Although green tea gets a fair share of attention for its antioxidant abilities, red tea is steadily gaining ground on the skincare scene. Grown in the South African bush, this versatile ingredient has been used for centuries to alleviate allergies, asthma, colic, digestive problems, and more. It is also commonly referred to as rooibos, which is Afrikaans for red bush. Considered a cure-all in South Africa, red tea is now finding a home outside its native country as not only a popular beverage but also as an effective ingredient in a variety of skincare products and treatments.
"Dermalogica was among the first brands to discover this incredible South African anti-inflammatory," says Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute. "When I lived in South Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we used rooibos on cotton compresses when we did eyelash tinting." The company has since incorporated it into various products, such as the Dermalogica Environmental Control System. "I've been drinking it and using it on my own skin for about 30 years," says Wurwand. "And now we know that it's a powerful antioxidant as well as an anti-inflammatory ingredient."
It was a fortuitous case of happenstance that led South Florida-based dermatologist Gary Goldfaden, M.D., to discover red tea and make it a key component of his anti-aging line. "I was looking for the secret ingredient, something that would be consistent throughout my product lines," says Goldfaden.?"I started to notice that my mother-in-law, who lived into her nineties, smoked, ate?poorly, and treated her skin inappropriately, had no real signs of aging.?I asked her aide what she was doing, and the only thing unusual was that her aide, who happened to be South African, had been giving her large quantities of red tea to drink." Goldfaden was especially impressed by the ingredient's effectiveness in treating the skin. "Of all the things found in nature, red tea contains the highest levels of the most potent antioxidant, superoxide dismutase," he says. "It also has high levels of vitamins A and C and alpha-hydroxy acids. The combination of all of these ingredients is extremely beneficial to obtaining and maintaining healthy and vibrant-looking skin."
Red tea's antioxidant abilities are also what impressed spa owner and skincare guru Ole Henriksen. "The antioxidant properties found in red tea are 50 times more potent than those in green tea, making it exceptional in its skin reparative and anti-aging benefits," says Henriksen. "Red tea is also rich in absorbable calcium, copper, fluoride, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and other health-supporting nutrients."
At Ole Henriksen Face/Body (Los Angeles), The African Red Tea Body Cocktail ($160, 90 minutes; $210, 2 hours) is the spa's most popular treatment. It involves a hand, foot, and scalp massage followed by an exfoliating rubdown with Ole Henriksen's own African Red Tea Exotic Body Scrub, which relies on honey, linseed oil, red tea, and a special sugar imported from Paraguay. After a tropical rain shower, guests are treated to an application of African Red Tea Firming Body Mask, which contains kaolin, lactic acid, red tea, and yogurt. The treatment concludes with the African Red Tea Self Heating Body Soufflé, which helps firm and hydrate the skin.
Approximately 300 spas and clinics in the U.S. and abroad perform various Ole Henriksen African Red Tea (ART) treatments, which are being received with much fanfare. "Clients absolutely love the red tea treatments and products because they are based on natural extracts with beautiful aromas," says Henriksen. "The textures of the ART formulations also have our clients raving because they feel so good on the skin, effectively hydrating and comforting it all day long." According to him, the treatments have also garnered a celeb following that includes Jessica Alba, Hugh Jackman, and Charlize Theron.
Farther afield, the benefits of red tea can be found at the Spa at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan. According to spa director Yena Feliana, one of red tea's greatest benefits is its ability to repair damaged skin. The Vata Supplifying ($115, 75 minutes) facial, Neem ($115, 90 minutes) body scrub, and Fountain of Youth ($180, 2 hours 30 minutes) face and body treatment all incorporate products containing rooibos tea.
Considering its origins, it should come as no surprise that South Africans are well acquainted with red tea's many benefits. In fact, it's a key ingredient in the South African-based skincare line Africology. The company's African Goddess Anti Aging Skin Care ($81, 90 minutes) facial relies on a cocktail of aloe gel, co-enzyme Q10, hypoxis root extract, marula nut oil, and rooibos extract to stimulate new cell growth. According to Eliana Droganis, production and international sales manager for Africology, rooibos is a great healing agent. "We have received feedback stating rooibos has a soothing effect on the skin, relieving itching and certain skin irritations like eczema and acne when applied directly to the affected area," says Droganis.
While red tea is proving to be a potent ally in the anti-aging fight, it also remains a healthy and popular beverage. At Ole Henriksen Face/Body, red tea is served in both the reception and relaxation rooms. It's perfect as both a pre- and post-treatment refreshment. The Spa at Cape Grace (Cape Town, South Africa) also offers a spa tea menu in which both rooibos tea and an iced tea infused with the healthy ingredient are available. "The number one goal of most spas should be to address the wellness of an individual," says Goldfaden. "In my mind, in order to reach that goal, the total individual needs to be taken into consideration, therefore, ingredients need to be used that will help not only externally but internally as well. Red tea serves this dual function, contributing to the restoration and the prevention of aging."—Heather Mikesell