Does Green Tea Clear Acne?

Tea has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries, and for many different purposes—from indigestion to hair loss. People still use green tea today because it's rich in antioxidants and purported to have many health benefits.

Green tea has even been touted as an all-natural acne treatment. But how effective is green tea, really, at preventing and treating acne breakouts? And should you add it to your acne treatment routine?

A glass teapot of green tea with a cup of green tea beside it.
Cheryl Chan/ Getty Images

What Is Green Tea?

Interestingly, green tea, black tea, white tea, and oolong tea all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. It's how they are prepared that gives each of these teas their unique look and flavor profile.

Green tea is prepared from the fresh leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are lightly steamed and dried. This is done quickly to avoid the oxidation and browning of the leaves, that you see in the darker black tea and oolong.

Green Tea Is a Powerful Antioxidant

Here's what we know for sure: green tea is packed with antioxidants. You've heard the term antioxidant before, but have you ever wondered exactly what an antioxidant is?

Antioxidants help protect the skin and body from damage from free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms with an odd number of electrons. Those atoms can "steal" electrons from other molecules, causing damage.

Free radicals, also called oxidant radicals, are deactivated by antioxidants. So, antioxidants can help protect you from free radical damage.

And green tea happens to be full of them. (Green tea doesn't have the antioxidant market cornered, though. Plenty of other foods are high in antioxidants too.)

Green Tea Can Reduce Inflammation

While antioxidants are healthy, antioxidants themselves don't do anything to improve acne breakouts. But green tea is also rich in a certain type of polyphenols called catechins.

Very simply, polyphenols are compounds in plants that have health benefits for people. Catechins are antioxidant and also anti-inflammatory.

Here's where it gets interesting. The catechins in green tea are very effective at reducing skin inflammation. Can green tea then reduce inflammatory acne? Maybe.

A study published in the April 2016 issue of Complementary Therapies in Medicine gave decaffeinated green tea extract supplements to a group of adult women with acne. A second group took a placebo supplement.

Those who took the green tea extract supplement had fewer inflammatory breakouts, especially around the nose, mouth, and chin. (You know, the exact spots where those pesky premenstrual breakouts always seem to pop up every month.)

But the green tea supplements didn't completely clear up acne completely. In fact, between the two groups (those who took the decaffeinated green tea supplements and those who took the placebo supplements) there was no significant difference in total acne breakouts.

So, it would seem that the green tea supplements may be made existing acne blemishes less inflamed, especially around the nose, mouth, and chin area.

Antibacterial Qualities

Another interesting quality green tea has is its ability to fight bacteria. Green tea shows antibacterial effects against some of the most common bacteria that contribute to acne breakouts, namely propionibacteria acnes and propionibacteria granulosum as well as Staph.

In the same study, published in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, pomegranate extract was also shown to have antibacterial qualities against these acne-causing bacteria.

Before you run out and grab a green tea mask, know that all of this was done in vitro. This means it was done in a lab and not on human skin. So, whether the green tea would work the same in the real world, on real skin, remains to be seen.

It does give a good jumping off point for more research on the effect green tea has on acne pimples, though.

Besides, bacteria isn't the only cause of acne. There are other factors at play including excess oil and abnormal shedding of skin cells.

Affects Hormone-Induced Breakouts

Acne is definitely influenced by hormones. That's why it's so common during puberty. And that's why certain anti-androgen medications, like spironolactone and even birth control pills, are effective at getting it under control.

Green tea may help with these hormonally-influenced breakouts, too. Remember those polyphenols? Green tea is high in the polyphenol epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG.

EGCG can lower androgen levels in the body. EGCG helps block IGF-1. IGF-1 is a growth factor that peaks in adolescence (yes, when acne is typically at its worst).

It's believed that high IGF-1 levels can cause your sebaceous glands to pump out oil, increase inflammation and make skin cells more "sticky" so they're more likely to clog the pores.

EGCG may reduce IGF-1 levels which, in turn, may potentially reduce acne breakouts.

