Mid way through my first afternoon of clinical training, my teacher called for a break. I was surprised. True there were no patients waiting and none on the treatment rooms, but why would we pause now instead of plowing forward through the afternoon’s work and getting home a little earlier?
If there was one thing, I had learned in my first 5 hours of training, it was to observe quietly, take notes, and save my questions for later. So I did.
My teacher filled a slightly battered blue tea kettle at the tap and placed it on an even more battered electric single burner hot plate.
“Sit,” he said, motioning to a nearby wooden folding chair. I did.
“Do you know how to make tea?”
Of course, I thought. I was glad I hadn’t answered when he didn’t produce a box of Lipton or Tetley. Instead, he opened a beautifully decorated metal tin and spooned dried green leaves into a cast iron pot.
We waited for the water to boil then cool slightly before he poured it over the leaves in the cast iron pot. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Unsure of the proper ritual, I did the same.
When the tea was ready, he strained the bright green liquid into each cup.
In what was to become a ritual over the next three years, he explained a small detail or clinical pearl that might have been overlooked during the busy clinic hours.That day, the first day, he talked about tea, green tea, and why it was good for health.
My teacher never talked about self care. He showed by example the importance of taking good care of yourself so that you would have the energy and stamina to do the things you needed and wanted to do in your life. Pausing and resting were part of that self care.
So was eating and drinking things that nourished and supported you. Like green tea.
What's special about green tea
All tea comes from an evergreen shrub native to southeast Asia, camellia sinesis. Asians have used tea as a medicinal and recreational drink since ancient times. It spread to the rest of the world along the silk road in the 1500’s.
Green tea is made from the freshly picked leaves, while black teas are fermented. Both have health benefits. Herbal teas, made from plants other than camellia sinesis, are not technically teas, but infusions.
Green tea for health
Because green tea is the least processed of teas, it retains more antioxidants and polyphenols. In Chinese and Ayruvedic medicines, its used to cool heat, aid in wound healing, improve digestion, lift mood, increase mental alertness, help with sleep and headaches.
Modern scientific studies show that green tea may decrease tumor growth and reduce UV damage, and lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cognitive dysfunction. A 2007 study found that consumption of green tea appeared to help inflammatory skin diseases.
Green tea for skin health
Drinking green tea is good for your skin. It’s loaded with anti-oxidants that can help with UV damage from the sun and other environmental insults. It also promotes gut health and good digestion which also contribute to skin health.
You’ve probably noticed that green tea is a popular skin care ingredient. With good reason.
Many of the benefits of drinking green tea happen when you apply it to your skin.
Green tea's anti-oxidant super powers
There is a special anti-oxidant in green tea called EGCG. It’s been studied extensively and found to increase elasticity in the skin, and reduce damage from sun exposure, giving dull skin a healthier glow.
Green tea contains a high percentage of plant polyphenols which have also been shown to offset UV damage and inflammation.
Like most anti-oxidants, green tea (and EGCG) works better when combined with other anti-oxidants (LINK). It’s like a diet, the more variety of nutrient and anti-oxidants, the better for your health.
Green tea's anti-inflammatory benefits
Just like drinking green tea can help inflammatory skin disease, using in skin care formulas can reduce inflammation, redness, and puffiness.
The polyphenols are anti-inflammatory and sooth red and inflamed skin.
The caffeine and tannins in green tea are responsible for taking down puffiness.
Green tea can be balancing
Green tea has the unique ability to both reduce excess oil production and help increase moisture in the skin.
After 40, excess oil production is rarely a problem for most women. Unless they are irritating and damaging their skin barrier with excessive exfoliation or harsh ingredients. But the occasional breakout can still happen, and green tea can help.
Dry and dehydrated skin is more likely a problem after 40, and green tea can help balance oil production and moisture loss.
Nourishing green tea
Green tea is loaded with vitamin B2 and E.
B2 helps with collagen production and healthy skin cell turnover.
Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant and has the ability to help increase moisture in the skin.
A study using an experimental formulation that used green tea extract was found to increase the water content in the outer layers of the skin, reduce transdermal water loss, and increase elasticity after 30 days of use.
More benefits of green tea for your skin
All of the benefits we’ve talked about are supported by the research (references listed below). By its design, most research looks at only one component (like EGCG, or vitamin B2) when assessing results.
My opinion is that these results are important, but there may be more to the story.
Just like there are more benefits to eating whole foods than the carbs, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins in them, there is more to good skin care than compiling a bunch of cool ingredients. This is because there are more things in them and hard at work that we don’t know about yet and we haven’t even begun to figure out how they work together synergistically.
Green tea is a wonderful ingredient for both your body and your skin. It works best as part of a balanced, well thought out formula with a variety of clean, healthy ingredients that play well together.
My teacher’s practice of taking a mid-afternoon break to mindfully prepare a healthy, nourishing warm beverage and share it in the spirit of friendship had benefits beyond the anti-oxidants and polyphenols in the tea.
Making the time twice a day to take good care of your skin has benefits beyond the ingredients that you use on your skin. Good healthy ingredients are important, of course. But so is the practice of you taking care of yourself.