into skin," says Baumann. (Skip green tea supplements, as high doses can be potentially damaging to the liver, warned the European Food Safety Authority last year.)

That said, brewing up a cup of green tea isn't enough. For the best benefits, Baumann recommends both drinking green tea and applying green tea products to your skin. Happy sipping—and slathering.