It’s a classic claim, a detox or tea cleanse, or other marketing terms of how tea can help the health of your skin. But what does the science actually say about tea and skin health? We dive into to the journals and extract the bits you want to know so you don’t have to! In this article we will cover:
- An explanation of the skin and its role
- A broad intro to tea’s impact on the skin
- What do tea antioxidants do for skin health?
- Deep dive: black, green and purple tea & their impact on skincare
- Deep dive: what do rooibos and chamomile herbal teas do to your skin?
When exploring the idea of tea and skin, there are a few avenues we must go down but first:
The basics, what is the purpose of the skin?
It’s a major part of our immune system, a physical barrier which prevents the invasion of pathogens (Nguyen & Soulika, 2019; Lee, et al., 2014). It’s also a very large organ that participates as a backup elimination avenue to help rid the body of toxins (Issels, 2001).
Puberty and hormone changes aside, we know that acne which occurs at other times is an indication that the skin is having to take on the work that the other eliminatory organs are unable to keep up with. Yes, skin is an excretory organ! (NIH, 2022) Think of a work department getting flooded with another department’s excess because they couldn’t handle the load - your skin can take on this role.
How can tea help the skin?
Tea can support general skin health through the antioxidant content and through improving elimination.
For a refresher on what “antioxidants” are and how they are essential to the body, in preventing damage, see: What Are Antioxidants and How Do They Work? (Antiox Part 1)
Herbal actions include (Livertox, 2017; Mathrick, 2019; Anderson, 1981):
- Increasing uric acid elimination (a waste product found in the blood, whose name lends itself to urine as it leaves the body)
- Increased bile production. Bile helps emulsify lipids (fats, oils) in the gut for easier digestion
- Chelation and binding toxins as they usher them out of the body. Buzzword alert! Chelating agents are molecules which stick to heavy metals in a process to reduce harmful quantities of heavy metals in the blood and tissue. Chelation therapy is the name for the specific treatment when doctors are actively trying to remove heavy metals from the body.
- Inhibition or induction of certain metabolic, enzyme pathways (which are responsible for metabolizing substances and can result in toxic metabolites). Metabolites simply being the name for the products of metabolism.
Your skin will thank you! This fine tea has a clear seaweed nose, producing a round, floral, salty, and grassy liquor
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Summer may not last year round, but this raspberry rooibos will keep the memories alive until next year! Without the sun burn :-P
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Balancing on a teapot - how can tea can help improve skin wellness?
What does skin inflammation, skin detox, acne, and other abnormal skin reactions all have in common? An imbalanced internal environment (Schagen, et al., 2012). So how can tea help?
First, let me be clear. No herb or tea can compete with lifestyle. One cannot expect to reap fantastic results and magnificently healthy, clear, glowing skin if they are feeding their body unhealthy content. However, to some extent teas can support and even buffer some of the effects of poor lifestyle. Just know that cleaning up what you are putting into your body will make the effect of tea even more evident.
Generally in my experience, should there be a client with skin issues, I would personally scrutinize diet first, followed by environmental chemical exposure (ranging from dangerous chemicals to seemingly innocuous products like topical creams, soaps, and laundry detergents/softeners). That’s the basic approach, before I would consider seeking any treatment.
The role of antioxidants in tea to improving skin health
It is generally understood that the ingestion of certain dietary elements (micronutrients and antioxidants) contribute to skin health, but this is a tea science blog so we need to look at the research.
For example, polyphenols, found abundantly in teas, are especially beneficial:
“Laboratory studies of different polyphenols such as, green tea polyphenols, grape seed proanthocyanidins, resveratrol, silymarin and genistein, conducted in animal models on UV-induced skin inflammation, oxidative stress and DNA damage, suggested that these polyphenols, combined with sunscreen protection, have the ability to protect the skin from the adverse effects of UV radiation, including the risk of skin cancers.” (Schagen, et al., 2012).
“True Tea” Camellia sinensis: Green, White, Black and Purple Teas for Healthy Skin
Collagen cross-linking is a phenomenon that occurs in aging; it results in stiffened tissues, brittleness, cataracts, atherosclerosis, wrinkles, and other age-associated changes in skin. Green tea extract, combined with vitamins C and E, was observed to prevent this cross-linking and markers of collagen aging in a mouse study (Rutter, et al., 2003).
Polyphenols and flavonoids are antioxidants present in tea known for their anti-aging effects. In one study, topical application of water extracts of green, black, and white teas all improved the skin conditions of hairless mice with UVB-induced photoaging and wrinkle formation was greatly inhibited. Interestingly, the black and white tea extracts were more effective at preventing wrinkles than green tea (Lee, et al, 2014).
Tea polyphenols are anti-inflammatory and improve skin-microcirculation. They also prevent the oxidation of vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis making them relevant to cosmetic use in skin products. The authors state that oxidative stress is one of the main determinants in skin aging, which adds to the significance of teas (both oral and external applications) in skin health (Koch, et al., 2019). Taking the anti-cross-linking of collagen into account in addition to the indirect action on collagen synthesis, there is evidence that green tea does affect collagen and is a good tea for skin elasticity.
