3 Surprising Ways Green Tea Fights Acne

By Seppo | Diet

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The next big breakthrough in acne treatment may be the humble bag of green tea sitting in your kitchen cupboard. A Chinese proverb says “Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one.” Research done in the past two decades tells why.

A large and growing body of research shows drinking tea, and especially green tea, has countless health benefits. What we as acne patients are interested is the fact that green tea fights all the underlying causes of acne: inflammation, insulin resistance and hormones. And in this post I’ll explain why it may be one of the few true miracle solutions to acne.

Before we get started you better put water to boil. Because once you are done with this post I know you are yearning for a cup of the green stuff.

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The antioxidant potential of green tea

Pretty much every article about the health effects of green tea talks about antioxidants. While in most cases hype far outruns reality, green tea has significant antioxidant potential. Green tea, like many fruits and berries, contains lot of polyphenols. Polyphenols have been studied for their antioxidant potential with promising results. In the case of green tea, lot of research attention has focus on a catechin called  (–)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).

EGCG is the predominant antioxidant in most forms of green tea, and it’s also the most potent. For example, one review study noted:

EGCG has been shown to be 25 to 100 times more potent than vitamins C and E in terms of antioxidant activity

Green tea polyphenol epigallocatechin 3-gallate in arthritis: progress and promise

Another study (PDF) measured the antioxidant potential of various forms of green tea. The study concluded that ½ cup (100 ml) of green tea has the same antioxidant potential as 1 kg of fresh fruit. That’s pretty impressive in my books!

But we have to keep in mind that high antioxidant potential doesn’t mean anything yet. It’s just a proxy measure. What we are interested are the real health effects of green tea. Because too often what looks really promising in in vitro (test tube) studies turns out to be completely useless in living humans. What’s the use of all those antioxidants if the body doesn’t absorb them and you just pee them out?

A review paper published in 2011 examined high quality human studies on the antioxidant effects of green tea. Here’s what the study concluded:

There is limited evidence that regular consumption of GT [green tea] in amounts of at least 0.6-1.5 l/day may increase AC [antioxidant capacity] and reduce lipid peroxidation (especially oxidation of LDL). This may contribute to the protection against CVDs [cardiovascular disease] and different types of cancer. Beneficial effects seem to be more likely in participants exposed to oxidative challenge.

Consumption of green tea or green tea products: is there an evidence for antioxidant effects from controlled interventional studies?

As expected, results from these studies are somewhat conflicting. Some studies show better antioxidant effect than others, but the overall trend in the studies was positive. In fact, 15 out of 22 studies showed a positive antioxidant effect from green tea. Epidemiological studies also shower lower levels of DNA damage and inflammatory damage in heavy green tea drinkers (6+ cups per day).

It also seems that the people with higher levels of systemic inflammation got the most benefit out of green tea. The study mentioned higher antioxidant effects in smokers and sedentary people. This makes sense since both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects are vital for your survival. Inflammation is one way the immune system kills pathogens. So too little inflammation is as bad as too much inflammation. Inflammation is like fire. When kept under control it’s very useful, but also very destructive when it gets out of control. So it makes sense that the body passes out the antioxidants it doesn’t need.

As I talked in one of my earlier posts, acne patients have higher than normal levels of systemic inflammation. So drinking green tea might be very helpful for people suffering from acne. Unfortunately nobody has yet published a study on the effect of drinking green tea on acne. But user reports and other anecdotal evidence looks very positive indeed.

Effect on insulin resistance and blood sugar control

High blood sugar and insulin levels are bad for acne. Very bad. Anything you can do to keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable can help your skin. That’s why going on low glycemic index and low carbohydrate diets often helps your skin. Regular consumption of green tea can also help.

A large epidemiological study from Japan showed that drinking 6 or more cups of green tea per day reduced the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by 33%. The effect was even larger in women and there was a robust dose-response relationship, i.e. the more you drink the larger the risk reduction. In women drinking 1-6 cups per week reduced risk by 21%, 1-2 cups per day reduced the risk by 34%, 3-5 cups per day by 39% and 6 or more cups by 51%.

