Can You Use Fresh Green Tea As Toner?

I’ve been writing about green tea quite a bit here. And one of the questions I keep getting is where to get it and how to use it. Since I at times write about bleeding edge research, no commercial solutions are available and people resort to DIY solutions. In the case of green tea people often just swipe a used teabag over their face.

That’s certainly a cheap and simple option, but is it effective? Can you get the same results I’ve written about just by using brewed green tea? In this post I want to answer this question, to the best of my ability.

Using brewed green tea we run into a few potential problems. First one is dosage, can you get enough epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from brewed green tea to reach an effective dose. Second, can you get green tea absorbed through the skin? And finally, what’s the shelf life of this DIY solution, i.e. how often you have to brew the tea?

Before we get started, I want to put a disclaimer out there. This post is far more speculative than my other posts. There are just too many unanswered questions here and I have to make several assumptions. So don’t take this post as the ‘final word’ on the topic. I’m simply taking my best shot here at answering a difficult question.

Dosage

My main concern is whether you can get enough EGCG into your face from brewed tea.

I made some back of the envelope calculations to see if this is possible. I had to make some assumptions for these calculations, and if my assumptions are off the mark so are the calculations. Here are the assumptions:

  • Amount of cream used per application = 1g. This is the amount of cream you use at one time. I got this from the fact that my benzoyl peroxide bottle contains 60g and it lasts about 2 months.
  • Concentration of active ingredients in the cream = 2%. Most studies on green tea cream use either 2%, some used 3%. The active ingredient in green tea extract.
  • Concentration of EGCG in green tea extract = 60%. Basically how much EGCG there is in green tea extract. In an earlier post I referred to a study that measured 30mg of EGCG from 50mg of green tea extract. This makes sense as EGCG is the major catechin in green tea.
  • EGCG per a cup of green tea = 150mg. My first tea hacking post referred a USDA report that showed the average cup of brewed green tea has 180mg of EGCG. I rounded that down to 150mg to be on the safe side.

Based on these assumptions we can do simple math:

  • Using 1g of 2% green tea cream means you apply 20mg of green tea extract on your face during a single application.
  • And that 20mg of green tea extract has 12mg of EGCG.

Since 2% green tea cream has been shown to both reduce sebum production and effectively treat acne, let’s use this as the target dosage. So now we have to figure out how to get 12mg of EGCG from brewed green tea on your skin.

A cup has 250ml, with 150mg of EGCG per cup it means there is 0.6mg of EGCG per ml of tea. Let’s make this a bit more concrete and talk about teaspoons instead of millilitres. A teaspoon has 5ml, so a single teaspoon of green tea has 3mg of EGCG. To reach the effective dosage of 12mg you need to apply 4 teaspoons of tea on your face.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if you can get 4 teaspoons of liquid tea absorbed through the skin at one sitting. Maybe you can, I really don’t know, but I’m skeptical of it.

Of course you can always brew stronger tea and increase the amount of EGCG per teaspoon, and that means fewer teaspoons to reach the effective dose.

  • Normal tea: 4 teaspoons to reach the effective dose.
  • 2x strength: 2 teaspoons
  • 3x strength: 1.3 teaspoons
  • 4x strength: 1 teaspoon

As I mentioned, these calculations are rough at best and rely on some off the cuff assumptions. While they may be wrong, I think they are on the right ballpark. It looks feasible to reach effective dose using brewed green tea.

Absorption

Aside from dosage, my other major concern is skin penetration and absorption. Is it possible to get green tea absorbed through the skin, and if so what percentage of it gets absorbed and what just sits on the skin and slowly evaporates?

Reading about skin penetration and absorption, I came out with the following points:

  • Smaller molecules have easier time passing through the skin. Apparently there’s something called the 500 Dalton rule, which says that molecules heavier than 500 Daltons can’t penetrate the skin. Wikipedia says that the molar mass of EGCG is 458 Daltons, so it’s small enough to pass through the skin.
  • Lipid soluble substances penetrate better than water soluble substance, EGCG is water soluble.
  • The higher the concentration the more gets through, another reason to brew strong tea.
  • I found one test tube study that showed exposure to water improves skin penetration. Not sure whether we would see the same effect in human studies, but it might be a good idea to apply green tea right after shower.

