Now, more often than ever, everyone raves about this multi-tasker, EGCG. If you don’t know where it comes from, what it is, and what benefits it can bring to your skin, you are in the right spot. I’ll explain the science behind this potent ingredient and what more than 30 studies have found about the effects of EGCG in skincare. But first.
Have you heard of free radicals? They are unstable molecules known to damage skin cells and are considered a primary cause of photoaging, aka the premature aging of your skin. Luckily, antioxidants can prevent this from happening by binding to free radicals and stopping them from attaching to your healthy cells. That’s why antioxidants are so important in skincare, especially when so many things like smoking, sun exposure, or pollution can trigger an increase in free radicals. Well, a less known yet super powerful antioxidant is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate).
This article covers EGCG’s benefits for skin and the science behind all of them. I’ve done proper research and explored through 30+ clinical studies about EGCG, which revealed interesting data that I couldn’t stop but share. By the end of the article, there’s a conclusion based on a summary of these studies that shows how effective and safe EGCG really is.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to be a scientist to get how EGCG works, as I’ve made it easy to understand.
What we have found
Ingredient studied: EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate)
Type of ingredient: Antioxidant
Main benefits for skin: Protects the skin from sun damage, prevents photoaging, and reduces wrinkles.
Other research-backed benefits for skin: Anti-inflammatory properties, increase skin hydration, prevent the degradation of hyaluronic acid, reduce dark spots, improve acne.
How to use it: EGCG can be used both topically or internally, although the topical application was found to provide better UV protection.
Who should use it: Overall topical EGCG is considered well-tolerated and suitable for all skin types. However, the oral intake of EGCG comes with more adverse effects, and those who have hypersensitivity to green tea or its compounds should use it with caution.
How often can you use it: EGCG can be used daily unless it causes irritations.
EGCG pairs well with: Studies confirmed that EGCG works very well with vitamin C, as vitamin C helps reduce the degradation of EGCG. More than that, it was also found that EGCG enhances the antioxidant activity of vitamin C, so using EGCG together with vitamin C in the same skincare routine might be the best thing to do for your skin.
What is EGCG?
EGCG is a catechin, a type of phenol (naturally occurring chemicals derived from plants, fruits, and vegetables), and part of the flavonoids family. In fact, EGCG is the most abundant and extensively studied catechin with potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, catechins may prevent chronic conditions like heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes. EGCG is mainly known as the primary active compound in green tea, but it also exists in white and black tea and in trace quantities in apple skin, hazelnuts, pecans, and blackberries.
Since it was shown that both topical and oral use of EGCG can drastically reduce the damage caused by free radicals and UV exposure, EGCG became an ingredient more and more used in dietary supplements and skincare products.
Benefits of EGCG for Skin
In skincare, EGCG is mostly known thanks to its antioxidants activity which helps prevent photoaging caused by free radicals. But actually, there’s much more EGCG can help with: skin hydration, moisture retention, wrinkle reduction, and even skin brightening. And it’s all proven by science! I got a feeling you already began loving EGCG, ain’t you? So now that you are hyped about it let’s debunk some myths and see what studies and numbers say EGCG can do for your skin.
For sure, the most researched benefit of EGCG for skin is that of an antioxidant. Antioxidants are known for their abilities to prevent sun damage and correct signs of age. They do that by preventing free radicals from binding to your healthy skin cells. Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules derived either from internal processes in the human body or from external sources such as exposure to UV rays, smoking, industrial chemicals, and air pollutants. There are several types of radicals, but the most worrying ones are oxygen derivatives, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). They are known to speed up the skin aging process, wrinkling, and pigmentation.
When there’s an imbalance between antioxidants defense and free radicals production, a process called oxidative stress may occur and can damage the epidermal skin cells, called keratinocytes. Keratinocytes form the skin barrier (composed of proteins and lipids) that protects our skin from environmental damage. Antioxidants can decrease oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals. They help prevent the oxidation of lipids and proteins. This oxidation process often leads to a disrupted skin barrier, which in turn causes increased skin sensitivity and dryness.
One study found that EGCG has the strongest antioxidant activity among standard catechins found in green tea. The same study observed that the older the leaf is, the higher antioxidant activity will have.
