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How Drinking Tea Can Keep Your Skin Healthy

It’s mid-January. Every time I leave my apartment, I’m met with the cold kiss of death on my skin—the dry winter wind. As I head from my apartment to the bus station, walk to work downtown, and then commute back home, I’m fighting a constant scarf-to-face-ratio battle, as I try to both see where I’m going, and keep wrapped up enough so that I don’t have to face the reality of the weather outside. Hydration—this time of year, it’s important.  And when it’s cold outside I’d much rather hug a warm mug of tea than chug a glass of cold water.

Last week, I packed my suitcase full of tea (really, it was half tea, half clothes, in a small carryon) and headed to Toronto to share some of the skincare benefits of tea at an event for Shoppers Drug Mart held at the Bisha Hotel in downtown Toronto. The timing was apt – tea has a lot of health benefits for your skin, not the least of which is hydration! 

Shoppers Drug Mart beautyRx Skin Care

I set up shop near Shoppers’ own dieticians, and near their in-store skincare specialists who were bringing their in-store experience to the guests of the day. Shoppers has in-store specialists you can visit for free as a part of their beautyRx Skin Care program which helps pair you up with skincare solutions that are specific to your skin’s needs.

In between pouring brews and chatting chai, I headed over and had my own skin checked out. Specialist Sarah gave me a full skincare diagnosis, including a checking my skin’s moisture levels (well-hydrated, baby!) and a closer look at my skin under a video microscope so I could check out my pores (hello, reality) and see pigmentation up close. It sounds like a bit much, but I guarantee if you’ve ever enjoying squeezing a blackhead before, you will find this close-up look at your own dermis very interesting.

If you want to check out your skin under a microscope too, you can visit any Shoppers Drug Mart Beauty Expert and ask them to give you a consultation. My well-hydrated skin made me feel very justified in the egregious amount of tea I drink.

In preparing for this event, I brushed up on all the aspects of tea as it relates to skincare and wanted to share my findings.

Tea as a substitute for other drinks

One of the best ways tea can contribute to healthy skin and good health in general is by acting as a substitute for other drinks. Drinking tea to replace your pop, juice, or sports drink habit is a great way to stay hydrated and avoid sugar or other additives – tea is just leafy goodness. It contains no sodium, fat, sugar, and is calorie-free. It’s also 99% water.

Of course, if you add milk and sugar to your tea, a lot of that benefit disappears, so take that with a grain of salt. Er… sugar.

Tea leaves also have many antioxidants and other components. Here’s a bit of a chemical breakdown for you:

Chemical components of tea

Each type of tea has differently chemical properties even though they’re all made form the same plant (camellia sinensis). Exact properties of tea will vary depending on how it’s been processed and brewed.

This is which is one of the things that makes it hard to nail down exactly how much caffeine is in your cup of tea, which is a question I often get.

A cup of tea contains somewhere between 5-120mg of caffeine per  serving. That may seem like a wide variance, and it is. Because there are so many ways of blending, preparing, and cultivating tea. Generally speaking though, it is less than coffee, which is around 80-200mg of caffeine per serving. 

The other unique chemical component of tea, which coffee doesn’t have, is L-theanine, a friendly amino acid and natural nootropic (substances that improve cognitive function) found in tea leaves. From a flavour perspective, it delivers the savoury, umami flavour good-quality green teas are known for. But from a chemical perspective, the effect it has on the brain is a calming, relaxing effect. 

When the naturally-occurring L-theanine and caffeine in tea leaves combined, they produce a sense of heightened awareness, focus, and clarity.

No wonder the monks and power brokers of Japan’s past used to meditate with green tea and matcha, right?

Unique properties of green tea

In addition to caffeine and L-theanine, green tea is packed full of antioxidants, including catechins like EGCG, and Vitamins C, B, and E. There has been a lot of pop-science and real science about what antioxidants do for your body. I’m no doctor, but it’s generally agreed upon that these substances are good for you, and they may be able to reduce skin damage, rejuvenate cells, and encourage positive cell growth. In fact, a lot of face creams I notice lately contain various tea extracts because of the antioxidants found within. 

Steeping instructions for green tea: Use 85˚ water and steep for 2-3 minutes.

Cold-brew green tea contains less caffeine than when brewed with hot water. This is because the cold water extracts less caffeine from the leaf. This is a tea that can be drunk any time of day, even before bed.