Results from intervention (treatment) studies are not so clear. But the overall trend is fairly clear. Most studies show at least a mild positive effect to insulin resistance and blood sugar levels. As this one review study noted:

However, the majority of human epidemiological and intervention studies demonstrate beneficial effects of green tea or green tea extracts, rich in EGCG on weight management, glucose control and cardiovascular risk factors.

The potential role of green tea catechins in the prevention of the metabolic syndrome – a review.

Insulin resistance and glucose tolerance are closely linked to obesity. Fat mass is perhaps the most significant cause of insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. Several studies have shown that regular consumption of green tea leads to weight loss by increasing metabolic rate and boosting fat burning, thought the effect is fairly small.

But weight reduction is not the only way green tea affects insulin resistance. Studies indicate it can 1) reduce carbohydrate absorption, 2) increase insulin secretion and possibly even repair the insulin secreting beta-calls in the pancreas, and 3) reduce production of glucose in the liver.

I don’t want to bore you with too many technical details and studies, so let me conclude this part with the following. There’s a very good reason to believe that regular consumption of green tea reduces insulin resistance and blood sugar levels. This in turn is really good for hormonal acne.

Hormonal effects of green tea

Studies have shown that green tea also has anti-cancer effects, particularly against breast and prostate cancers. Interestingly those cancers are connected to IGF-1 and sex hormone levels – the very same hormones that cause havoc on your skin.

Green tea increases the molecules that bind to sex hormones (called sex hormone binding globules), and thus effectively reduces levels of bioactive hormones.. As I covered in the topical use of green tea post, ECGC prevents conversion of testosterone to DHT. DHT is perhaps the most harmful hormone when it comes to prostate cancer and acne. So lower levels are definitely good for you.

So in summary, we can say that green tea appears to ‘balance’ many of the hormones that are linked to acne.

How many cups

So hopefully I’ve persuaded you of the acne-fighting benefits of green tea. So the next question is how many cups of this stuff you should drink? First I have to say that the optimal dose of ECGC in these conditions is yet to be determined. In the studies doses usually vary from 300mg to 1000mg, but to get that amount by drinking green tea can mean anything from 2 to 20 cups per day – depending on the quality of the tea you drink. For a detailed look at how different green tea qualities and brewing techniques affect ECGC content, please see the hack you tea post.

In epidemiological studies 3 to 6 cups per day seems to bring good results, so I would go with that.

An easy way to add lots of green tea into your day is to brew it in bulk and then chill it. I always have a bottle of cold green tea in my fridge and often drink it in place of water. I don’t do this anymore. See the tea hacking 2 post for why this is a really bad idea. Always consume your green tea fresh.

Conclusion and take home messages

I don’t believe in ‘silver bullet’ solutions. But every rule has an exception, and green tea makes a strong case for being it. Studies have shown it improves pretty much all the causes of acne: inflammation, insulin and hormones.

Several studies have shown that green tea is strongly anti-inflammatory. Some papers note it’s 25 to 100 times stronger antioxidant than vitamins C or E. People with high levels of systemic inflammation, such as many acne patients, will benefit the most from green tea. Regular consumption of 3 to 6 cups per day also cuts down the risk of diabetes and improves insulin resistance. Finally, green tea can treat hormonal acne by reducing the levels of potent sex hormones.

While green tea may not be a miracle solution, it’s definitely a big step towards clear skin. And, in combination with diet and lifestyle changes and smart topical treatments, can make a huge impact on your skin.

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About the Author

Seppo Puusa, a.k.a. AcneEinstein shares rational advice about natural and alternative acne treatments. Read more about me and my acne struggles at the page.

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(53) comments

Maria November 26, 2012

I endorse whatever Seppo Puusa has written about green tea & its effects on insulin resistance, the acne & the inflammation as I myself has tried that all. Even though I initially started drinking green tea for weight loss thing but there on after a long continuous use of it , I saw a significant difference in my overall health Alhamdulillah, my acne was gone, my hair got better than before & the inflammation was much reduced. Not only this it helped me to detoxify like anything as you know its high in anti oxidant properties.
Summing up green tea long term use does not only makes your skin clear but also will make you live a quality life .So why to wait for some other solution when there is the Allah’s Gift for all of us.Start from now on but yes be determined & consistent as its long term use is what that ensures the above all mentioned stuff.