Unfortunately this is a question I cannot definitively answer. I’m sure some EGCG gets absorbed from brewed tea, as bathing/showering can be a major source of chemical exposure.

For more information about skin penetration and absorption, I recommend reading these two articles:

Shelf life

Shelf life is the final concern of this DIY solution. So can you brew the tea in bigger batches or do you have to make a fresh brew every time?

In my previous tea hacking post, I referred to a study about degradation of green tea catechins (antioxidants) under various conditions. The catechins are destroyed as they interact with oxygen and impurities in water. This means that under normal conditions at home about 50% of the catechins are destroyed during the first 5 to 6 hours, basically rendering the DIY solution useless.

I also talked how adding vitamin C to the tea protects the catechins and extends the shelf life. Adding 50mg of vitamin C per cup (250 ml) of tea extends the shelf life enough that you can store the tea for 8 to 9 hours without significant losses in potency.

What this means for you? Plain green tea ‘as it is’ is only good for a single application. Adding some vitamin C allows you to store it overnight and get 2 applications out of it. After that you have to brew another batch.

What about user reviews?

Sometimes we just don’t have enough scientific data to answer a question. In those times we have to resort to the most unreliable form of evidence testimonials and user reviews. So let’s dip to the bottom of the evidence barrel and see what other people have said about topical green tea.

For reviews I looked at two sites: acne.org reviews on green tea and MakeupAlley green tea bag toner reviews.

The reviews at acne.org mix both drinking green tea and using it topically, but we can live with that.

Overall the reviews are very positive. At acne.org it gets 4.4 out of 5, while MakeupAlley users rate it as 4.5 out of 5. At both sides over 90% of the users would buy it again or recommend it to a friend. I should also note that some people, minority though, said that topical green tea made their acne worse.

So overall the user reviews are very positive.

I just have to point some problems with these.

  • From some glowing reviews it’s obvious that the improvement had little to do with green tea. That’s because using the methods they described is very unlikely to be effective. Some people steeped the bags in cold water – you need hot water to really extract catechins from tea leaves. Other people bottled the tea and used it over several days, but as we’ve discussed brewed tea rapidly loses its potency.
  • Many reviews only talk about short-term effects. Like, I started using it 2 weeks ago and it’s a miracle. Acne being somewhat cyclical there are times when your skin is better and times when it’s worse. So was the improvement really because of green tea or just natural fluctuation? And did the effects last? We can’t say.
  • Some people also made many changes but attributed the improvement to green tea. Like, since using green tea I’ve also done this, this and that, and my skin is so much better now. What was it that caused the improvement? Again, we can’t say.

My point is that take these reviews with a grain of salt. They do show there’s potential to this DIY green tea treatment.

Green tea honey mask

At acne.org I also noticed reviews for green tea honey mask. This sounds like it could be a good idea. Mixing green tea with honey allows the mixture to stick to your face for longer, which of course helps with skin penetration and absorption.

People said that they mixed some green tea leaves with honey and spread the mixture on their face. Don’t do this. It’s very unlikely that contact with honey extracts any catechins from green tea. You have to steep them in hot water to get the catechins out, and then mix the tea with honey.

Getting started

Let’s say you’ve decided to give this a go. How would you go about this? Well, this is how I would do it.

