Tea Time

No one can live without water, and it would seem many can't survive without tea, either. It's the second most consumed beverage behind plain old H2O. Ancient cultures have been imbibing the stuff for thousands of years, but its good-for-you qualities—particularly those derived from green tea—have only reached the consciousness of the mainstream during the last decade or two. Though only a relatively recent obsession on these shores, the ever-growing body of evidence linking green tea to a host of health benefits has led many to claim it to be the elixir of life.

Most of green tea's medicinal properties can be attributed to the plant's antioxidant powers. All of the four main tea varieties— black, green, oolong, and white—are loaded with phytochemicals called polyphenols. Green tea, though, has the highest content of a special type of polyphenol known as catechins. You may have heard of EGCG, the potent catechin found in green tea. It's nearly 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and can gobble up free radicals that harm the body's cells. While many of the studies looking into the benefits of green tea for the skin have been done on cell cultures or animal models, there is still plenty of evidence indicating the plant's potent skincare powers.

For example, animal studies have shown green tea may be able to prevent certain types of UVB-induced skin cancer. It may also boost skin's natural protection against UVB, which is why some skincare experts suggest using products that contain green tea extract in conjunction with a daily SPF moisturizer. There have also been studies that suggest the ingredient may help suppress collagen degradation and boost skin's elastin content, both of which can help reduce wrinkles. "A spa client who wants to incorporate a more aggressive treatment against premature aging and sun damage into their regimen would be wise to choose green tea treatments," says Barbara Close, founder of Naturopathica. At the brand's East Hampton spa, such clients can add the Green Tea Wasabi Antioxidant Treatment ($25) to the Pure Results Facial ($120, 60 minutes). Wasabi is a stimulating ingredient that gives skin an instant glow (the spa has even marketed the package as a "Saturday Night Special" for guests getting ready for a special occasion), while over time the polyphenols in the green tea go to work rebuilding the cells below the surface. At The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami, the Advanced Lifting Facial ($210, 80 minutes) is perfect for mature skin or anyone with a dehydrated or sun-damaged complexion.

Not only do the polyphenols in green tea give the plant antioxidant powers, but they also provide anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that green tea polyphenols can help reduce inflammatory lesions in people with rosacea, making the ingredient perfect for treatments suited to sufferers. Green tea extract can also be a boon for the complexion post peels or microdermabrasion sessions. The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas offers the Green Tea Pomegranate Peel ($165, 50 minutes). This highly enzymatic facial incorporates 20 percent lactic acid to slough off dead cells and green tea to help calm and soothe skin. The anti-inflammatory benefits of green tea, along with its antibacterial properties, are also known to help treat acne. A study even found a 3 percent green tea cream to be as effective on moderate to severe acne as a 4 percent benzoyl-peroxide cream, and with fewer negative side effects.

Green with Envy
Green with Envy

Green tea can work wonders on skin below the neck, too, making it perfect for inclusion in body treatments. Many spas cite the plant's high caffeine content and its use as a weight-loss beverage as the reasons it's included in detoxifying treatments. "Our guests want to walk away from their treatment feeling not only relaxed and rejuvenated but also that the therapy was beneficial," says Lia Rowland, director of The Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North (AZ), explaining why her facility added the Green Tea Mud Mask ($210, 80 minutes) to its menu. The treatment begins with a dry-body brushing to boost circulation, followed by an application of a detoxifying green tea-infused clay application, and ends with a massage using a green tea lotion. Rowland adds that most guests know about the significant health benefits of green tea when ingested, but it's up to her staff to educate them on the external benefits. Green tea's caffeine can also help firm and tone skin anywhere on the body. At the Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel (San Francisco), the Bamboo Green Tea Scrub ($135, 50 minutes) helps tone legs and may even reduce the appearance of cellulite.

Spas with an Asian or Zen-like setting should also consider offering treatments with green tea, as the beverage's roots lie in ancient Asian cultures. Throughout most of Asia, people drink around one liter of the stuff per day, and the brew has been linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive impairments. "Green tea is used in Chinese culture to treat all different skin conditions," says Rebecca Hing, director of marketing for the Asian-inspired Eurasia Spa at the Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club (AZ). "It's something that was always a part of their healthy lifestyle, and I wanted to incorporate that element into some of our treatments." The spa offers several green tea treatments, though the favorite is the Green and White Tea Sundance Body Facial ($175, 80 minutes). In this treatment, as well as in the Green Tea and Milk Soak ($50, 25 minutes), the products are handmade using whole green tea leaves. "When our guests see us prepare the soaking tub and pouring in the loose tea, there is no question as to what the product has in it. It's simply tea leaves," says Hing, who feels these services resonate with guests who want a natural, toxin-free experience.

There are plenty of ways to draw attention to green tea spa services and to keep guests coming back for another serving. Post-summer—after months of sun exposure—is the perfect time to highlight any antioxidant-rich treatments, so informing guests about green tea's potency can spell profits come fall. Some spas also send their clients home with loose green tea leaves or a sampling of tea bags so they can indulge on their own. And because the anti-aging powers of green tea work best when applied to the skin over time, directing your guests to retail products that contain the ingredient, or offering green tea facials in packages, can help them see better results in the long run—and keep them coming back for more. —Megan O'Neill