Take Care !!!!!

Reply
Theragingwalrus February 28, 2013

Yeah but it tastes really awful, can you just take green tea tablets and be done with it?

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    Seppo March 1, 2013

    If you don’t like it, then don’t drink it. Green tea can help, but it’s by no means a magic bullet solution that you can’t live without.

    Reply
Pooja April 8, 2013

I have severe acne and was treated with isotretinoin and retino A in 2008 and had a clear skin for about 2 years from then. However the acne has still relapsed. I know Green tea really helps but the problem is Green tea also aids in weight loss and am underweight. Is there any other alternative that you can help me through.

Thanks

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    Seppo April 8, 2013

    Green tea has, at best, very minimal effect on weight loss, and only when it’s used in conjunction with weight loss diet. Just drinking green tea won’t cause you to lose weight.

    Reply
tarique June 10, 2013

i’m having acne on my skin,chest and back,does taking this green tea regularly helps me and does this cause any side effects please reply….

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    Seppo June 11, 2013

    It might help and probably has no side-effects.

    Reply
Aliyah July 6, 2013

Hi. I heard that green tea powder used as a facial helps acne. Is this true. Thanks.

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sarang August 6, 2013

Green tea does help. I started taking it after I came to know about the health benefits (though not specifically for acne). I take 2 cups a day. Its been a couple of months and there have been no serious breakouts on my skin like they used to be previously! !!! Also the small blemishes that occured went away quickly

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Morgan August 26, 2013

I more recently started drinking green tea, out of curiosity. within a few days my skin was alot less red, and some of my smaller acne spots had vanished.

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    Seppo August 30, 2013

    Thanks for sharing, Morgan.

    Reply
Ma Cecilia Solmerano August 30, 2013

Hi is kirkland green tea ok? My sister sent us 1 box approx 150 pcs of tea. Hope it also have the same benefits.:-)

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    Seppo August 31, 2013

    I don’t know enough about teas to say which is good and which is not. Maybe someone else knows better.

    Reply
adel October 21, 2013

if the issue is acne, wont it be better to drink white tea since it had more anti oxident ?

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    Seppo October 22, 2013

    Well, yes, but it’s not at all clear that white tea has more antioxidants. The studies I found showed no difference in antioxidant levels between white and green tea, white tea even had more caffeine. That said, there’s no good definition of what white tea even is, which makes it hard to study. So I’m not sure how applicable those results are.

    Reply
Tree October 27, 2013

I decided to try green tea after reading your articles but it made me feel awful. I was expecting a lot of energy but I felt like crap – really sick, headache, dizzy, a bit of a stomachache (and let’s be clear, I rarely get a stomachache or a headache). This lasted for several hours and I didn’t really feel great even after the effect had stopped, it’s true I hadn’t had enough sleep but that was more than just that. It’s not my first time either. I tried it several months ago as well and again felt sick and weak but I thought it’s just a coincidence. Now I’m sure it’s not. I Googled it and there are other people with the same complaints. I don’t know what in the tea makes me feel like this – maybe caffeine but I haven’t had coffee for years and I don’t remember how it felt at that time. But it might also be something else. Black tea has also made me feel awful in the past but then I thought it’s just nausea caused by travelling. Whatever the good effects might be they are not worth it for me. Or maybe I just need to try a different kind of green tea? No idea but I’m not eager to experiment. I think it would be good to include this in your article, maybe there are also studies? Obviously, some people just can’t tolerate green tea, I think it’s good to have that in mind.

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    Seppo October 29, 2013

    Sorry to hear you experienced such a bad reaction to green tea. I don’t know what would cause it; could be caffeine or other stimulants in tea, or, though unlikely, fluoride and aluminium tea picks up from the ground.

    Reply
    Mokurai July 31, 2014

    I had the same, but only with supermarket bought tea bags. They seemed to have additives in them.
    Once I went to a speciality Tea store and bought Japanese Sencha tea (loose green leaves), it all went away. I’m trying Gyokuro next :) Hope this helps :)

    Reply
Sung Lee January 12, 2014

Seppo, what are your thoughts about Green Tea supplements rather than the actual tea? Would they be just as effective?