UV damage via radiation and the production of free-radicals is mediated by tea. Ultraviolet radiation is absorbed by tea leaf extract, which helps prevent some of the damage from UV rays. Tea extracts and EGCG are used in sunscreen products because of the anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and collagenase inhibition actions (Koch, et al., 2019).
Tea alkaloids (including caffeine) stimulate circulation and oxygenation in skin cells and accelerate fat burning. Additionally, catechins are valued for their anti-cellulite properties, thus both are added to skin care to support skin firming, slimming, and anti-cellulite benefits (Koch, et al., 2019). In one study, a gel containing EGCG improved skin appearance and texture in 45% of participants (Sayed, et al., 2004; as cited in Koch, et al., 2019). In other words, they found green tea can tighten skin.
Another study discovered that ECGC reactivated dying skin cells! Researchers suggest this has implications for wrinkles, wounds, scarring, psoriasis, and rosacea (Medical College of Georgia, 2003). With such a bold statement, on the face of it, I guess there should be some more research into this for further confirmation!
In a study with mice, green tea extract was applied topically to skin prior to a tumor-promoting agent. The application completely inhibited the formation of skin tumors, lending weight to the anti-tumor and chemo-protective properties of green tea (Marnewick, et al., 2005).
Tea for skin acne, applied directly: Green Tea Extract applied topically reduced the number of inflammatory acne lesions, but had little effect on non-inflammatory lesions in a 2020 study. Interestingly, oral administration had little effect on acne (Kim et al., 2020).
Currently, there are no studies we could find *comparing* oral and topical effects of tea on overall skin health.
Herbal Teas & Skin Wellness
A close-up of our Creamy Pumpkin Spice Rooibos
Rooibos Tea for Skin Health
Antioxidants in Rooibos, particularly aspalathin, nothofagin, and linearthin protected skin from type b UV radiation damage. It prevents skin thinning, oxidative stress, and improved cell viability and metabolic activity (Akinfenwa, et al., 2021).
In an in vitro study, constituents and crude plant extracts were analyzed for their ability to enhance melanin production (as the mechanism of action for UV protection). Rooibos did successfully increase melanin production and also demonstrated an anti-proliferative effect (a fancy way of saying that the extract and its active constituents can prevent the growth and spread of malignant cells) (Blom van Staden, et al., 2021)!
Another study observed chemoprotective effects in skin from the antioxidants in Rooibos, Green Tea, and Honeybush (Magcwebeba, et al, 2021).
The study by Marnewick, et al., (2005) also examined rooibos (red and green), and applications of red rooibos inhibited skin tumor formation by 75% and green rooibos by 60%!
A close-up of our 'The Purist' Organic Chamomile
What Chamomile Tea Does to Your Skin
Traditionally, Chamomile has been treasured as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent for skin and mucosal tissues. Traditional use calls for it in cases of inflamed skin and mucous membranes, bacterial infections of the skin, mouth, gums, and eyes, to name a few (Srivastava, et al., 2010). The German Commission E (one of the leading advisory boards for drugs and medicinals) approved chamomile in the use of mucocutaneous diseases and therapies for wounds and burns (Stallings & Lupo, 2009).
The volatile oils in the flowers have anti-inflammatory properties and the oils can penetrate the skin effectively. In studies comparing a cream prepared from chamomile to different concentrates of hydrocortisone in eczema conditions, the chamomile was 60% as effective as a 0.25% concentration of hydrocortisone, and the chamomile cream product Kamillosan slightly more superior to a 0.5% hydrocortisone application and was marginally different from placebo (Srivastava, et al., 2010).
One study reviewed the effectiveness of chamomile wound healing (colostomy stomal lesions), the chamomile induced faster healing compared to hydrocortisone. A literature review concluded that the anti-inflammatory properties of chamomile are comparable to steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (currently on the market) (Ferreira, et al., 2015).
Time to Learn More About Antioxidants in Tea
By now you may have seen a common thread - antioxidants! This is a big reason why we have an entire 10+ part series on the subject. Digesting the research and making it readable and interesting to see how you can lead a healthier tea-filled life. Our tea series includes such poplar articles like:
A Note From The Herbalist...
While the research is not vast, with most of it focusing on green tea extracts, what does exist is promising! One thing to keep in mind is that antioxidant levels can vary by plant and crop, harvest season and locality. This can possibly vary the amount of active constituents in skin products, though it is generally accepted that 5% Green Tea is an effective concentration (Stallings & Lupo, 2009).
I have personally used chamomile as a go-to for various skin care reasons, particularly for healing, as a facial rinse, and even for conjunctivitis (proper preparation required). It is soothing and cooling, and very helpful as a cool application to reddened, irritated skin. The brewed herb can be applied as a drawing poultice for insect bites and other minor infections.
