Okay, here’s the deal.
Green tea has some pretty cool acne-clearing effects.
Is green tea better than coffee for clearing up your skin? Definitely.
Is it better than black tea for acne? Yep.
Is it better than white tea? Maybe not… (read on).
That said, is drinking green tea going to clear up your acne by itself? Probably not (especially if you’re eating dairy, gluten, vegetable oil, or sugar).
But the million-dollar question… will green tea help your acne enough to make it worth drinking? Maybe.
Is it a good part of a smart diet-focused strategy to clear up your skin? Heck yes.
But I’ll warn you – not all green teas are created equal. Some will help your acne a lot more than others (I’ll give you some tips on choosing the best acne-clearing green teas in a little bit).
So let’s dive into green tea and how it can improve your skin!
What is green tea?
Okay, this seems like a silly question.
Green tea is green tea, right? You buy it at the grocery store, pop a teabag into your morning mug, and pour a little boiling water onto it. Wait ~3 minutes, take out the tea bag, and… bottoms up!
But where does it come from?
How is it different from black tea? Or white tea? Or pu-erh? Or rooibos, or (insert cool tea name here)?
Green tea comes from Camellia sinensis tea leaves.
So does… black tea.
And white tea!
They’re all just fermented/oxidized/processed to a different degree. White tea the least, then green tea, then black tea (generally speaking). Turns out this affects their acne-busting powers hugely (more on that later).
Next, let’s dive into how green tea might help you, dear reader, with your acne!
Benefits of green tea for acne
Green tea has some pretty cool potential benefits for your skin… and your overall health! If you’ve read much of our website, you know that these are almost one-and-the-same. Taking good care of your health is taking good care of your skin.
Turns out that drinking green tea can make your skin produce less sebum, reduce your inflammation levels, and boost your immune system. That’s a powerful trio of effects for acne-busting, and we’ll go into them in a minute.
But first, what’s responsible for the benefits of green tea? What’s the magic ingredient?
EGCG: the magic acne-busting antioxidant polyphenol
Okay, it’s not quite magic.
But yes, EGCG can have a huge effect on your hormone levels, especially androgens, and can thus potentially improve acne quite a lot.
What is EGCG?
It’s epigallocatechin-3-gallate. And it looks like this:
How does the EGCG in green tea help acne?
It helps in bunch of ways!
Let’s go through some big benefits.
EGCG lowers androgen levels (male hormones)
This is HUGE.
It does this in two ways:
- By making your body pump out more IGFBP-3 (insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3), a protein that binds up IGF-1 floating around in your bloodstream.
- By blocking IGF-1 receptors directly, preventing IGF-1 from activating these receptors (potentially preventing the acne-boosting effects of IGF-1)
That’s a really good thing if you’ve got acne, since high IGF-1 levels make your skin pump out excess sebum, produce too many skin cells in your pores that get stuck together and clog your pores, and worsen inflammation.
Anything you can do to reduce IGF-1 levels, and get them back to normal, will almost definitely improve your acne.
(If you haven’t read our massive milk and acne article, by the way, go check that out – it goes into way more detail about IGF-1 and how milk boosts IGF-1 levels, triggering acne.)
Furthermore, EGCG inhibits 5-α reductase. Now, 5-α reductase can be a big problem for acne sufferers, since it converts free testosterone to the much more potent DHT (dihydrotestosterone). DHT is a mega-stimulator of excess sebum, clogged pores, and more. So by blocking 5-α reductase, EGCG finds yet another way to (potentially) improve acne!
EGCG helps kill Candida albicans
Persistent Candida infections can cause all kinds of problems, not least systemic inflammation, a compromised immune system, and of course, acne.
EGCG, it turns out, is pretty effective against Candida!
First, EGCG messes up Candida‘s ability to create and maintain biofilm. Biofilm allows Candida to sequester itself away from your immune system, so disrupting that biofilm is an important attack vector against systemic Candida infections.
Second, EGCG sneak-attacks Candida by screwing with its folic acid metabolism. This prevents Candida from producing ergosterol, the fungal version of cholesterol that’s absolutely key for Candida survival and replication. Without ergosterol, Candida can’t reproduce. 
If you’ve got Candida issues – and that’s becoming more and more common as Candida become more and more resistant to antifungals – EGCG in green/white tea could help get rid of them.