I’m considering this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Foods-Green-Extract-400mg-Vcaps/dp/B001DNV5CA/ref=sr_1_1?s=hpc&ie=UTF8&qid=1389486108&sr=1-1&keywords=NOW+EGCG+Green+Tea+Extract

Thank You!

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    Seppo January 13, 2014

    I think green tea can be helpful for the skin, and that’s why I recommend drinking it, but I don’t think it’s a magic drink or anything like that. I’m not sure that the benefits of green tea justify supplementation. I’m always a bit wary of supplements since you never really know what’s in the bottles. Contamination and mislabeling is worryingly common in supplements.

    That said, many of the short-term studies I referred in this post were done using green tea supplements, so the supplements can work.

    Reply
    Rosmarie January 15, 2014

    I’ve been using that brand for a while and I believe it’s made a difference – though I can’t be sure of course. Each tablet contains 200 mg of egcg so I’ve been taking up to 5 a day. I drink green tea as well, but always flavoured, so it would be hard to reach the necessary amounts that way :)

    Reply
Sarah February 7, 2014

Does decaf green tea have the same benefits? My body is very sensitive to caffeine.

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    Seppo February 8, 2014

    Decaf green tea has fewer antioxidants than caffeinated green tea. In your case it’s probably better to avoid green tea altogether. It can be helpful in acne, but I wouldn’t say it’s a miracle food by any means. You can get the same benefits by eating an overall healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

    Reply
isabel February 26, 2014

i bought the harvest your health and ur book was soooooooooooooo infomative . can i put jaggery instead of sugar?
thanks!

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    Seppo February 27, 2014

    Glad to hear you liked the book! Jaggery will probably work just as fine as normal sugar. It’s anyway just sugar with some impurities.

    Reply
Nima April 9, 2014

I ve heard caffein can cause acne breakouts and green tea has lots of caffein.
It s controversial.

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    Seppo Puusa April 10, 2014

    Well, hearsay isn’t exactly reliable evidence.

    Reply
      Nima April 10, 2014

      There are more comments agains caffein tgan in favor of it.

      Reply
        Seppo Puusa April 11, 2014

        Science and truth are not popularity contests. What people write on message boards is not an accurate reflection of reality in a complicated case like this, and if you are a doctor (as your email implies), then you should know that.

        Reply
Fay Rose April 21, 2014

Hi,
Please check this article
http://www.happyhealthylonglife.com/happy_healthy_long_life/2010/12/shinya.html
Per dr shinya, to avoid excessive green tea drinking for healthy digestion: due to tannin and caffein. (Excuse my English).

Reply
    Seppo Puusa April 21, 2014

    Thanks for that article. I don’t really know what to think of that. It’s possible that tannins have a negative effect on the gut, but I wouldn’t make that conclusion based on that article. That article was filled with pseudoscientific nonsense, so I find it hard to take it seriously.

    Not to mention that we have decades of observational research showing benefits of drinking green tea. For example, a review on the effect of green tea on cancers from 2013 concluded that people who drink more green tea has lower risk of gastrointestinal cancers; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24172305. However, that conclusion is based on observational studies so we can’t say that green tea prevents GI cancers. Just that it doesn’t seem to increase them.

    Reply
      Fay Rose April 21, 2014

      Thank u Seppo for getting so quickly. The moderation is the key I assume.

      Reply
Bojan July 2, 2014

I don’t have time to read through whole article. I just want to share with the world that I fought with acne on my face for years. And whenever I start drinking green tea(pure, no aromas, decaf or something) after 2-3 days in a row they disappear. I don’t know how or why, I drink it primarily because of weight control, but there it is, another positive effect. No products, just green pure green tea, my advice for that.

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Alyssa July 15, 2014

I drink Lipton green tea with lemon ginseng is that still good for everything you listed and acne or should I switch to just green tea with nothing extra in it?

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Adel-Alexander Aldilemi July 17, 2014

Should I get Sencha or Matcha green tea Sep?

