Green Tea and UV Protection

This summer, protect your skin with the antioxidant power of green tea

Humans have a sort of love-hate relationship with the sun. Who doesn’t love to be outside on a sunny day, soaking up the warm rays? Not to mention it’s those UVB rays that produce vitamin D in our skin. What we don’t love so much are the wrinkles, sun spots, and potential cancer that come with excess UV exposure. The good news is that polyphenol antioxidants found in green tea can protect your cells from UV-induced damage, potentially halting much of sun’s negative effects.


Too much UV exposure generates harmful free radicals in the skin and cumulative exposure to these free radicals contributes to the break down of DNA, proteins—including collagen and elastin—and fats in skin cells. The consequence is that skin cells are damaged and cannot create healthy new cells, leading to wrinkles, sun spots, thin, and sagging skin. Excessive UV exposure also increases the risk of three different types of skin cancer—squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. 


All of this may send you running for cover from the sun, but a growing body of research is showing that polyphenol antioxidants found in green tea have photoprotective properties, meaning they protect our cells from the damaging effects of UV radiation. 


Polyphenols are chemicals that naturally occur in many plants, fruits, and vegetables and are proven to be beneficial to human health. Green tea is an excellent source of polyphenols called catechins. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is the most abundant and extensively researched catechin in green tea, and one that is showing promise in protecting the skin from UV damage, including skin cancer.


Human and animal studies have shown that EGCG has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and photoprotective effects when taken orally and applied topically to the skin.i One study found that regular intake of EGCG increased the amount of UV exposure it took to burn the skin; in other words, it increased the skin’s resistance to sunburn.ii In studies investigating non-melanoma skin cancers, EGCG was found to reduce oxidative stress, cancer cell proliferation, and inflammation. At the same time EGCG has been found to enhance the immune system, apoptosis (programmed cell death), and DNA repair. iii iv Initially it was thought that EGCG was only effective for non-melanoma types of skin cancer like basal and squamous cell carcinomas, but emerging research indicates that EGCG has a preventative effect against melanoma too.v vi vii  viii 


Topical treatments containing EGCG have been shown to significantly inhibit both acute and chronic UV-induced oxidation in the skin, suggesting that green tea polyphenols may be able to reduce photo damage in the skin and prevent premature aging.ix x Studies show that consistent intake of EGCG, either through consumption of green tea or green tea extract, leads to higher concentrations of EGCG in the cells throughout the body, meaning that the body is able to effectively store it. Researchers have determined the effective cancer preventative “dose” to be approximately 10 half-cup servings of green tea per day or about 2.5 gram of green tea extract.xi  


This summer, turn to the power of green tea polyphenols to help protect your skin from UV damage. Look for sunscreens, lotions, and creams containing green tea extract and add refreshing cold-brews of green tea to your summer drink repetoire. Rather not drink 10 cups of green tea a day? Opt for a concentrated green tea extract in supplement form. 


References available upon request