Read more about Chamomile in our spot light here: Why Is Chamomile Calming? So Much More Than a Sleep Tea (Part 1)
While topical applications are excellent for skin, I’m personally a fan of feeding the skin through diet as well, and plenty of antioxidant teas are a great place to start!
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on our IG @MatchaAlternatives
About the Author
Stephany Morgan (MSc Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is a herbalist, professor, and healthcare professional. After earning her BS in Psychology and Pre-Nursing from Rochester College with a minor in General Science she began her formal pursuit of natural medicine.
Stephany went on to earn her MSc in Complementary Alternative Medicine at the American College for Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), where she focused her studies on Herbal Medicine and Nutrition. Most recently, she completed her Graduate Certification in Nutrition from ACHS in 2020. She is currently a professor at White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC) in Minnesota as part of a pilot project with Lead for America.
This fine tea has a clear seaweed nose, producing a round, floral, salty, and grassy liquor
From $6 for 1oz w/ free US shipping
Summer may not last year round, but this raspberry rooibos will keep the memories alive until next year!
From $8 for 1oz w/ free US shipping
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All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.
Tea & Skincare References & Further Reading
Andersen M. E. (1981). Saturable metabolism and its relationship to toxicity. Critical reviews in toxicology, 9(2), 105–150. https://doi.org/10.3109/10408448109059563
Marthrick, S. (2019) https://www.wellbeing.com.au/body/health/20-powerful-herbs-full-body-detox.html
LiverTox, 2017: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012-. Chelating Agents. [Updated 2017 Jan 23]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548531/
Rutter, K., Sell, D. R., Fraser, N., Obrenovich, M., Zito, M., Starke-Reed, P., & Monnier, V. M. (2003). Green tea extract suppresses the age-related increase in collagen crosslinking and fluorescent products in C57BL/6 mice. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal international de vitaminologie et de nutrition, 73(6), 453–460. https://doi.org/10.1024/0300-98220.127.116.113
Lee, K. O., Kim, S. N., & Kim, Y. C. (2014). Anti-wrinkle Effects of Water Extracts of Teas in Hairless Mouse. Toxicological research, 30(4), 283–289. https://doi.org/10.5487/TR.2014.30.4.283
Koch, W., Zagórska, J., Marzec, Z., & Kukula-Koch, W. (2019). Applications of Tea (Camellia sinensis) and its Active Constituents in Cosmetics. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(23), 4277. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24234277
Medical College Of Georgia. (2003, April 25). Green Tea Linked To Skin Cell Rejuvenation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/04/030425071800.htm
Issels, I. M. (2001) Issels Immuno-oncology International Immunotherapy Centers. https://issels.com/publication-library/information-on-detoxification/
NIH, 2022. National Cancer Institute, Introduction to the Urinary System https://training.seer.cancer.gov/anatomy/urinary/ Accessed 13th February 2022
Nguyen, A. V., & Soulika, A. M. (2019). The Dynamics of the Skin's Immune System. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(8), 1811. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20081811
Kim, S., Park, T. H., Kim, W. I., Park, S., Kim, J. H., & Cho, M. K. (2020). The effects of green tea on acne vulgaris: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized clinical trials. Phytotherapy Research, 35(1), 374–383. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6809
Akinfenwa, A. O., Abdul, N. S., Marnewick, J. L., & Hussein, A. A. (2021). Protective Effects of Linearthin and Other Chalcone Derivatives from Aspalathus linearis (Rooibos) against UVB Induced Oxidative Stress and Toxicity in Human Skin Cells. Plants (Basel, Switzerland), 10(9), 1936. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants10091936
Magcwebeba, T. U., Riedel, S., Swanevelder, S., Swart, P., De Beer, D., Joubert, E., & Andreas Gelderblom, W. C. (2016). The potential role of polyphenols in the modulation of skin cell viability by Aspalathus linearis and Cyclopia spp. herbal tea extracts in vitro. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 68(11), 1440–1453. https://doi.org/10.1111/jphp.12629
Marnewick, J., Joubert, E., Joseph, S., Swanevelder, S., Swart, P., & Gelderblom, W. (2005). Inhibition of tumour promotion in mouse skin by extracts of rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia), unique South African herbal teas. Cancer letters, 224(2), 193–202. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.canlet.2004.11.014
Blom van Staden, A., Oosthuizen, C.B. & Lall, N. (2021)The effect of Aspalathus linearis(Burm.f.) R.Dahlgren and its compounds on tyrosinase and melanogenesis. Sci Rep, 11(7020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-86410-z
Schagen, S. K., Zampeli, V. A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 298–307. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.22876
Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular medicine reports, 3(6), 895–901. https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377
Stallings, A. F., & Lupo, M. P. (2009). Practical uses of botanicals in skin care. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 2(1), 36–40. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958188/
Ferreira, Elaine & Vasques, Christiane & Jesus, Cristine & Reis, Paula. (2015). Topical effects of Chamomilla Recutita in skin damage: A literature review. Pharmacologyonline. 3. 123. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289263589_Topical_effects_of_Chamomilla_Recutita_in_skin_damage_A_literature_review