Drink to Your Skin: Tea & Sun Protection

tea health benefits
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

There is a great deal of confusing information about tea and its benefits, especially when it comes to the skin. The good news is that there are some great skin benefits to tea; the difficulty is figuring out how to get the benefits.

There has been research regarding green and black tea and sun protection, but drinking herbal tea won’t do the trick. The “true” teas, including white, green, black, and oolong tea, are all derived from the leaves of the tea tree. These different tea varieties are formulated by allowing the leaves to oxidize to varying degrees.

It is important to note that the term “herbal tea” traditionally refers to infusions of fruits or herbs and typically contains NO ACTUAL TEA. I cannot stress enough that herbal teas rarely contain any true tea.

Most of the research on tea has focused on green tea, but it’s known that black tea also offers beneficial effects to skin and other body organs. The beneficial nutrients in tea are polyphenols. Tea polyphenols possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties. One of the polyphenols in green tea, epigallocathechin gallate, or ECGC, has been shown to be 100 times more powerful as an antioxidant than vitamin C and 25 times more potent than vitamin E. There is a clear sun-protective effect to tea, and scientific work on green tea as an agent for preventing aging of the skin is promising.

It is the ultraviolet component of sunlight that causes collagen damage wrinkling, premature aging, the redness and swelling of a sunburn, and the DNA damage that leads to skin cancer.  As far back as 1991, researchers from Case Western Reserve University demonstrated that feeding a green tea extract to mice could protect them from ultraviolet light-induced skin cancers. Further research from Dr. Wang at Case Western Reserve University has shown that drinking green tea extract prevented ultraviolet light-associated skin redness, swelling, and DNA injury in mice. Other green tea research has shown that consuming green tea extract delayed collagen aging related to ultraviolet light.

Basically, mice that were given the equivalent of 5 to 6 cups of green tea every day had reduced ultraviolet damage, a diminished burn reaction, and a lower occurrence of skin cancer. Nashai Biotech research has shown that drinking regular black tea, decaffeinated black teas, or decaffeinated green tea can also be effective in preventing sun-induced skin tumors in mice.

As a topical agent applied directly to the skin, green tea extract is also effective for preventing ultraviolet-induced skin damage. Consequently, many cosmetic companies have begun to add green tea extract to moisturizers, sunscreens, and anti-aging creams.

Drinking green tea or green tea extract is a great way to help prevent sun damage and slow aging of the skin. Green tea can be an important part of any skin care regimen and should be consumed daily, but a cup of tea isn’t enough to protect anyone from a day in the sun. A sunscreen that covers both UVA and UVB with an SPF of greater than 15, reapplied every two hours while in the sun or after swimming, is the most important thing anyone can do for their skin.

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