What Is EGCG? The Multi-Duty Compound That Fights All Your Skin Concerns

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With skin concerns like acne, dark spots, and wrinkles that need to be addressed as you fight the effects of UV, pollution, and inflammations and struggle to maintain a hydrated complexion, no wonder multi-tasking ingredients are some of the most sought-after in skincare. But is there such an ingredient that tackles everything at once? Yep, enter epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — the reputable compound of green tea. Here you’ll learn all about EGCG for skin and what more than 30 studies have found about it because, yes, it’s been heavily researched.

What we have found

Ingredient studied: EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate)

Type of ingredient: Antioxidant

Main benefits for skin: Protects the skin from sun damage, prevents photoaging, and reduces wrinkles.

Other research-backed benefits for skin: Anti-inflammatory properties, increases skin hydration, prevents hyaluronic acid degradation, reduces dark spots, improves acne.

How to use it: EGCG can be used both topically or internally, although the topical application was found to provide better UV protection.

Who should use it: Overall topical EGCG is considered well-tolerated and suitable for all skin types. However, the oral intake of EGCG comes with more adverse effects, and those who have hypersensitivity to green tea or its compounds should use it with caution.

How often can you use it: EGCG can be used daily unless it causes irritations.

EGCG pairs well with: EGCG works very well with vitamin C, as vitamin C helps reduce the degradation of EGCG. More than that, it was found that EGCG enhances the antioxidant activity of vitamin C, so using EGCG together with vitamin C in the same skincare routine might be the best thing to do for your skin.

What is EGCG?

EGCG is a catechin, a type of phenol (naturally occurring chemicals derived from plants, fruits, and vegetables), and part of the flavonoids family with potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.[1][2]It’s mainly known as the primary active compound in green tea, but it also exists in white and black tea and in trace quantities in apple skin, hazelnuts, and pecans.[5] 

Benefits of EGCG for Skin

EGCG is most researched for its power to scavenge free radicals and prevent photoaging, as it’s a potent antioxidant that protects the skin on all fronts. But there’s much more EGCG can help with: boosting hydration, reducing wrinkles, and brightening skin tone are other boons that make it so famous.

Provides antioxidant protection

When there’s an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals, oxidative stress can impact the cells, and, in time, leads to collagen loss. In turn, the complexion becomes more susceptible to environmental aggressors and less firm, with wrinkles and fine lines appearing more visible. Antioxidants like EGCG are the MVPs in consolidating the antioxidant defense and preventing skin aging by neutralizing free radicals.[10]

One study found that EGCG has the strongest antioxidant activity among other catechins found in green tea. It was also observed that the older the leaf is, the higher antioxidant activity will have.[11] According to another study, topical EGCG not only reduces the effects of free radicals but also recovers the cells already damaged, increasing cell viability to 80%.[12] When applied before exposure, it seems that EGCG can inhibit between 66 and 80% of UV-induced damage, so it’s a great skin protector too.[13]

Finally, it was confirmed that topical application of EGCG provided better protection than oral administration.[24] In one study, topical EGCG reduced the UV damage by 62%, whereas oral administration of 100 or 500 mg of pure EGCG did not decrease the UV-induced damage.[36]

Prevents photoaging and reduces wrinkles

Everyone knows oxidative stress and prolonged sun exposure are the leading causes of photoaging.[14] FYI, it was found that approximately 80% of facial skin aging is attributed to UV exposure.[15] Thus, antioxidants are as mandatory as sunscreen today, and so is EGCG.

EGCG is a great anti-ager since it inhibits oxidative stress and reduces free radical damage.[16] Not only that, but EGCG can suppress collagen degradation as well as promote new collagen by increasing cell proliferation, helping the skin maintain its elasticity and firmness for longer while plumping fine lines and wrinkles.[37][17][18] Based on studies, EGCG is more effective at stimulating cell proliferation and promoting collagen production than retinol.[12]

Boosts skin hydration

First upfront, hydration and moisture retention are two different processes that both share the same role — to keep skin hydrated and prevent dryness. Skin hydration is the process that increases the water content in the cells, while moisture retention prevents transepidermal water loss (TEWL).[19]

Studies confirmed that EGCG helps boost skin hydration by preventing the degradation of the natural moisturizing factors (NMFs), composed of hyaluronic acid (HA) and filaggrin, a natural moisturizer.[12] These compounds affect the skin’s moisture barrier function, and their degradation often leads to dryness.[20] According to research, EGCG can increase the expression of hyaluronic acid by 41% in just three weeks, helping maintain the barrier firmer.