Green Tea Likely Won't Work Alone

There's no doubt that green tea is a healthy drink. But don't hang your hat on a cup or two a day clearing up your skin.

There is still much more research that needs to be done to unequivocally prove (or disprove) the effectiveness of green tea as an acne treatment. It's highly unlikely that just drinking a warm cup of green tea is going to clear up your acne.

If green tea is ever approved as an acne treatment, it will most likely be a more concentrated extract—something that delivers a more powerful punch to the skin than the beverage you buy at the grocery store.

Add Green Tea to Your Regimen

Still, with all the health benefits of green tea, there's no reason why you can't use it as an addition to your acne treatment routine. While it's not enough to completely clear your skin on its own, it may help to give you some improvement.

You can simply drink a cup or two a day. Some people say green tea can make them feel a little queasy when drank on an empty stomach, so if this sounds like you try sipping your tea after a meal.

Green tea can be used topically, too. Many skin care products and cosmetics contain green tea extract.

How much good you're actually going to get from the green tea in your cosmetic products is debatable, and has a lot to do with how much green tea extract is in the product. Some sources cite green tea as an anti-ager for the skin.

Treatments to Help Clear Your Skin

In addition to green tea, you'll also want to get started on a daily acne treatment routine. This will give you the most effective and reliable results.

For mild breakouts, over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide is a good choice. Try that for eight to 10 weeks and see if that helps improve your skin.

If OTC products aren't doing much good, or you have moderate acne or severe acne, you'll definitely want to get on a prescription acne medication instead. There are plenty of treatment options out there, and one will work for you. Put in a call to your dermatologist.

A Word From Verywell

So, while green tea isn't a miracle treatment for acne, it isn't complete bunk either. There's still plenty of more work and research to do to really see what green tea can really do for acne.

If you're a tea drinker anyway, swapping another beverage for a steamy cup of green tea is a healthy option. And, as far as skin care products go, green tea is a fun and luxurious addition.

But on its own, green tea isn't an acne treatment. You'll still get the best results from a proven medication.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do green tea pills help clear acne?

    Green tea pills or supplements aren't likely to clear up acne on their own, but they might reduce some inflammation of existing acne. The use of an over-the-counter or prescription medication is more effective for clearing up acne.

  • What are the benefits of green tea for skin?

    The benefits of green tea for skin include:

    • Protects the skin from damage caused by free radicals (unstable atoms)
    • Can reduce skin inflammation
    • May reduce hormone-induced breakouts of acne
  • Should I drink green tea on an empty stomach?

    Drinking green tea on an empty stomach can cause feelings of an uneasy stomach in some people. If you're prone to an upset stomach, it may be best to drink green tea after having a meal or snack.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Chacko S, Thambi P, Kuttan R, Nishigaki I. Beneficial effects of green tea: A literature reviewChin Med. 2010;5(1):13. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-5-13

  3. Sailaja Rao P, Kalva S, Yerramilli A, Mamidi S. Free Radicals and Tissue Damage: Role of AntioxidantsFree Radicals and Antioxidants. 2011;1(4):2-7. doi:10.5530/ax.2011.4.2

  4. Saric S, Notay M, Sivamani R. Green Tea and Other Tea Polyphenols: Effects on Sebum Production and Acne VulgarisAntioxidants. 2016;6(1):2. doi:10.3390/antiox6010002

  5. Lu P, Hsu C. Does supplementation with green tea extract improve acne in post-adolescent women? A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled clinical trialComplement Ther Med. 2016;25:159-163. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.004

  6. Li Z, Summanen PH, Downes J, et al. Antimicrobial Activity of Pomegranate and Green Tea Extract on Propionibacterium Acnes, Propionibacterium Granulosum, Staphylococcus Aureus and Staphylococcus Epidermidis. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015;14(6):574-8.

  7. Graber E. Hormonal therapy for women with acne vulgaris.

  8. Zouboulis C, Jourdan E, Picardo M. Acne is an inflammatory disease and alterations of sebum composition initiate acne lesionsJ Eur Acad Derm and Venereology. 2013;28(5):527-532. doi:10.1111/jdv.12298

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.