Added bonus – EGCG synergizes powerfully with “azole” antifungals like fluconazole. It massively magnifies azoles’ Candida-destroying effects, even against fluconazole-resistant Candida! That’s some powerful synergy, and all the more reason to drink EGCG-rich green or white tea if you’re taking azole antifungals!
Green tea lowers fasting blood sugar (win for acne!)
Check this out:
Two recent meta-analyses of 22+ different studies , covering 1584+ people, found that green tea catechins (including EGCG) significantly lowered:
- Fasting blood glucose
- Fasting insulin
- Hb A1c (glycated hemoglobin, a measure of overall blood sugar control)  
That’s great news for acne!
These studies suggest that green tea improves insulin resistance. Acne sufferers tend to be quite insulin-resistant, which, in combination with high carbohydrate/sugar intake, can lead to:
- Excess sebum production
- Clogged pores
- Worse inflammation, redness, and swelling
- Glycation (basically, excess sugar floats around in your bloodstream and damages your cells, cross-linking proteins, and turning that supple collagen matrix in your facial skin into more brittle, wrinkled, aged skin)
So by reducing insulin resistance, and improving blood sugar control, it looks like green tea might have some beneficial effects in all these areas of acne!
Green tea polyphenols help protect against UV-induced skin cancer (and maybe acne?)
EGCG has some pretty powerful benefits following sun/UV exposure to your skin:
- EGCG repairs damaged DNA after UV exposure (preventing damaged cells from becoming cancerous)
- EGCG stimulates your immune system’s T cells to kill cells damaged beyond repair
- EGCG blocks nasty tumor-promoters
- EGCG stimulates the powerful tumor-destroyer and immune system superhero IL-12  
While this doesn’t seem to directly relate to acne on the surface, it might, if we dig a little.
That same DNA damage following UV exposure to your skin may also suppress your immune system, so it’s possible that green/white tea could benefit acne by repairing this DNA damage, and re-stimulating your immune system back to healthy levels, following sun exposure. This could allow your body to better fight off P. acnes bacteria inside clogged pores, and to more quickly clean up ruptured sebocytes (i.e., major zits).
That’s a good reason to drink green tea!
(FYI, we don’t recommend avoiding sun altogether, since it’s so beneficial for vitamin D levels, nitric oxide production, and overall well-being – read our vitamin D article for more on that.)
White tea is basically just picked, withered, then dried. Bang! White tea.It’s got a more delicate, flowery flavor than green tea, maybe due to the tiny, silvery hairs on the young, delicate tea buds.
Green tea is a little more complicated – it’s more like this:
Pick leaves > steam > dry > roll > dry > roll > dry > roll > final dry > remove debris > grind (optional, for matcha) or roast (optional, for hojicha).
Harvesting time affects green tea hugely. There are usually 3-4 harvests per year. The first in April/May, which gives the healthiest, best-tasting, and most expensive green tea.
Yep, that’s what we want for blitzing acne!
The “ichiban-cha” (一番茶) or “shin-cha” (新茶), or first harvest. This is like “extra virgin” olive oil – it’s the primo stuff!
Black tea is fermented, unlike green and white teas. In other words, it’s oxidized, giving it a stronger, deeper flavor, ~3x the caffeine, and a longer shelf life.
Does black tea have as many antioxidants as green or white tea?
You might be thinking… wait, if black tea is oxidized, doesn’t it mean there are fewer antioxidants left?
Well, that’s what you’d think, but turns out it’s more complex than that!
During this oxidation process, the catechins in black tea are converted to theaflavins and thearubigins.
Turns out that theaflavins are at least as effective at scavenging free radicals as catechins are!
Green + white tea => catechins => potent antioxidants
Black tea => theaflavins => also potent antioxidants!
Now the fly in the ointment is this: those catechins (which include EGCG) are the main reason why green tea is so effective against acne!
So if we only compare on antioxidant power alone, green tea = white tea = black tea (more or less).
But when we talk about hormone-optimizing power, green tea and white tea leave black tea in the dust! You need that EGCG for the potent anti-acne benefits, and black tea just doesn’t have much of it. (In fact, black tea only has around 50% of the total catechins of green tea, and even less EGCG. )
Check out the next FAQ to see how the EGCG levels actually compare between teas.
How do the EGCG levels compare in green, white, and black tea?
