Natural remedies often score high on hype but low on credible evidence. And reading about green tea you certainly find a lot of hype. But can green tea live up to the hype? Can you use green tea to treat acne?
The answer is a resounding yes. Studies show that green tea can reduce acne by over 50%. Furthermore, it can cut sebum production by astonishing 70%.
So take a few minutes to learn why you should make green tea as your go-to acne treatment.
Benefits of green tea for the skin
Green tea has many benefits for the acne-prone skin, including the following:
- Reduces sebum production, one study showed 70% reduction after 8 weeks of use.
- Protects the skin against inflammation, several studies have shown that green tea cream can prevent and mitigate the damage caused by sunlight and other sources.
- Reduces inflammatory reaction to acne-causing bacteria. This is important because acne patients tend to have overtly strong inflammatory response to bacteria in the skin pores.
It’s now becoming clear that genes influence acne a lot. Not by causing it directly but by making the skin extra-sensitive to hormones and inflammation. One reason green tea is so effective against acne is because it mitigates these genetic vulnerabilities.
Studies: Over 50% reduction in pimple count
I searched the publicly available medical studies on effectiveness of green tea on acne. Unfortunately this isn’t getting the research attention is deserves and I only found 3 studies. But they show very promising results.
All 3 studies showed over 50% reduction in pimple count after using green tea cream. The study periods varied from 6 to 8 weeks (standard in studies like this). This graph summarizes the results.
In one of the studies the researcher wrote that green tea is as effective as benzoyl peroxide or antibiotic creams. Pretty impressive given that those are the go-to treatments for most dermatologists. And not only is green tea as effective as topical antibiotics, it also worked faster. Green tea lotion got results in 8 weeks while it took the antibiotic cream 12 weeks to really kick in.
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.
No mean feat for a humble cup of tea.
In case it’s not clear, these studies used topical green tea lotion.
Here’s a before and after picture from one of the studies.
Not what you could call ‘stop the press and rewrite page 1’ results, but still very good. And since this comes from a scientific paper (see the references below) you know it’s no photoshopped.
Green tea reduces sebum production by 70%
Excess sebum production is a problem for every acne patients. One reason green tea works so well is that it can reduce sebum production. One study found 70% reduction after 8 weeks of green tea cream.
Earlier I mentioned how we acne patients got a bit unlucky in the genetic lottery. Because of genes our skin is far more sensitive to androgen hormones, and this causes excess sebum production. Green tea can mitigate this by blocking the androgen hormone receptors in the skin. And the graph above shows just how much this can help your skin. Though you should take these results with a grain of salt. That study had some methodological problems and I’m fairly certain it overstates the results.
For those who are technically minded, green tea does this by hindering the conversion of testosterone to DHT in the skin; something that happens far too actively in the acne-prone skin.
Green tea and skin inflammation
Excess inflammation is another problem for acne patients. Studies have shown that acne-prone skin reacts to bacteria much more strongly than normal skin does. The immune system sort of goes on an ‘overkill’ mode when it detects bacteria. This can turn otherwise harmless blocked pore into an angry pimple.
The presence of androgen hormones in the skin further strengthens this inflammatory response. Green tea can reduce the severity of your acne by mitigating the damage these hormones cause.
Further, green tea is strongly anti-oxidant on its own right. UV exposure from sunlight can damage and even cause skin cancer. Several studies have shown that topical green tea lotions protect the skin form UV-induced damage.
This is relevant because this sort of ‘external’ inflammation can trigger the acne formation process.
No real side-effects
In medicine desired (treatment) effects often come with adverse effects (side-effects). The more effective a treatment is the more side-effects it usually causes. Not so with green tea. The studies didn’t show any major side-effects from green tea creams. A few people experienced minor skin itching, but even that subsided over time.
People often ask me to recommend a good product with green tea.
There aren’t that many available yet. iHerb.com carries quite a few skincare products with green tea, such as these, and I’m sure you can find some from Amazon also. But the best one I’ve used is Exposed Skin Care. They include green tea into most of their products, and I noticed big drop in the oiliness of my skin when I used them.
They also use chemicals (benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) responsibly and when they are called for, and compliment them with proven natural treatments. This aligns perfectly with my ideas for treating acne.
Disclaimer: I may get a small commission if you buy Exposed after clicking through from my website. You pay the same price and the income helps to keep this site going.
So what’s the overarching conclusion from all this? Green tea is one heck of an effective acne treatment. It counters the main reason of our skin problems: genetic sensitivity to hormones and inflammation.
- The effectiveness of green tea is at par with benzoyl peroxide and anti-biotic creams, the current gold-standard treatments.
- Studies show over 50% reduction in pimple count from using green tea lotion.
- Green tea reduces how sensitive acne-prone skin is to androgen hormones by blocking androgen receptors in the skin. This can reduce sebum production, and one study showed over 70% reduction after 8 weeks.
- Green tea is also strongly anti-inflammatory. It can dampen the inflammatory response to acne-causing bacteria and protect the skin from external sources of inflammation.
With all this in mind I can confidently conclude that if you aren’t using green tea lotions you aren’t doing your best to fight acne.
- Topical therapy of acne vulgaris using 2% tea lotion in comparison with 5% zinc sulphate solution (PDF)
- The efficacy of topical 2% green tea lotion in mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris
- Treatment of acne vulgaris with 2% topical tea lotion (PDF)
- Outcomes of 3% green tea emulsion on skin sebum production in male volunteers (PDF)
- Skin photoprotection by green tea: antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects
- Green tea polyphenolic antioxidants and skin photoprotection (Review)
- Polyphenolic antioxidant (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate from green tea reduces UVB-induced inflammatory responses and infiltration of leukocytes in human skin
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