Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/29/2020
If you’ve ever searched online for foods with health benefits, you’ve no doubt heard about the many advantages offered by green tea, including its ability to treat acne.
Green tea is highly popular with natural health enthusiasts, and for good reasons — like many other herbal teas, it’s loaded with natural compounds that are rich in antioxidants and offer a variety of benefits for your health and wellbeing.
However, like many other natural remedies, it can be difficult to separate the real science from the hype behind green tea, especially as an acne treatment.
Below, we’ve dug into the scientific research behind using green tea to treat acne to find out if it’s really as effective as its enthusiasts claim. We’ve also explained how green tea can fit into your acne and skincare routine alongside other science-backed treatments.
Before we get into the specifics of green tea and its effects on acne, it’s important to cover the basics of how acne actually develops and how common acne treatments work.
Acne develops when your hair follicles, or pores, become clogged with a mix of sebum (a type of natural oil that’s secreted by your sebaceous glands) and dead skin cells. When these build up on the surface of your skin, they can create a plug inside your pores, resulting in acne.
The specific type of acne you develop depends on how each pore is blocked. Pores that remain partially open to the air turn into blackheads, while pores that are completely closed off turn into whiteheads.
When bacteria is trapped inside a blocked pore, it can develop into a red, inflamed pimple. This type of acne can be painful. When this happens deep below the surface of your skin, it can form into a severe, very painful type of acne called cystic acne.
Since acne is caused by dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria, most acne treatments target one of several of these root causes.
Right now, there isn’t any conclusive scientific evidence showing that green tea helps to get rid of acne.
However, there is scientific research showing that green tea could have health benefits related to acne, including effects on sebum production and anti-inflammatory effects that might prevent acne from becoming inflamed and painful.
For example, a scientific review from 2017 looked at the effects of antioxidant molecules known as polyphenols, which can be found in green tea.
Polyphenols can be found in many plant-based foods. In plants, they help to protect against the effects of ultraviolet radiation. Although research is still ongoing, there’s evidence that they may play a role in helping to protect humans from certain diseases.
The review, which used data from eight different studies, found that the polyphenols that can be found in green tea may help to reduce the amount of sebum secreted by the sebaceous glands and get rid of acne lesions when applied topically.
It also noted that green tea is rich in a phenolic compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG.
Other research into EGCG has found that it plays a major role in lowering the amount of sebum produced by the body — one of the major causes of acne breakouts.
The same study also found that EGCG may affect the growth of propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes — a gram-positive bacteria that plays a major role in the development of inflamed, painful acne.
A different scientific review from 2012 also found that green tea may have benefits as a topical treatment for acne, with people who used a green tea emulsion noting less oily skin after eight weeks of treatment compared to baseline.
Finally, several studies, including those mentioned above, have noted that polyphenols in green tea have anti-inflammatory effects, meaning they may help to manage the inflammation that can occur in infected acne lesions.
In short, although there’s relatively little data showing that green tea directly gets rid of acne, the studies that are available do show a real connection between the polyphenols that can be found in green tea and reductions in inflammation, bacterial growth and sebum production.
While green tea isn’t an acne cure-all, adding it to your skincare routine could help you to keep blackheads, whiteheads and other forms of acne at bay.
There are several ways to use green tea as an acne treatment. The first is to simply drink green tea on a regular basis, which offers health benefits beyond treating acne. The second is to use a green tea facial scrub, lotion or mask, either DIY or purchased from a store.
The third is to use a green tea supplement. We’ve looked at the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options below.
Drinking green tea is a cheap, easy way to enjoy its potential skincare benefits. It’s also a good way to access the numerous other health benefits of green tea, including its potential effects on cardiovascular and metabolic health.
Green tea is inexpensive and readily available from supermarkets, health food stores and other merchants. If you buy your green tea premade (for example, in a bottle or can), make sure that you check the label for added sugars and other unwanted ingredients.
Although drinking green tea is quick, easy and inexpensive, it may not provide the full benefits for your skin. This is because most research that shows acne-related benefits from green tea uses topical green tea products rather than brewed green tea.
Still, if you like the taste of green tea and want to add a healthy drink to your daily routine, one to two cups per day of warm or cold green tea can be a worthwhile addition.
Green tea is a common ingredient in facial scrubs, lotions and anti-acne masks. You can find these in many health shops, supermarkets and drugstores. Prices vary, with some green tea products inexpensive and others priced similarly to luxury skincare products.