Here are the EGCG and caffeine levels in a bunch of different teas (apologies, white tea didn’t make it into these graphs):
Here’s the different types, averaged:
This shows green tea pretty consistently around 86 mg/g EGCG.
In reality, though, EGCG values change an ENORMOUS amount from brand to brand.
Proof: a different study tested a bunch of different white teas, and the total catechin content (which includes EGCG) ranged from 14.40 to 369.60 mg/g. That’s a 26x difference between different white teas! Holy crap! It also tested a bunch of green teas, and those levels ranged from 21.38 to 228.20 mg/g, over a 10x difference.
You never know what the actual EGCG content of a specific brand of tea is without testing it! These amounts vary widely, probably due to growing conditions, processing, storage, and age. All the more reason to seek out high quality tea!
Key points here:
- Green tea probably has a bit more EGCG than white tea (on average), but they’re in the same ballpark.
- Black tea only has ~30% of the EGCG of green or white tea!
So green and white tea are fairly neck-and-neck, here. Black tea is the clear loser on EGCG levels, however… and top of that, it’s got way more caffeine!
In the next FAQ, we’ll explore caffeine levels a little more to figure out which kind of tea will be best for us acne sufferers.
How do the caffeine levels compare in green, white, and black tea?
If you’ve read our epic post on coffee and acne, you know why caffeine can trigger acne (makes you insulin resistant, boosts cortisol / stress levels, makes your skin pump out more sebum, etc.).
So, generally speaking, we want to minimize caffeine when we’re dealing with acne.
Here’s some caffeine levels in tea, from a different source:
- Black tea: 23 – 110 mg
- Oolong tea: 12 – 55 mg
- Green tea: 8 – 36 mg
- White tea: 6 – 25 mg
Generally speaking, green tea and white tea have the lowest levels of caffeine.
Oolong tea is medium-tier.
But black tea is way up there! That’s well into espresso territory on the high end. Another study found that black tea had triple the caffeine content of green tea.
Winners on caffeine levels? Green tea and white tea. Loser? Black tea.
So why would anyone drink black tea, if it's lower in EGCG, and higher in caffeine?
Well, number one, for flavor! Some people prefer that black tea richness and body.
Benefit #2: It lasts longer on the shelf.
Now, white and green teas lose a lot of their flavor (and EGCG) within a year, so they’re not great for international trade – or, rather, they weren’t back when tea was trucked around via horse and carriage (or camel?) across Eurasia.
(Seriously, compressed bricks of black tea were actually used as currency in Mongolia, Siberia, and Tibet into the 19th century. )
Black tea holds its flavor for a few years, since it’s already been oxidized (unlike green/white tea).
Benefit #3: Those theaflavins and thearubigins in black tea actually might help prevent against heart disease – they dilate/expand your blood vessels and stimulate your body to produce nitric oxide (NO), both powerful weapons against heart disease.
But that’s not why you’re reading a blog called Clear Skin Forever, is it? 😉 We care about acne, here!
From an acne perspective, definitely go for green tea or white tea. It’s lower in caffeine and higher in EGCG – what’s not to like?
What about EGCG supplements?
You don’t have to drink green tea to get EGCG.
You’d better believe supplement companies are isolating and packing EGCG into pills the minute studies are published showing EGCG has such crazy health benefits!
So why drink green tea if you can just pop a pill?
Well, while a couple studies have found that 800mg daily doses of EGCG appear to be safe (no changes in blood chemistry, no significant side effects), these studies only ran for 10 days and 4 weeks, respectively. 
What if there’s some long-term negative effect due to the folate-disrupting properties of EGCG?
Definitely reaching here, but we’ve seen it time and time again – plant compounds, when isolated and concentrated into a pill, don’t always behave in the same way in the body, and can cause problems that would otherwise be balanced out by getting the full matrix of polyphenols and other plant compounds found in whole foods.
It’s also possible that some of the beneficial effects of green tea are due to EGC, GC, or other catechins besides EGCG. Green tea also contains L-theanine, which has great mood-boosting benefits, and you wouldn’t get this from an EGCG supplement.
Generally, I say this: when in doubt, let food be thy medicine!
Where can I find the highest quality green tea?
It’s a little tougher to find quality green tea outside of Japan. I studied abroad in Kyoto back in college, and the quality of the green tea there is consistently way better than your average green tea here. Much “greener,” fresher-looking, and better-tasting. (And better for your skin, no doubt!)