Steeping instructions for cold brew: fill 2-3 tea bags with tea and throw them in a juice pitcher (~2l). Fill with cold water and let steep overnight, or about 5 hours for delicious cold tea. 

Unique properties of black tea

For this event, I steeped an organic David’s black tea blend called ‘Choco Chaga Detox.‘ This is a bit of a gateway tea, to be honest. Something to get people who don’t normally drink tea excited about it. It was one of the evening favourites. It’s a blend of black tea, chicory root, carob, and chaga. It tastes like a dairy-free hot chocolate and is low in caffeine since the blend is mostly other, caffeine-free components. Here’s a few of the other skin-and immune-system-friendly properties in black tea.

TheaflavinsThearubiginsCatechinsFlavonolsPhenolic AcidsAmino Acids

Unique properties of matcha green tea

Originating from Japan, this bright green powdered tea is rich in nutrients and known for its detoxifying effects on the skin and in the body. It has the additional benefit of mental clarity, coming from the theanine and caffeine.

Matcha’s components are basically the same as any shaded green tea, like gyokuro. It has more amino acids than sencha, which is grown open to the sun. When matcha leaves are grown, they’re shaded for a number of weeks, causing the leaves to increase production of chlorophyll and L-theanine.

When we drink matcha, we are consuming the whole tea leaf. Most steeped tea leaves, by comparison, only infuse about 30% of what the leaf has to offer. Although high-quality leaves will hold up under multiple steeps. Because of this, we receive 100% of its healthy components of tea when drinking matcha. It’s like a condensed detox—a tea espresso, if you will! 

Catechins (EGCG and more)ChlorophyllCaffeineL-TheanineVitamin C, Vitamin B, and Vitamin E.

How to make: Use 2 tsp. of matcha and 80ml of water. First, sift your matcha so it’s clump-free and add it to your bowl. Add ~5ml of water and make a paste – this makes the matcha easier to whisk. Then, add the other 75ml of 95˚  water and whisk is as fast as possible – using a straight arm and whisking from the wrist in an ‘M’ shape.  

Benefits of herbal teas

Herbal teas don’t contain the camellia sinensis tea leaf, but are nonetheless made up of various herbs and other infusibles which have their own interesting characteristics and personalities. Each herbal tea can have a totally different effect depending on what they’ve made of. Everything from lavender to rose petals to basil to rooibos can be found in herbal tea.

Chamomile is soothing and great for red or irritated skin—it also contains quercetin, which helps protect you from sun damage.  Rose Hips contain antioxidants and Vitamin C. Peppermint contains menthol that can help clear up oily skin.

For this event I was steeping the photogenic Flower Garden, an organic tea from World Tea House, one of my favourite local tea shops in Halifax.

Another benefit is that most herbal teas don’t contain caffeine since they’re tea-leaf-free. This is great if you have a caffeine sensitivity, or are avoiding it for other reasons.

Drinking tea for hydration

Tea is just as hydrating as water in moderation. Tea does have a mild diuretic (makes you need to pee) effect because of the caffeine, but not so much that it does more harm than good as long as it’s consumed in moderation. Moderation in this case means about 5 cups per day.

More than that, and you may see negative side effects from the caffeine, and more frequent trips to the washroom.

Brewing tea with reduced caffeine

Although caffeine can do wonders for mental cognition, it can be less then wonderful if you’re trying to go to sleep, or are sensitive to its effects. There are a few ways to brew tea so that it has less caffeine in it, instead of choosing a decaffeinated tea (which usually lacks flavour due to the decaffeination process). 

The easiest way is to cold brew your tea. When you steep tea in cold water it draws less caffeine from the leaf.

The other is to choose a tea that is lower in caffeine, such as genmaicha (which is half brown rice, half bancha), bancha, or charcoal-roasted houjicha, made from the lower leaves of the tea plant, which contain less caffeine. Houjicha is often brewed in Japan where it’s served as a ‘welcome tea’ that can be offered to guests any time of day.

The teas highest in caffeine are going to be white and green teas, made from the upper, new buds which contain the most caffeine (it’s a natural insecticide, and the baby plant leaves produce more of it to discourage bugs and animals from eating them). Black tea pound for pound has less caffeine than green or white tea, but since people tend to steep it for longer and in hotter water, and black tea is more often produced using the CTC method which breaks it up into little pieces and therefore leaves a larger active surface area for water to act on, making it high in caffeine in your cup.

Of course, sticking with caffeine-free herbal tea is also a sure way to avoid caffeine altogether!

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