Another study examined the ability of EGCG against ROS, the reactive oxygen classes I mentioned above. Based on their finds, topical EGCG decreased the ROS level and could regulate extracellular and intracellular radicals. EGCG recovered the cells damaged by ROS, increasing cell viability to 80%. Besides, the same study also investigated the EGCG protective ability against UVB irradiation. It was found that 12.5 μM EGCG (that’s about 0.0125mm) increased the cell viability to 72.8%, while 25 μM EGCG to 75.9% in UV-damaged skin.
Similarly, next research found that using 20μM EGCG before UVB exposure inhibits between 66-80% of the UVB-induced damage. Finally, it was confirmed that topical application of EGCG provided better protection against UVB-induced damage than oral administration. In one study, topical EGCG at 10 or 50 mg reduced UV-induced damaged by 62%, where oral administration of 100 or 500 mg of pure EGCG per liter of water did not decrease the UV-induced damage.
Studies found that EGCG not only inhibits the UVB-induced damage by 75% when used before exposure but also repairs the cells that have been already damaged by free radicals, increasing cell viability by 80%. The topical application of EGCG seems to offer better protection against UV radiation than oral administration.
Prevent photoaging & reduce wrinkles
It’s well-known that oxidative stress and extended exposure to UV radiation is the leading cause of photoaging. It was found that approximately 80% of facial skin aging is attributed to UV exposure. Thus, antioxidants are always praised for preventing premature skin aging, and today, they are as mandatory as sunscreen.
EGCG’s ability to inhibit oxidative stress is well-researched, and studies confirmed that EGCG can be used as an agent to prevent photoaging. Research also confirms that EGCG can suppress collagen degradation, helping the skin maintain its elasticity and firmness.
Besides, EGCG can reduce wrinkles and improve photoaged skin thanks to its ability to increase cell proliferation. Cell proliferation is a process by which a cell grows and divides, and for skincare, it has the role of thickening the skin. I’ll explain it briefly. During the aging process, the proliferative activity of fibroblasts, a type of cell found in connective tissue responsible for producing collagen, reduces. This leads to decreased collagen and epidermal thickness, which manifests as wrinkles and saggy skin. It’s also confirmed that increased cell proliferation induces epidermal thickness and reduces wrinkles.
To confirm whether EGCG promotes cell proliferation, a part of human cells were treated with EGCG for 12h and 24h, while the other was treated with retinol. Results suggest that EGCG performs better than retinol. At 12h, the percent increase in proliferation was 240% for 12.5 μM EGCG, while only 150% for retinol. At 24h, the increase was 269%, respectively 208%. Current data shows that EGCG increased cell proliferation and was found to be beneficial for the miniaturization of wrinkles.
EGCG reduces wrinkles and improves aging skin by providing antioxidants protection against UV exposure (the leading cause of photoaging). Besides, EGCG increases cell proliferation which helps thicken the skin and is more effective in this matter than retinol.
Although there’s plenty of data to evaluate EGCG as a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging agent, the skin hydration effect of EGCG remains poorly understood. However, there are some data on this matter that reveals interesting things. Here’s what it says.
As you may already know, skin hydration and moisture retention are two different processes that both share the same role — to keep the skin hydrated and prevent dryness. Skin hydration is the process that increases the water content in the skin cells, while moisture retention prevents transepidermal water loss (the loss of water that passively evaporates through the skin).
Studies confirmed that EGCG help increases skin hydration by preventing the degradation of the natural moisturizing factors (NMFs), composed of hyaluronic acid (HA), the key molecule involved in skin hydration, and filaggrin, a natural moisturizer. These compounds affect the skin’s moisture barrier function, and their degradation often leads to dry skin. Now here’s when EGCG comes to help. As some NMFs may be degraded by UV rays, by increasing the skin UV protection with EGCG, you also block the degradation of NMFs. Research found that EGCG increased the expression of hyaluronic acid in the epidermis and dermis by 41% in just 3 weeks. This effect provides moisture to the epidermis layer (outer layer of the skin), maintaining the skin barrier firmer.