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    Adel-Alexander Aldilemi July 18, 2014

    It appears the Sencha has more catchin than Matcha but I’m quite unsure what to get.

    Reply
    Seppo Puusa July 18, 2014

    It probably doesn’t matter. One or the other may have somewhat more catechins, but I seriously doubt it will make any practical difference. Ingesting more catechins doesn’t necessarily mean better results. I’ve been guilty of perpetuating this thinking with my ‘tea hacking’ posts. I think the most important thing is to drink it regularly. Beyond that it probably doesn’t matter.

    Reply
      Adel-Alexander Aldilemi July 18, 2014

      Well you said yourself that it was a problem how many catchins get destroyed during digestion. But fine, I’l just get a metcha tea and follow the recomendations.

      Reply
        Seppo Puusa July 19, 2014

        Yes, I know I’ve written a few posts to that effect. In retrospect, they are the kind of nerdy stuff I enjoy but may end up confusing people more than helping. Science is clear on one thing, people who drink green tea regularly are in better health. That should be the number 1 priority. If you then want to further maximize the amount of catechins in the tea and their bioavailability, feel free to do so. It’s just not something I would stress over too much.

        Reply
          Adel-Alexander Aldilemi July 19, 2014

          Oh, I thought the catchins were the things that promoted all the health benefits etc etc. Alrighty then.

          Reply
          Seppo Puusa July 21, 2014

          Catechins are the substances responsible for health benefits. My point is that you should be able to get enough by drinking 3 to 5 cups of good quality green tea a day. If health benefits are the only reason why you drink green tea, it’s probably not worth going through stress and hassle of trying to find the absolutely highest catechin tea out there. It’s not at all clear that the extra catechins you get make a difference.

          Reply
Lauren August 17, 2014

Hey Seppo, I’ve had moderate cystic acne for a few years and you’ve convinced me to try green tea. I was wondering what you thought of this product:
http://www.senchanaturals.com/our-products/greenteaplusc/green-tea-c-original.html
I’ve never been a tea drinker and I was looking for a product that tastes good to me. If you don’t think this one would do me any good, do you have any recommendations for changing the taste of green tea without destroying all its benefits?
Thanks for making this website!

Reply
    Seppo Puusa August 20, 2014

    As far as I understood, that product contains powdered tea. So it should give you the same benefits as brewing it yourself. If you want to make tea yourself but aren’t a fan of the taste, perhaps you could try cold water steeping. I’ve become a fan. Cold steeped tea tasted milder than hot water steeped. Perhaps worth a try?

    Reply
Lauren August 20, 2014

Thanks for the advice! I really like this product so it’s good to know it has benefits similar to brewed tea. It is somewhat expensive though, so I will give cold water steeping a try!

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ali khan October 4, 2014

hello seppo! i have problem of acne since last 4 to 5 years now i am 16 years and acne is still on my face and afterwards producing pimples and there is huge problem that there is lots of oil on my face when i wash my face after to 2 to 3 hours there is lots of oil and annoys me alot so its a humble request to tell a treatement regarding this

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sarah October 16, 2014

Could you please explain that the green tea cream has any effect on acne’scars?does it make them better?pleas answer me!

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    Seppo Puusa October 20, 2014

    Depends on what you mean by acne scars. If you mean dark spots, then it could help, but vitamin C, B3 or retinol would probably work better. If you talk about physical scars where the structure of the skin has changed, then no. There’s nothing you can do about such scars at home – please don’t even try.

    Reply
Black December 1, 2014

The Green Tea pills have the same effect as liquid Green tea?

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    Seppo Puusa December 3, 2014

    Yes, many of the studies on green tea were done using green tea capsules.

    Reply
Chloe December 1, 2014

I couldn’t agree more – I LOVE GREEN TEA. I drink 1 huge cup every night before I sleep. I always woke up feeling pretty refreshed each morning and seeing nice noticeable changes to my skin. Been doing this drinking routine for months! On mornings though I drink Parsley leaf teas using Schefs loose leaf tea infuser. Both teas work wonders I guess that’s why :)

Reply
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