One factor that you should be aware of when buying green tea skincare products is the actual amount of green tea that’s used in the product’s formula. While some green tea products are rich in green tea, others may contain other ingredients that aren’t very effective.
Before you buy anything, it pays to check the label to verify that the skincare product contains epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG.
If you don’t like the taste of green tea, or just don’t have time to brew tea every day, you may want to use a green tea supplement.
Most green tea supplements are inexpensive, depending on the brand. Using a supplement allows you to consume the EGCG and other catechins in green tea in a quick, convenient form.
It’s important to be aware that it’s possible to take too much green tea extract. Some research, consuming more than 500mg of green tea catechins per day may have a harmful effect on your liver.
However, it’s also worth noting that there’s no set standard for daily green tea catechins, as more research is still needed.
In addition to moderating sebum production, reducing inflammation and treating acne, green tea has a variety of other potential health benefits, including the following:
Fresher, better smelling breath. Studies have found that green tea is highly effective at reducing oral malodor, or bad breath. As such, it’s a good drink to consume regularly if you’d like to keep your breath fresh and odor-free throughout the day.
Improved cardiovascular health. Several studies have found that green tea, and tea in general, is linked to a slower buildup of calcified plaque in the arteries and a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Easier fat burning and weight loss. A variety of studies, mostly from Asia, have found that green tea may help with weight loss. In a study from Japan, obese people who used a high-catechin form of green tea lost more body fat than their peers.
However, it’s worth noting that most of these studies and possible benefits should be taken for what they are — possible effects based on limited research, with much more conclusive and rigorous study needing to be done.
While green tea may have skincare and anti-acne benefits, research into its effectiveness isn’t very comprehensive.
If you have moderate or severe acne, relying on green tea or other products may not produce the results you’d like. While these treatments can be helpful, their effects are usually mild and they may not be strong enough to get rid of stubborn acne.
As such, it’s worth considering using a science-backed, FDA-approved treatment if you have acne that doesn’t respond to green tea. Your options include:
Benzoyl peroxide. Available over-the-counter, benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic that removes the bacteria that can contribute to acne breakouts. It can be a good option if you have infected, inflamed pimples that are caused by bacteria.
You can find benzoyl peroxide in many acne prevention creams, gels and face washes sold in drugstores and supermarkets.
Tretinoin. A topical retinoid, tretinoin helps your body to produce new skin cells more efficiently, reducing your risk of experiencing acne breakouts. Used daily, tretinoin can significantly reduce acne over the course of about 12 weeks.
Tretinoin is one of several ingredients in our customizable acne cream. You can learn more about how it works as an acne medication in our full guide to treating hormonal acne with tretinoin.
Clindamycin. A topical antibiotic, clindamycin gets rid of the bacteria that can become stuck in your pores and contribute to acne breakouts. It’s often prescribed to treat acne that’s infected and inflamed.
You can learn more about how clindamycin works, its potential side effects and more in our full guide to using clindamycin to treat acne.
Isotretinoin. Isotretinoin is an oral medication that’s generally used to treat severe acne. It’s powerful and very effective, although it may cause certain side effects.
Most of the time, you won’t need to use isotretinoin if you only have mild or moderate acne. However, your healthcare provider may recommend this medication if you have severe or persistent acne that doesn’t go away with milder treatments.
Although green tea is safe and healthy in normal quantities, there are several things you should be aware of before you use green tea to treat acne:
Like many other types of tea, green tea contains caffeine. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you may want to reduce your consumption of coffee, energy drinks, cola and any other drinks that contain caffeine to avoid feeling overly restless or uncomfortable.
High doses of green tea extract may cause liver damage. As such, make sure that you check the label and avoid taking large amounts of green tea supplements, especially if you use other medications that can cause liver injury.
Green tea may interact with certain medications used to treat heart conditions, including beta-blockers such as nadolol.
If you take any type of prescription medication, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before adding green tea to your skincare routine.
Although the existing scientific research is far from comprehensive, there’s some evidence that green tea may help to treat acne.
If you have mild acne and don’t want to use medication, drinking a cup or two of green tea each day or using a topical green tea face wash may help to keep your acne under control. You’ll also be able to enjoy the numerous other health benefits that green tea might offer.
However, if you have moderate or severe acne, you’ll generally need to use a science-backed treatment to see a noticeable improvement in your skin.