Sweet Smell of Tea

By Jane Pettigrew

Old wives tales and family remedies that have been passed down through the generations often recommended cold tea bags for puffy eyes, tea footbaths for tired feet, tea solutions for sunburned skin, tea rinses for dull hair, tea compresses for blemishes. But it's pretty unlikely that anyone really knew why tea was so good for such a mixture of complaints.

As long ago as the 13th century, a Japanese monk was telling everyone that "tea is a miraculous medicine for the maintenance of health. Tea has an extraordinary power to prolong life. Anywhere a person cultivates tea, long life will follow." Today, after years of scientific research, we understand better why an everyday beverage is so good for our bodies - both from the inside, taken as a drink or used in cooking - but also from the outside - as in some of those old folklore remedies.

What all the worldwide research has shown is that tea is packed full of antioxidants which help to protect our bodies against aging, cell damage, and diseases such as certain cancers, heart problems, stroke, etc. It is now thought that three or four cups of tea a day can provide your body with the same amount of antioxidants as drinking two glasses of red wine, or eating eight apples. And if cell damage inside can be controlled or even reduced by tea, then, obviously, the outer layers of our bodies will also benefit from the application of such antioxidants. And so, a few years ago, the pharmaceutical industry took the next natural step and started including tea extracts in cosmetics, moisturizers, shampoos etc. An article in Soap, Perfumery & Cosmetics in 1996 stated, "Experts are predicting that the whole antioxidant story will soon be further supported by flavonoids, a group of ingredients derived from the natural defense systems of plants". And the experts were right. It's the flavonoids in tea that everyone is now so excited about.

At first, the range of new products was small but quite quickly spread right across the cosmetics world from high street low price drug stores to brands such as Body Shop and the most expensive and exclusive houses such as Clinique, Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden. Body Shop's press material says, "it has been found that one of the two major pharmacologically active groups of chemicals in green tea, the polyphenols, are powerful antioxidants - more than 20 times the strength of vitamin E. They can help suppress inflammation and irritation". Clinique claims that the green tea extract in its 'All about Eyes' "provides potent damage control from any irritants that do come into contact with skin", while in the company's 'Skin Calming Moisture Mask' it "provides free-radical protection, leaving skin buffered against future environmental assault". Estee Lauder's 'Uncircle' eye treatment contains "natural anti-irritant green tea extract" that helps "reduce skin reactivity by intercepting irritations and inflammations that cause dark eye circles and premature signs of aging." And in Lauder's 'LipZone' anti-feathering complex, green tea helps to "reduce the risk of irritation and elastin damage". Elizabeth Arden tells its customers, "Energizing, invigorating and uplifting, Elizabeth Arden captures the restorative powers of green tea to bring you this unique collection of sensory treats for mind, body and soul."

When the Arden range was launched in the UK, publicity material said, "Following the phenomenally successful launch in the US, where sales doubled forecast, Elizabeth Arden's new Green Tea Fragrance and Bodycare Range reaches the UK, capturing the spirit enhancing benefits of Green Tea the growing appeal of green tea and its health benefits are becoming more and more apparent."

Wander past cosmetics counters, trawl the web, browse through magazines and journals, and you will come across endless examples of products for both men and women that all contain tea - face masks, anti-cellulite buffers, sun-block creams, anti-aging applications, shampoos, conditioners, bath scrubs and lotions, hand creams, night renewal moisturizers, shower gels, foot creams, revitalizing soaps, massage oils, and perfumes.

Yes, perfumes! Elizabeth Arden's 'Green Tea Scent Spray' is "an exhilarating fragrance to send your spirits soaring. Spritz all over your body for an immediate burst of energy". Calvin Klein's 'One' has "a green tea accord" that "travels from top to bottom contributing to he signature of ck one fragrance", and Bulgari's Eau ParfumÈe' "was the first fragrance to be explored using the culture of tea and the most profound sense of rituals tied to it. The unique lingering base note is derived from the Chinese green tea, which when combined with distinctly Mediterranean fragrances, creates an original and exclusive product". I Coloniali, a range of products based on oriental spices and herbs, make 'light refreshing Tea Tea', the ideal day-spray for spring and summer men and women. The tea comes from the plantations of Ceylon, and stimulates, enlivens, and quenches the thirst of the soul". And when Comptoir Sud Pacifique, a Paris fragrance company, launched its 'ThÈ', the company's president, Pierre Fournier said, "Mystery surrounds the whole idea of tea. I was inspired by the image of the smoky hills in Darjeeling and Sri Lanka. I wanted a very healthy scent which was also fresh".

When Donna Karan started marketing housewares amongst her clothes and perfumes, she too was aware of the power of tea. Her publicity material said, "Performed with care, the simplest acts can balance and center us. The preparation, serving, and drinking of tea has long been one of the most soothing and satisfying of life's rituals. Focus. Find the beauty in life's basics."

So today, as well as drinking plenty of tea, you can dab it on in perfumes, soak in it in the bath, rub away that cellulite, smooth away unwanted wrinkles, and wash you hair in it. What a flexible adaptable commodity tea is. It tastes good, smells good, feels good, and it really does you good!