  • To start with you need good quality tea and brew it correctly. My recommendation is to avoid mass market brands (like Liptons) and get a speciality brand Japanese loose leaf tea. My first tea hacking post shows the big difference in EGCG content of different types of teas.
  • Then you need to brew it properly. For best results I would add 4 times the normal amount of tea leaves. This means your tea has 4 times more EGCG. To brew normal tea you would use about 2g of tea leaves per cup of water. As a rough estimate, 2g is about one teaspoon. I might make 100ml (little bit less than 1/2 a cup) at a time, so for that I would use 2 teaspoons of tea leaves.
  • Brew the tea for 4 to 5 minutes in boiling water. Boiling water gets the most catechins out of the leaves. And don’t worry, you are not going to destroy the antioxidants, research has shown they can withstand boiling water for 30 minutes or so.
  • If you are planning to get more than 1 use out of this, add about 100mg of vitamin C.
  • Allow the tea to cool down (don’t add ice as it dilutes the EGCG content) and either mix in with honey for a mask or apply to your face with a cotton pad.

As with all acne treatments, consistency is the key. You need to do this every day over several weeks to really see results. Many of the studies using green tea started showing good results only after 4 weeks. So be patient.

That’s it for this post. I hope you found it helpful. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. Also if you noticed some problems with my assumptions or calculations, please let me know so I can get them sorted out.

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About Me

Hi, I am Acne Einstein(a.k.a. Seppo Puusa). I'm a bit of a science nerd who is also passionate about health. I enjoy digging through medical journals for acne treatment gems I can share here. You can read more about my journey through acne and how I eventually ended up creating this.

References

41 thoughts on “Can You Use Fresh Green Tea As Toner?

  1. So lets you’re already using BP without significant results. Am I right to assume that GT won’t be any different either as it’s shown to have the same effects as BP?

    • Christopher, you can’t make that assumption. Benzoyl peroxide and green work differently. Furthermore, I wouldn’t see this as either-or situation. I would recommend using both, like BP gel after washing your face and follow that up 15 to 30 minutes later with green tea.

      • Okay, it was just that in one of the studies in one of your articles it said that GT was comparable to BP so that’s why I thought they worked similarly.

        Also I’ve read that people have been recommended to drink at least 4-6 cups of GT a day to harvest the benefits of the antioxidants. But what about the dangers of fluoride? Apparently GT naturally absorbs fluoride from the environment more effectively then other plants.

        • Having similar effectiveness doesn’t always mean similar modes of action. Also with studies we are always looking at average effectiveness, but the situation can be drastically different for individuals.

          Yes, tea has quite a bit more fluoride. In fact several times over the drinking water limit set by EPA. Is that something to be concerned? Depends on how much you drink tea and your other exposure to fluoride.

          I don’t necessarily subscribe to the wild stories about the dangers of fluoride. Overexposure can certainly be dangerous, but I wouldn’t see limited exposure to fluoride as nothing to worry about.

          I don’t know, but I’m not aware of any adverse effects from fluoride exposure in tea. Most studies show beneficial effects from drinking tea.

          This is something you have to decide for yourself. What kind of exposure you are comfortable with. The National Academy of Sciences published a safety review of fluoride some years back. I don’t have the link at hand, but the document is freely available and you should find it with a simple Google search.

          Also, if you follow the tips in my tea hacking posts you can maximize the EGCG you get from tea and that way limit the amount you have to drink.

  2. This was a great article! I’ve been looking everywhere for more information about green tea as a solution to skin problems, and whether I could store it for any amount of time instead of making a fresh batch every night. I’ve used green tea as a soothing toner for painful breakouts, and it works well. I haven’t used it in a honey mask, but I’ll definitely have to try that next.

    I’m surprised that there aren’t commercially available skincare products with green tea. I’ve found them with everything from cucumbers to chocolate, it seems like tea would be a natural progression, no pun intended.

    • I’m not a cosmetic chemist, so unfortunately this is not my area of expertise. You can buy green tea extracts from cosmetics ingredients stores, you should find several online. Those same places also have base creams you can mix in the extract.

      But I can’t tell you how to do it correctly or what you have to look for. Search for DIY skin care forums in Google. People in those forums can help you more than I can.

  3. Hi Seppo, your posts are absolutely awesome! I have few questions I’d like to ask you…
    I bought these green tea extract capsules. “Ingredients: (Per caplet) Green tea extract (20:1) 42.5mg providing 850mg, maltodextrin, magnesium stearate, capsule shell.”