So you’ll have to do a little digging to find the good stuff.
The general takeaway is this: don’t buy green tea in cardboard boxes at the grocery store.
Look for teas that come in sealed, foil-lined bags.
This “metalized multilayer polyethylene film,” often used in chip bags and candy bar wrappers, is the best way to preserve the fragile EGCG and polyphenol content. This method is leaps and bounds better than the standard cardboard box o’ teabags at the grocery store, which lets in a constant stream of nasty, corrosive oxygen, destroying those delicate, skin-clearing catechins like EGCG.
If you get tea in these foil-lined bags, chances are good that the tea is also pretty fresh/recent – double-check with your tea seller, though, to make sure they only sell green tea that’s < 1 year old.
If you’re an over-achiever, and/or just really want to get some of the best green tea available, check out these guys:
They’ll send you a monthly tea box of super-fresh green tea, straight from Japan, so you can be sure it hasn’t been sitting on the grocery store shelf (or on a pallet somewhere) for years, letting that precious EGCG leech away.
They pack their green teas in foil-lined bags, too!
Also, it’s a great way to try out a whole bunch of types of green tea to see what you like best. Matcha (抹茶), sencha (煎茶), genmaicha (玄米茶), hojicha (焙じ茶), gyokuro (玉露)… crazy variety out there!
What's the best way to prepare green tea for maximum EGCG + acne benefit?
Depends on the water temperature! Check this out:
185ºF is definitely better than 158ºF.
212ºF (boiling) is the best – it’s not that much better than 185ºF, though. We’re getting to diminishing returns by that time (and potentially damaging the tea’s flavor with such hot water!).
So I’d say as long as you brew with water above ~175ºF (80ºC), go by what the recommendation on the package for the specific tea you’re brewing.
(The Daily Matcha Japanese Tea Club mentioned above, for instance, labels each of their tea varieties with unique brewing tips to get maximum flavor.)
Is there a difference between the EGCG in matcha powder vs. 'regular' green tea?
Time for some mythbusting…
If you google “matcha vs. green tea,” you’ll probably come up with the magical “137x” number – i.e. that matcha contains 137x the EGCG of regular green tea.
Not true! Lies! They’re pulling the wool over your eyes!
Here’s an example of such hoodwinking, from a major matcha seller’s website:
A recent study at the University of Colorado showed that Matcha tea has approximately 137 times more EGCG (the potent cancer fighting green tea anti-oxidant) than regular brewed green tea.
This is bad, really bad! Major marketing scam! ZenMatcha, shame on you!
That’s a serious misinterpretation of a study done by UC Denver, which compared EGCG levels of matcha to Tazo® brand China Green Tips tea.
- 0.42 mg of EGCG per gram of the Tazo® brand China Green Tips tea
- 57.4 mg of EGCG per gram of matcha 
Does this tell us that matcha has 137x the EGCG of “regular brewed green tea”? Absolutely not!
What does this study actually tell us?
- That the matcha they tested had 137x the EGCG of Tazo green tea
- That Tazo green tea sucks!
The 57.4mg EGCG per gram found in matcha is totally average for green tea. Nothing special at all. That said, 0.42mg per gram is terrible. They seriously picked the worst green tea to compare against matcha.
- Lesson #1: Don’t buy your green tea from Starbucks if you want the health benefits!
- Lesson #2: Don’t trust everything you read on the internet!
- Lesson #3: Matcha is not 137x better than “regular” green tea!
So how much better is matcha, actually?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any other studies on the EGCG levels of matcha vs. regular green tea, so we have to shoot in the dark a bit.
It’s possible that you get more EGCG from matcha powder, since you’re drinking the entire leaf, not just steeping it in water and removing the leaves. I’ve seen the amount “3x” thrown around, but haven’t been able to locate a good source on that.
It comes down to this, in my estimation:
- They’re both good, as long as you get high-quality tea (not Starbucks/Tazo!).
- Matcha probably has more EGCG, but it’s also more expensive.
- So I say, drink whichever you like more!
What green tea do you drink?
Hands down, my favorite green tea is ceremonial matcha.
No, it’s not 137x better than “regular” green tea (a myth busted in the previous FAQ)! But it probably has more EGCG than when you steep/brew normal green tea leaves.
Why I do I really drink it, though?
For the experience!
