Green tea seems to be the natural superhero of the 21st century?fighting everything from cancer and strokes to high cholesterol levels, according to the Journal of Nutrition Reviews, and cavities, according to the Archives of Pharmacological Research. It turns out that green tea is as good for your outside as it is inside. Recent research has shown that topically applied green tea can benefit skin in myriad ways—no wonder the plant has been seen on more and more ingredient lists in your personal care aisle
One word describes the main advantage green tea can provide for skin: anti-aging. Using green tea externally can have a youthful effect on the skin for two reasons, says Lisa Frost, licensed esthetician at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in Boulder, Colo. ?One is that since green tea is a powerful antioxidant, it protects against free radical damage to the skin. Free radicals cause oxidative damage, which promotes aging,? she says. ?Secondly, green tea increases the effectiveness of sunscreen. It protects against photo-aging and photo-damage caused by ultraviolet rays, and also brings down inflammation caused by sun damage. Inflammation causes aging of the body systemically because it results from exposure to UV radiation, which in turn creates free radicals and oxidative damage, which decreases immune function and ages the skin.? In fact, studies performed at The Skin Study Center at the University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University have found that topically applied green tea decreases the direct effects of sunburn.
Karyn Trumbach, a product-knowledge marketing specialist for Aubrey Organics, a personal care company based in Tampa, Fla., agrees that green tea can have an anti-aging effect on skin. ?After regular use of green tea skin care products for approximately two months, elasticity of the skin increases. This helps skin appear firmer and less wrinkled,? she says. Aubrey has seen a sales increase of 14 percent on all of its green tea products since last year. Specifically, the company?s green tea moisturizer sales have increased by 28 percent.
Dr. Stephen Hsu, an associate professor and molecular/cell biologist at the Medical College of Georgia, provides scientific insight into why green tea seems to be such a powerful anti-aging ingredient. Dr. Hsu?s recent research confirms that compounds in green tea called polyphenols are able to fight free radicals and also stimulate the proliferation of skin cells. ?A normal skin cell cycle is 30 days. With green tea use, this process is accelerated and the skin cells migrate faster; more new cells are generated,? Hsu says. ?Further tests showed that young skin cells can speed up their growth with the help of green tea, while older cells become more active in DNA synthesis.? Hence, green tea can be used not only as a preventive treatment but also to reverse the signs of aging because it positively affects both young and old skin cells. Hsu?s studies have been published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
Hsu has found evidence indicating that green tea can alleviate skin problems more pressing than the occasional wrinkle. ?Green tea polyphenols can help with skin disorders, like rosacea, psoriasis and warts. With these conditions the skin barrier has been interrupted, and so the results are very good because it?s that much easier for the polyphenols to penetrate the skin,? he says. Kate Russo, educational trainer at Jurlique, an Atlanta-based natural skin care company that uses organically and biodynamically grown herbs in all of its products, adds that green tea also is helpful in fighting acne. ?Green tea is good for treating acne because it?s an excellent antibacterial, as well as anti-inflammatory agent,? she says.
One question in most shoppers? minds, however, is: Can the same skin care benefits seen from applying green tea products topically be achieved from drinking green tea? The answer is no, according to Hsu. ?The amount of green tea getting to the bloodstream from drinking is very low. By the time it gets to skin cells it?s even lower,? he says. Trumbach agrees: ?The beneficial effects of green tea on the skin are much higher when applied topically. Changes in the skin occur more rapidly due to the higher concentration of actives on the skin.?
Another point to keep in mind when stocking green tea personal care products is how much tea was used when making the merchandise. Frost, for instance, warns that green tea will only be effective if it is listed high up on the ingredient list and if the product doesn?t contain other contaminants that would counteract the tea?s positive effects. ?If green tea is listed second to last on the ingredient list, there?s not a lot of green tea in that product. There?s a certain point in most skin care lines where amounts of ingredients become so nominal that they?re mostly just for show?we call it ?window dressing.? Also, if toxins like parabens or propylene glycol are in the product, it defeats the purpose of the healthy ingredients,? Frost says.
Hsu believes that the limitations of green tea go even further: ?Green tea polyphenols are water soluble, and our skin is a very effective waterproof barrier—liquid-soluble molecules can?t get in. The product will stay on top of skin and will not penetrate to the deeper layers. The problem is: How can you bring green tea polyphenols to the deeper layers of skin??
Could green tea have met its match in the epidermis? Actually, the solution to this seemingly complicated problem is quite simple, says Russo. ?Since green tea can?t get into the skin on its own, you have to provide it with a carrier,? she says. Carriers are agents easily absorbed by the skin to which green tea molecules can adhere. Once the molecules are connected to the carrier, they can be brought into the deeper layers of the skin. ?There are three types of carriers: herbal extracts, alcohols and essential oils,? Russo says. ?Jurlique uses herbal extracts because they are the heart of the herb—the most important part.?
Though green tea may not be invincible, it?s unstoppable when paired with the right ingredients, and its powers will make your shoppers healthy inside and out. ?Consumption of green tea has jumped by 900 percent in the past three years, so many people are aware of its benefits,? Hsu says. ?You can expect similar results in green tea skin care products.?
Christine Spehar is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 7/p. 34, 36