    What does that mean? Equals 850mg green tea leaves? If yes, would that be enough to get the possible good results?

    • I think it means each capsule has 850mg of green tea extracts, out of which 42.5mg are polyphenols (like EGCG). If I’m correct, then the polyphenol content is quite low.

  4. I dont think the EGCG is the only reason to wash your face with green tea, the astringency makes it a good toner and any catechins, polyphenols and caffeine absorbed is just a bonus in my opinion. I do agree with you using boiling water and extra tea, to make it more astringent and increase the likelihood of absorbing but I dont think excess wash needs to be discarded. You can get the EGCG by drinking the tea anyway just make a normal strength cup on the side (using better tea if you have it at a lower temp).

    • Cosmetics chemistry is not my strong suit, so I don’t know how aloe vera affects skin penetration. My guess would be it has little to no effect since aloe vera is largely water and water-based substances have a hard time penetrating the skin barrier.

      • I’ve heard of making creams by steeping the green tea in oils, which would increase skin absorption but would you still get the benefits from green tea and how long will it last?

        • Green tea antioxidants are water soluble, so I don’t think mixing them into oils would help. If you want a DIY solution, I would use some form of alcohol, but those can be a bit drying and irritating on the skin.

    • I was reading a paper on dermatological applications of topical antioxidants. Here’s an interesting bit from the paper:

      As with most antioxidants, the polyphenols of green tea are sensitive to light and oxidation, thus requiring careful formulation so as retain biologic activity. Also problematic is the fact that the EGCG is inherently hydrophilic, limiting its penetration in human skin. Thus green tea extract is among the more difficult botanicals to formulate. For this reason, the present author thinks a healthy dose of skepticism is appropriate for both dermatologists and consumers regarding the usefulness of many cosmeceuticals touting green tea.

      Idebenone, green tea, and Coffeeberry extract: new and innovative antioxidants.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18045357

      That’s why I’m not a big fan of DIY green tea skin care products. Without proper knowledge in cosmetic chemistry you are more than likely to get it wrong and just wasting your time.

      That said, if you do want to try the DIY route, then you should find a base/carrier cream into which to mix the EGCG. Mixing it into tea is unlikely to work as the tea won’t penetrate the skin. It will just sit on the skin and evaporate.

  5. Another idea would be to use a washcloth, cut holes for nose and eyes, dip it into the prepared tea, wring gently as to not remove all the tea. Place on face while you read or watch tv. If it evaporates, wet it again and apply again. In this case, a fresh brew would probably be better each time. Washcloth should be cleaned after each use. And probably, if the tea is still warm, it would open up the pores and allow better penetration.

    I’ve seen green tea masks made out of rice paper but it looks really complicated as you need to cut the pieces up just right so that the whole face is covered properly.

  6. thanks for the response Seppo. I’ve been doing more reading and lead content is found in tea from China and Japan. How would that impact our skin?

  7. Is it possible to put green tea into a spray bottle and after washing your face apply it with the spray bottle? 🙂

    • You can do that but I’m not sure how much it’s going to help you. Green tea is essentially water and the skin is a pretty good water barrier. Most likely the spray will just sit on your skin until it evaporates. It could help but I’m not too optimistic that it will.

      Furthermore, you have to brew the tea fresh every day. Stored in a bottle the antioxidants in the tea degrade rapidly. After a day or two you are left with nothing but green water with some caffeine and tannins.

  8. Seeming as green tea isn’t an effective skin treatment, at least long term with what was said about catechins, what is another easy, effective, and cheap option…?

  9. Hi there,

    Great article…. What about using matcha powder instead of brewing whole leaf tea? I guess one could add a tiny amount with hot water and use it like a toner? Other than a more greenish tint to the face would it be more effective?

    Thanks!

  10. Hey, I came up with this website and have been reading for a while, so far good information and will try topical green tea for my acne.

