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You are here: Anti-Aging Skin Treatments > Topical Actives >

White tea may be even better for your skin than its green cousin

Earlier I have discussed the potential benefits of tea - particularly green tea - to both general health and the skin (see the article on green tea). Green tea is one of the more researched plant-based remedies whose possible benefits include promotion of cardio-vascular health, cancer prevention, skin protection, anti-oxidant activity and others. White tea is often viewed as similar or even equivalent to green tea in terms of health benefits. This is understandable because many of the active substances in green tea, the so-called catechins, are also found in white tea and vice versa. However, recent evidence indicates that white tea may be significantly more effective than green tea in some important ways (especially in regard to skin aging) and that the differences between the two are just as noteworthy as their similarities.

What is white tea and how it relates to other teas?

Tea is a drink made from the leave of a plant Camellia sinensis. Most of the harvested leaves undergo various degree of processing, which changes the chemical composition of the leaves and, among other things, reduces the content of catechins. (Catechins are a subtype of polyphenol anti-oxidants believed to be responsible for some of the tea's health benefits.)

The major types of tea include black, green and white, differing by the method of harvesting and processing.

The most common and the most processed type of tea is black tea. Black tea is made of fully fermented (enzymatically oxidized) leaves and its catechin content is relatively low. On the other hand, black tea is rich in teaflavins (products of catechin fermentation), which are also antioxidants and, some argue, may have health benefits of their own.

Green tea is generally not fermented but its leaves are subjected to air drying, leading to some loss of catechins. Still green tea is much richer in catechins than black tea.

White tea is the least processed type of tea and has the highest catechin content. It is made of young tea leaves or buds steamed immediately after harvest to inactivate polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme that destroys catechins. As a result, white tea is richer in catechins than green tea. Furthermore, since white tea is made of leaves harvested at an earlier growth phase, its composition may differ from that of green tea in other important ways as well.

Could white tea beat its green cousin as skin protector

A number of studies indicated possible skin benefits of green tea, such as partial protection from UV damage, anti-inflammatory effects, skin matrix protection and others (see the article on green tea). White tea was presumed to produce approximately the same benefits. Indeed, a study by Dr. Camouse and colleagues from University Hospitals, Cleveland, Ohio, compared UV-protection effects of topical green and white tea and found them to be roughly equivalent (Experimental Dermatology, June 2009).

On the other hand, a study by Dr. Thring and colleagues from the School of Life Sciences, Kingston University, London, indicated potential advantages of white tea as a skin rejuvenation agent (BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Aug 2009). In the study, the researchers looked at two key effects that help slow down skin aging: antioxidant activity (ability to neutralize harmful oxygen free radicals) and the ability to inhibit matrix metalloproteinases (MMP). MMP are enzymes that degrade the key proteins of skin matrix, particularly collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkles and loss of firmness. A certain level of MMP in the skin is healthy and necessary but excess MMP activity (often seen in older people) contributes to skin aging. (See our article on MMP.)

Dr. Thring and colleagues found that out of a series 21 plants extracts, white tea showed the greatest level of activity (per milligram of extract) both as an inhibitor of key MMP subtypes (collagenase and elastase) and as an antioxidant. Granted, extracts are not pure fully defined chemicals and comparing them may be tricky. Still Dr. Thring's data indicate that white tea may be about 3-6 times more effective than green tea as a skin matrix protector. The researchers also found that by some measures of anti-oxidant activity (SOD activity) white tea and green tea extracts were equivalent whereas by other measures (Trolox equivalent anti-oxidant capacity) white tea was twice as effective as green tea.

While the above data is promising and may indicate superiority of white tea as a skin rejuvenation agent, more studies are needed to confirm the above findings. Even more useful would be to conduct double-blind clinical trials of the effects of topical and/or oral white tea (compared to green tea and placebo) on skin aging and/or skin conditions.

How to use white tea in your skin care

Until more research is available, we cannot fully determine the extent of skin benefits of white tea. Nonetheless white tea seems likely to be at least as good for your skin as green tea, and possibly better. If you plan on trying some form of tea-based skin treatment, you may want to consider white tea or a mixture of green and white teas.

As a skin care agent, white tea can be used in essentially the same ways as green tea (see our green tea and skin for details). In particular, white tea can be included in a variety of topical formulas, such as creams, lotions, serums, toners and cleansers. Oral consumption of white tea as a drink or a nutritional supplement may also benefit the skin.

It is unclear whether commercial white or green tea creams retain the activity of tea extract. This is likely to vary from product to product yet credible product comparison data are hard to find. In such context, a do-it-yourself approach is a viable alternative for white and/or green tea formulas. It is more cost effective and helps to ensure freshness and potency (see our article Do-It-Yourself Anti-Aging Skin Care).


Related Links

Tea (Wikipedia)
Green tea and the skin
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMP)
Inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases
Anti-collagenase, anti-elastase & anti-oxidant activities of 21 plants
Theaflavins in Black Tea and Catechins in Green Tea Are Equally Effective Antioxidants



     
     


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