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Bolstering Skin’s Defenses with Green Tea

Bolstering Skin's Defenses with Green Tea: Main Image
Green tea nutrients can make their way into our skin, and may protect against sun damage
For the fairest among us, sunburns are more than a painful nuisance; they cause skin damage, promoting premature aging and increasing skin cancer risk. The most common steps to reduce those risks include regular use of sunscreen and staying in the shade when the sun is strongest. Now we may be able to add tea time--specifically green tea time--to our sun-care routine.

Quell the flames with green tea

Researchers invited 16 people into a study examining whether green tea nutrients--called catechins--are absorbed by the body and into the skin, and if these nutrients protect against sun damage. The study participants had type I or II skin on the Fitzpatrick phototyping scale. A person with type I skin is characterized as burning easily and never tanning, while type II skin burns easily and tans minimally, with difficulty.

Fourteen participants completed the study, during which they took a daily supplement providing 540 mg of green tea catechins and 50 mg of vitamin C for 12 weeks. A portion of each person's skin was exposed to UV radiation sufficient to cause a sunburn at the beginning of the study, before supplementation, and again, after 12 weeks. Tissue samples of both UV-exposed skin and unexposed skin were collected.

Compared with the skin samples collected before supplementation, the samples collected after had measurable levels of green tea catechins, and showed significantly lower levels of inflammation after UV radiation exposure.

A couple of cups per day

This study suggests that green tea nutrients can make their way into our skin, and may protect against sun damage. The study was small, it did not assess sunburn directly, and it only tells us that inflammation, which is one marker of damage, can be lessened by green tea catechins. Still, these findings agree with other research on the sun protective effects of green tea, and there are few downsides to and other potential health benefits from drinking green tea.

According to John Weisburger, PhD, a tea researcher at the Institute for Cancer Prevention in Valhalla, New York, green tea has up to ten times the polyphenols--the family of nutrients to which catechins belong--compared with many vegetables and fruit. Our tips will have you brewing in no time:

  • Count to three. A cup of green tea has around 200 mg of catechins. Three cups daily will supply about the same amount of catechins as the study supplement.
  • Go low. If green tea tastes bitter to you, try brewing it at a temperature slightly less than boiling.
  • Time it. Steep your tea for between two and four minutes. Longer times make for a stronger, sometimes more bitter brew.
  • Squeeze it. After brewing, dip your teabag up and down in the cup, then squeeze the liquid out of the bag as you remove it, to maximize catechins in your cup.
  • Add citrus, avoid milk. Sip green tea with a squeeze of lemon to help your body best use the healthy nutrients, and don't add milk to your tea, because it may decrease the benefit by blocking catechin absorption.

(Br J Nutr 2013; doi:10.1017/S0007114512006071)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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