Green Tea For Acne: A Miracle In A Cup?

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Green tea has been used for thousands of years. There’s no shortage of hype surrounding its supposed healing benefits. But what about acne? Is green tea good for acne? Studies say yes. Studies show that green tea can reduce acne by more than 50%.

Green tea works because it attacks the causes of acne: sebum production, bacteria and inflammation.

In this article I’ll go over the benefits of green tea for acne. From studies on the effectiveness of green tea to how it works against acne.

Studies: Green tea lotion reduces acne more than 50%

To understand the effectiveness of green tea on acne we have to look at scientific studies. Anecdotal evidence and testimonials are not reliable, we need hard data. Unfortunately this isn’t studies too well, but I did find 3 studies on green tea and acne.

This chart shows summarizes the data from these studies. So these studies show that simply applying green tea lotion reduced pimple count by about 55% after 6 to 8 weeks.

Summary of results from green tea acne studies

Studies show over 50% reduction in pimple count after applying green tea lotion for 6 to 8 weeks

You can see the studies in the references section below.

Green tea as effective as benzoyl peroxide and topical antibiotics

One researcher noted that green tea lotion is as effective as benzoyl peroxide or topical antibiotic lotions. Pretty impressive considering that benzoyl peroxide is the go-to acne treatment for many dermatologists. But that’s not all, green tea also worked faster than topical antibiotics.

The present work showed that 2% tea extract lotion was effective in clearance of papules and pustules,especially in mild and moderate acne. This result was comparable to the therapeutic action of other topical agents like topical benzoyl peroxide and topical erythromycin, which act as antibacterial agents and mainly on inflammatory lesions like pustules and papules, but tea lotion has a more rapid action than erythromycin as tea caused a significant reduction after 8 weeks, while topical erythromycin caused significant reduction after 12 weeks.

Treatment of acne vulgaris with 2% topical tea lotion (PDF)

No side-effects from green tea lotion

Lack of side-effects is another point in favor of green tea lotion. Many acne patients can’t use benzoyl peroxide because of its side-effects (dry skin, itching, redness, sensitivity to sunlight, etc). No serious side-effects were noted in any of these studies. One study reported that 25% of the participants experienced minor itching at the beginning of the study.  But even that subsided over time.

Before/after pictures of green tea lotion

Here’s the before and after picture of one participant. This doesn’t look as impressive as the before/after pictures you see on acne product websites, but keep in mind that this is from a scientific paper – so you can be sure that nobody Photoshopped this.

Dramactic reduction in acne after applying green tea lotion

Dramactic reduction in acne after applying green tea lotion

Source: Topical therapy of acne vulgaris using 2% tea lotion in comparison with 5% zinc sulphate solution (PDF)

In my books this is a pretty impressive result, especially when you keep in mind that they used only green tea lotion WITHOUT any other acne treatment ingredients. When you combine green tea with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide you can expect much better results.

Benefits of green tea for skin

So now that we know green tea is effective against acne, let’s briefly explore why it works so well. It comes down to 3 reasons:

  • Green tea is anti-bacterial and helps to keep acne-causing bacteria under control
  • Green tea reduces sebum production by fighting hormonal acne (see below for more)
  • Green tea protects the skin from acne-causing inflammation.

Green tea and sebum production

Excessive sebum production is one of the biggest problems for acne patients. Studies often show that the more sebum the skin produces the more acne it has. So reducing sebum production is one of the keys to fighting acne.

Because of genes acne-prone skin is more sensitive to androgen hormones (male sex hormones). Acne-prone skin responds to these hormones by ramping up sebum production much more than normal skin does. I explained this in detail in the hormonal acne page. In a nutshell an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase converts testosterone to a far more potent hormone DHT. This conversion happens far too actively in acne-prone skin, and that’s one of the key reasons for excessive sebum production.

But despair not, there are things you can do about this. Substances called 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (read more at Wikipedia) can block this enzyme and thus hinder the conversion to DHT. Less DHT in the skin the less sebum it produces.

Green tea extracts contain catechins that act as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. That’s why studies show that applying green tea cream reduces sebum production.

Study: 70% reduction in sebum production

For example, there was an interesting study done on 2010. The participants were asked to apply 3% green tea lotion on their skin twice a day. Then once a week the researchers measured sebum production. The results are, to put it mildly, dramatic. Sebum production dropped nearly 70% over 8 weeks. How much better would your skin look if it produced 70% less sebum?

Chart showing 70% reduction in sebum production after applying green tea lotion

8 weeks of green tea lotion reduced sebum production by 70%

Sources: Outcomes of 3% green tea emulsion on skin sebum production in male volunteers (PDF).

Green tea and skin inflammation

Excessive skin inflammation is another problem acne patients have to suffer from. Unfortunately this is also largely genetic. As I explained in the hormonal acne page, acne patients are deficient in nuclear transcription factor FoxO1. FoxO1 affects nearly all the primary causes of acne, and inflammation is one of them. Studies have shown that acne patients have much stronger inflammatory response to bacteria and other damage than people with normal skin. So as the immune system cells arrive to the skin they release much more inflammatory chemicals in acne patients. And deficiency in FoxO1 means acne-prone skin has much weaker anti-inflammatory response.

To put this simply, acne-prone is skin is far more sensitive to inflammation and oxidative damage. It needs far more protection than normal skin does. This is especially important as researchers now believe it’s inflammation that triggers the acne-formation process (rather than bacteria). So if you can keep inflammation under control you are far less likely to break out.

Green tea also happens to be one of the most potent anti-inflammatory substances. This is why I think green tea is nearly magical substance for acne patients.

Without going into details several studies have shown that topically applied green tea protects the skin from acne-triggering inflammatory damage. You also get some benefit from drinking green tea, but it’s far more effective when applied on the skin.

Review and take home messages

Let’s take a moment to review:

  • Studies show over 50% reduction in acne after 6 to 8 weeks of applying green tea lotion.
  • Studies show that green tea is as effective as benzoyl peroxide or topical antibiotics.
  • Green tea has almost no side-effects. Some users experienced minor skin itching at the beginning, but this subsided quickly.
  • Green tea reduces the effect of hormones on the skin and that way reduces sebum production.
  • The polyphenols in green are strongly anti-inflammatory. They can protect the skin against acne-causing inflammation.
  • Green tea is anti-bacterial and helps to keep acne-causing bacteria at bay.
  • As an acne treatment green tea works best when applied topically. You’ll get some benefits from drinking, but it’s far more effective as topical treatment.

In short, if you aren’t both drinking and applying green tea on your skin, you are not giving acne your best shot!

References:

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