Improves moisture retention

Hyaluronidase (HYAL) is an enzyme that breaks down hyaluronic acid, and like NMFs, is also affected by UV radiation. Studies found that EGCG inhibited the degradation of hyaluronic acid by reducing the level of hyaluronidase, thus increasing the hydration retention capacity of the skin barrier.[12] Similarly, research confirmed that agents that could delay the degradation of hyaluronic acid (what EGCG does) may be useful in maintaining the integrity of HA and its moisturizing benefits.[21]

Regulates melanin pigmentation

EGCG is also a great ingredient to address dark spots and uneven tone since it can interfere with melanin production, the natural pigment that darkens the skin.[12][27][28] Although melanin helps protect the epidermis cells by absorbing the UV light before it causes damage, excessive melanin production can cause dark spots or freckles.[26] So if you have hyperpigmentation, there’s a good chance your body produces too much melanin — another reason to try EGCG for skin.

It turns out EGCG is more effective at inhibiting melanin and brightening the skin than kojic acid.[29][30]

Reduces acne

I know this might be out of nowhere, but studies have actually confirmed that green tea extract and especially EGCG, may improve acne vulgaris thanks to its anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and antimicrobial activities.[33][34]

One study found that a skin lotion with 2% green tea extract applied daily reduced the number of breakouts in 20 people by 58% after 6 weeks.[35] Similarly, another research established that EGCG might effectively treat acne after confirming that 1% and 5% EGCG applied twice daily reduced the number of non-inflammatory lesions in more than 80 people.[33]

EGCG side effects

Overall, EGCG is well tolerated, especially when topically applied, with minor irritation reported in a few cases. However, when taken orally, EGCG has been associated with serious side effects, such as abnormalities in liver function. Of 500 people treated with 843 mg EGCG/day supplements, 5.1% presented severe liver injuries. Similarly, no adverse effects were noted when 500 mg EGCG was used.[25]  

How to use EGCG

You can either drink a cup of green tea, take supplements, or use a green tea/EGCG skincare product. If you prefer the first option, limit yourself to a maximum of 5 cups of green tea per day (which will provide about 180 mg of catechins). And don’t forget to use sunscreen every day too. Although EGCG may offer UV protection, sunscreen is still mandatory, no matter what! Nevertheless, studies observed that EGCG pairs well with vitamin C, so using these two antioxidants together is an excellent idea. It was found that EGCG enhances the antioxidant activity of vitamin C, while vitamin C helps reduce the degradation of EGCG.[38]

References
  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigallocatechin_gallate
  2. OyetakinWhite P, Tribout H, Baron E. Protective mechanisms of green tea polyphenols in skin. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:560682. doi:10.1155/2012/560682
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  6. Vayalil PK, Elmets CA, Katiyar SK. Treatment of green tea polyphenols in hydrophilic cream prevents UVB-induced oxidation of lipids and proteins, depletion of antioxidant enzymes, and phosphorylation of MAPK proteins in SKH-1 hairless mouse skin. Carcinogenesis. 2003 May;24(5):927-36. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgg025. Retraction in: Carcinogenesis. 2018 May 3;39(5):738. PMID: 12771038.
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  13. Katiyar SK, Afaq F, Azizuddin K, Mukhtar H. Inhibition of UVB-induced oxidative stress-mediated phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathways in cultured human epidermal keratinocytes by green tea polyphenol (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2001 Oct 15;176(2):110-7. doi: 10.1006/taap.2001.9276. PMID: 11601887.
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  22. Papakonstantinou, Eleni & Roth, Michael & Karakiulakis, George. (2012). Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology. 4. 253-8. 10.4161/derm.21923. 
  23. Jegasothy SM, Zabolotniaia V, Bielfeldt S. Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-hyaluronic Acid in Humans. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):27-29.
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  29. Kim DS, Park SH, Kwon SB, Li K, Youn SW, Park KC. (-)-Epigallocatechin-3-gallate and hinokitiol reduce melanin synthesis via decreased MITF production. Arch Pharm Res. 2004 Mar;27(3):334-9. doi: 10.1007/BF02980069. PMID: 15089040.
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  36. Gensler HL, Timmermann BN, Valcic S, Wächter GA, Dorr R, Dvorakova K, Alberts DS. Prevention of photocarcinogenesis by topical administration of pure epigallocatechin gallate isolated from green tea. Nutr Cancer. 1996;26(3):325-35. doi: 10.1080/01635589609514488. PMID: 8910914.
  37. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X19301344
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Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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