    I have a question about an idea I came up with while trying to fit the brewing into my routine, the thing is that I travel a lot and many hotel rooms don’t have stoves, pots or kettles to make tea, so I thought I could use green tea capsules or pills and dissolve them and use them in my skin.

    Do you think this is a good method to use green tea and get benefits for my skin?

    Thanks.

    • In principle that should work. Those pills usually contain dried green tea extracts anyway. If you can dissolve them in water, it could help your skin.

  11. Can I make a green tea facial cream by using the powdered green tea and mixing it with a face cream I already use?
    Should I try to add some lotus tea to it also?

    • I doubt that works. The problem is that the particle-size of powdered green tea is too large to penetrate the skin. Most likely what happens is that the cream will absorb into the skin leaving the green tea powder sitting on top. A better idea would be to mix EGCG into the cream. You can find EGCG from DIY cosmetic ingredient shops.

  12. Hello, Seppo

    Thank you for your useful information.

    I heard that all catechins in green tea are dissolved well by alochol. I wonder wether it is possiple to brew green tea in a commercial toner containing alcohol? Additionally, the commercial toner contains preservative, which could help extend self life of green tea brewing in the toner.

    Please let me know your idea.

    • Yes, alcohol is one of the best solvents. In theory what you said could work, but I would use cold steeping. Just put a tea bag(s) into your toner bottle and let it sit there for a day. But I’m not sure that the preservatives in the toners are enough to keep the product free from contaminants. Preservatives are added to keep the existing formulation from going bag, they aren’t designed to neutralize added contaminants.

  13. Have you examined the benefits of using Matcha green tea instead of brewed tea leaves? This beverage is purported to have the health benefits of 10 cups of brewed green tea. However, this may not be the appropriate ratio for comparing topical application of the green teas. Some of the benefits of Matcha are derived from consuming the leaves themselves (which are in powder form). Still, it seems to me that you could potentially get a stronger concentration of EGCG from using the Matcha green tea beverage over steeping 4 bags of green tea. What do you think?

    • I don’t think Matcha will give you any better results when used topically. The claim that matcha is 10 times healthier comes from the fact that brewing tea in water still leaves a lot of antioxidants into the leaves, but this has no bearing on topical application.

  14. Wow – Thank you for writing this well informed article and sharing the links! I feel confirmed after using my own similar brew for over 10 years, yes 10 years! People say I glow and can rarely guess my age – I just stopped getting carded 2 years ago (I am 46). I must admit my diet is much cleaner -minimal sugar, meat, dairy, and grains and no wheat. Luuuuv my veggies. Besides the strongly brewed tea with added vitamin C I also steep fresh calendula petals (anti-inflammatory). When it is room temperature I strain and add witch hazel (brewed in alcohol) and and 3 drops of lavender (antimicrobial). I put it in a tinted bottle and stick it in the fridge for a morning and evening spritz. It last for about 5 days.

  15. Wonderful Article, but I do have a question. After brewing the green tea you could pour it into ice cube trays and freeze, rubbing one ice cube on your face everyday. Using this method, would the catechins survive the freezing cold, and absorb into the skin as they melt?

    • I don’t know. In general, I’m not a fan of DIY solutions. More than likely you’ll just waste your time and money. You would have to get the green tea extract to mix with the moisturizer and blend evenly. You are also adding bacteria to it (from the green tea extract and the spoon you use to mix it). The preservatives in the moisturizer may or may not be able to neutralize the bacteria.

  16. hey –
    i tried this and i found the organic clipper green tea to work pretty well via this method. ( although you will have to buy in bulk from amazon as it takes a lot of teabags daily)
    I found that by putting three tea bags into a bowl and steaming face to open pores, and then washing with a highly concentrated ( 3/4 teabags in little water -that islukewarm/cool) – to close the pores left skin pores looking really tight and kept my skin clear.

    Although be warned the stuff really stains towells and sink and takes a lot of effort. skin looked amazing whilst doing this though. I’d sometimes

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