Hyaluronidase (HYAL) is an enzyme that breaks down hyaluronic acid, and like NMFs, is also affected by UV radiation. Studies found that EGCG inhibited the degradation of hyaluronic acid by reducing the level of hyaluronidase, thus increased the hydration retention capacity of the skin barrier. Similarly, research confirmed that agents that could delay the degradation of hyaluronic acid (what EGCG does) may be useful in maintaining the integrity of HA and its moisturizing properties.
EGCG’s ability to hydrate, prevent hyaluronic acid degradation, and retain moisture all contribute to fortifying the skin barrier. A compromised protective barrier will lead to a loss of skin moisture, which is often associated with skin aging and other conditions such as dry skin or dermatitis. It’s well-known that dehydrated skin is more prone to wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of aging. Besides, hyaluronic acid is considered a promising anti-aging agent, and protecting it from degradation was found to reduce wrinkles up to 40% and increase skin firmness and elasticity by up to 55%.
So EGCG is not only capable of minimizing wrinkles and improving aging skin by providing antioxidants and increasing cell proliferation but also by protecting hyaluronic acid from degradation and preventing transepidermal water loss, consolidating the skin barrier protective function.
Regulates melanin pigmentation
Recent studies suggest that EGCG can also be used as a skin-lightening ingredient in cosmetics thanks to its ability to regulates melanin pigmentation. Melanin is a natural skin pigment and is responsible for defining skin and hair color. Although melanin helps protect the epidermis cells by absorbing the UV light before it causes damage, excessive melanin production can cause dark spots or freckles. So if you have hyperpigmentation, there’s a good chance your body produces too much melanin — another reason to try EGCG for the skin.
While 50 μM EGCG was found to have minor effects on melanin secretion, concentrations of 50 μM or higher have significantly regulated melanin pigmentation, which suggests that EGCG can be used to reduce hyperpigmentation and dark spots caused by the sun. Research also confirmed that EGCG could inhibit melanin synthesis and found that it has stronger effects than that of kojic acid.
Although the current data about the ability of EGCG to surpass melanin production may not be sufficient, there’s plenty of research regarding the role of antioxidants on hyperpigmentation, which shows that antioxidants are able to interrupt melanin formation.
In addition to the antioxidant benefits of EGCG, its ability to reduce wrinkles, regulate melanin production, and consolidates the skin barrier function by preventing transepidermal water loss, EGCG is also considered a compelling candidate for the treatment of acne. I know this might be out of nowhere, but studies have actually confirmed that green tea extracts and especially EGCG, may improve acne vulgaris thanks to its anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and antimicrobial activities.
One study found that a skin lotion with 2% green tea extract applied daily reduced the number of breakouts on 20 people by 58% after 6 weeks. Similarly, another research established that EGCG might effectively treat acne after confirming that 1% and 5% EGCG applied twice daily reduced the number of non-inflammatory lesions in more than 80 people.
EGCG side effects
Overall, EGCG has been shown to be well tolerated in clinical trials, especially when it’s topically applied. However, EGCG doesn’t have a 100% safe profile, and those who use it should be aware of its side effects. It was found that topical application of EGCG has the least harmful effects, with minor irritation reported in few cases. However, when taken orally, EGCG has been associated with serious side effects, such as abnormalities in liver function. From 500 people treated with 843 mg EGCG/day supplements, 5.1% presented severe liver injuries. Similarly, no adverse effects were noted when 500 mg EGCG was used.
Another possible side effect that has been noticed during trials is that EGCG may decrease the amount of iron the body receives from nutrition. Again, this only happens when you take EGCG orally.
How to use EGCG
You can either drink a cup of green tea, take supplements, or use a green tea/EGCG skincare product. If you prefer the first option, limit yourself to a maximum of 5 cups of green tea per day (which will provide about 180 mg of catechins). In skincare, it depends on what type of product you use. EGCG can either be found in cleansers, toners, serums, moisturizers, and masks. Cleansers and toners are supposed to be the first step in the skincare routine, followed by a targeted serum and then a moisturizer. And don’t forget to use sunscreen every day too! Although EGCG may offer UV protection, sunscreen is still mandatory, no matter what!
Nevertheless, studies observed that EGCG pairs well with vitamin C, so using these two antioxidants together is an excellent idea. It was found that EGCG enhances the antioxidant activity of vitamin C, while vitamin C helps reduce the degradation of EGCG.
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