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How Good is Green Tea at Treating Acne According to Studies

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We’ve been talking a lot about green tea lately, and this is because we’ve finally got to know what this ancient beverage hides under its irresistible taste. Not only does green tea taste delicious and have countless benefits for your general health — ranging from body detoxification to weight loss — but it helps in skincare too!

It’s no surprise that more and more people turn to green tea, as it really does have something to give to everyone, no matter the skin type. When it comes to skincare, moisturizing, reducing wrinkles, and fading dark spots are just a few of the reasons people add green tea to their beauty routines. But later research brought to light even more benefits of green tea that could actually serve in skincare, and most of them are backed up by scientific evidence. As you’d hope, one of these benefits, and probably the most controversial one, is the treatment of acne with green tea. For people who seek a natural way to tackle breakouts, green tea could be their winning card! 

Next, I’ll explain how green tea treats acne and the best way to use it to gain actual results. 

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Green tea for acne

So is clearing breakouts with green tea actually possible? Yes, it is, and science proves it. Green tea is considered an effective natural treatment for acne today, especially when it’s used topically, and its benefits have been confirmed multiple times in clinical studies. 

But what makes green tea a skincare powerhouse are its polyphenols which have long been in the spotlight of researchers around the world thanks to their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to these, green tea polyphenols have been shown to treat acne and reduce sebum production by having antimicrobial and anti-androgenic activities against P. acne bacteria.[1] Here’s what researchers have to say about the effects of green tea on acne. 

How does green tea help with acne

Excessive sebum production — which mainly depends on androgenic hormones — inflammations, bacteria, and clogged pores are usually the causes that lead to acne. And there’s evidence to suggest that green tea compounds, especially EGCG, the most abundant catechin, target all these causes. In fact, most data regarding the benefits of green tea on acne is credited to epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Let’s see what evidence exists about the anti-acne mechanisms of green tea. 

Green tea has antioxidant properties

Free radicals are toxic molecules involved in many inflammatory skin conditions, acne included. An excess of free radicals causes oxidative stress, represented by an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals, which researchers believe plays a major role in acne development.[4] Studies also confirm that people with acne have lower antioxidant activity, advising that acne sufferers should use at least one antioxidant-rich compound to manage their breakouts. The antioxidants proprieties of green tea polyphenols have been heavily studied and are known to increase cell viability against free radicals by up to 80%.[5] 

Green tea has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties

A buildup of dead skin cells and excess sebum may clog the pores leading to the development of a specific type of bacteria, known as propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) which often causes acne followed by skin inflammation and comedonal lesions.[2] Researchers have repeatedly proved that green tea, mainly catechins, led to a reduction in acne due to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that suppress acne-causing bacteria.[3] In one study, 400 ng/ml or less of green tea, equivalent to 64.6 ug/ml (0.007%) of EGCG, inhibited 98% of the bacterial growth. Another research confirmed that topical EGCG significantly improved acne after eight weeks by inhibiting acne bacteria and balance oil. Finally, evidence also suggests that EGCG can decrease inflammation associated with bacterial growth, preventing and reducing breakouts.

Green tea reduces sebum production

As I’ve already said, excess sebum is one of the primary causes of inflammatory acne because it can clog the pores and trigger bacterial growth. One factor that stimulates oil production is androgens, hormones that the body produces naturally. High levels of androgens, or hypersensitivity of the sebaceous glands to androgens, trigger an increase in sebum production, causing breakouts, hence the term hormone-induced acne.[6] Green tea reduces hormonal activity because EGCG is an inhibitor of 5 α-reductase, an enzyme found in sebaceous glands responsible for hormone conversion.[7]

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One study from 2013 found that applying 5% green tea extract topically reduced oil production by 27% after 60 days. Similarly, during another research, topical 3% green tea decreased sebum secretion by 10% in the first week and as much as 60% in eight weeks. These findings propose green tea as an effective non-chemical alternative for hormone-related acne conditions that anyone can use.  

How good is green tea at treating breakouts? 

Green tea’s effects on reducing breakouts are well-researched and do not lack scientific evidence. Most studies were performed with topical application of green tea, while oral consumption requires more data to draw a conclusion. For instance, one clinical trial from 2008 compared the daily use of 2% tea lotion with 5% zinc solution for the treatment of acne. After two months, green tea was found more effective, reducing inflammatory lesions by more than 50% in 85% of cases. In a separate study, 1% EGCG and 5% EGCG reduced non-inflammatory acne by 79% and inflammatory breakouts by 89% after eight weeks. Nevertheless, over time more studies have shown that green tea could be beneficial in acne treatment by reducing pimples.

Is drinking green tea good for acne?

Yes, drinking green tea on a regular basis is believed to prevent and treat acne by regulating sebum production and inhibiting acne-causing bacteria. However, there’s little to no data regarding the direct benefits of drinking green tea for acne, as most studies were undergone using topical green tea extract. There’s one study exploring how green tea supplements, specifically EGCG, affect acne, suggesting that green tea oral intake helped reduced inflammation breakouts around the nose, mouth, and chin.

Is applying green tea topically more effective in treating acne?

Although oral consumption and topical application of green tea were found beneficial for treating acne, green tea and its compounds are believed to work more effectively when applied topically. It was confirmed that EGCG can penetrate the skin, reaching the stratum corneum (the outer skin layer), with high levels of EGCG even getting into the epidermis and dermis. One clinical review showed that using green tea extract topically helped reduce acne, while results were not always consistent when using green tea orally. 

Is green tea safe for acne-prone skin?

Overall, green tea and EGCG are considered safe and tend to be well tolerated when applied topically, even for sensitive and acne-prone skin types. Studies show that green tea for acne treatment does not cause severe adverse effects, with mild itching reported in some cases. Unless you are allergic to green tea or any of its compounds, you can safely use green tea to clear your breakouts.  

How to use green tea to treat acne?

Green tea works best when applied topically. Thus, you’ll have better chances using a green tea skincare product. You can try a mist or moisturizer with green tea/EGCG to reap all its benefits against acne. Another effective way is to use a facial mask with green tea, either a DIY one or store-bought.

Last but not least, it’s always better to use green tea in conjunction with other acne treatments. There’s no deny green tea is effective when used alone, but you’ll waste a lot if you just count on it to clear your breakouts. For mild to severe acne, OTC benzoyl peroxide, salicylic and glycolic acids, retinoids, or niacinamide are good choices. Finally, if none of the above give you satisfying results, you can always go into the prescription-strength territory and pick tretinoin. 

Sources:

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  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5384166/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83685/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27193355/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1533901/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796122/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3969667
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11773671/
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