This stuff is amazing! It’s INSANELY green – almost impossibly so – provided you’re getting the first harvest (ichiban-cha, 一番茶), or “ceremonial” grade matcha. Expect to pay $20-30 per ounce for the good stuff.
It’s frothy, thick, and lights up my tastebuds. It’s got way more of the body and crema that I love so much in high-quality decaf coffee.
If I’m going to drink green tea, I’m going to drink it right. That means ponying up for the good stuff.
WARNING: low-quality matcha can taste like fresh-cut grass. High-quality matcha can taste like seaweed/algae… only go there if you’re adventurous.
Good high-quality matcha sources include Pure Matcha and DoMatcha (1st harvest is best):
Note: The above two links are affiliate links, which means we receive compensation if you make purchases using these links. Visit our disclaimer page for more information.
(BTW, if you end up bingeing on a bunch of pizza, pasta, ice cream, cookies, whatever, ceremonial matcha, or regular green tea for that matter, is super powerful damage control.)
Now, I’m not saying that ceremonial matcha is the only way to drink green tea.
Far from it!
There are tons of other great kinds of green tea (and white tea), provided they’re fresh. The tea club I mentioned earlier, for example, is a great reliable source for trying out a bunch of different high-quality teas. And you can rest assured that they’ll all have pretty high EGCG content, since they’re so fresh and packed in metalized-polyethylene-lined bags!
If you haven’t dived into high-end green and white teas, yet, you’re in for an education! I encourage you to explore this world, and make it a part of your usual routine.
What you can do to get clearer skin
Here’s what you can start doing today to leverage the acne-fighting power of green tea:
- Find high-quality green tea that comes in sealed, foil-lined packages for optimum freshness and EGCG content. If possible, ask your seller for tea that’s less than a year old. Two great sources of matcha are DoMatcha Green Tea, Organic Matcha* and Pure Matcha, Organic Ceremonial Grade Matcha*.
- Brew your tea at a near-boiling temperature, or at least above 175 degrees Fahrenheit (80 Celsius).
- Drink 1-2 cups per day, preferably earlier in the day so the caffeine wears off by bedtime. If you need some additional detoxing power (like if you went crazy on the beer and fries last night!), drink 3 cups a day for a few days.
*Note: These are affiliate links, which means we receive compensation if you make purchases using these links. Visit our disclaimer page for more information.
Drinking green tea makes some people nauseated – if so, drink with food!
Sometimes, when I drink green tea on an empty stomach, it makes me a bit queasy.
Turns out this is fairly common!
That’s why I generally try to drink it with food (but YMMV).
Warning – avoid green/white tea if you’re pregnant!
If you get large doses of polyphenols (including EGCG) from green tea or white tea when you’re pregnant, you may increase your risk of your child getting leukemia or central nervous system tumors.   
Also, because EGCG interacts with the body’s use of folate (by disrupting DHFR, or dihydrofolate reductase), it’s possible that it could negatively impact neural tube development. Folate’s important for preventing neural tube defects in the ~third week of pregnancy, so anything that screws with folate should probably be avoided.
I’m reaching here, but it seems like maybe it’s not worth the risk to drink a bunch of green tea or white tea if you’re pregnant. (Plus, it’s generally way more effective for acne to cut out dairy, gluten, sugar, and vegetable oil – drinking green tea is not really a holistic solution to the root causes of acne! Gotta fix your diet and lifestyle to do that.)
Phew… that was an epic post. Let’s review:
- Green tea contains EGCG, a pretty amazing polyphenol with lots of acne-busting benefits.
- EGCG may help acne by increasing insulin sensitivity.
- EGCG also partially blocks androgens (IGF-1 and DHT) from creating excess sebum, clogging pores, etc.
- EGCG can help kill Candida albicans.
- Buy green tea in foil-lined bags (or tins) for maximum freshness and EGCG content.
- Check out the Daily Matcha Japanese Tea Club for a great high-quality monthly tea box (no affiliation, just awesome!)
- Avoid green/white tea if you’re pregnant because of potential baby cancer risks.
- Green tea is a healthy addition to a holistic diet and lifestyle cure for acne.
- Green tea is a great damage-control tactic (after you binge on acne-triggering foods, drink 3 cups of green tea per day for a few days)
- Green tea will probably not solve your acne problem by itself – most people need to address the root causes of acne to do that (check out our book which tells you exactly what you need to do to cure your acne permanently).
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