The names and descriptions of various types of teas can be confusing, but all the familiar types of Chinese teas - green tea, black tea, white tea, Oolong - are all made from the dried leaves of the tea bush, Camellia sinensis var. Sinensis. The plant is native to China, South and Southeast Asia and commonly called a tea plant or tea shrub. The special features of white tea is that it is picked when the leaf buds are still small and unopened and show fine silvery-white hair like structures. For this reason, white tea is also sometimes called "silver tip" tea. Unlike green and black teas, which are processed to oxidize the leaves under controlled heat and humidity (in a method known as fermentation), white tea is subjected to minimal processing: The young leaf buds are allowed to wither in natural sunlight, then are dried; that is all that is done to them. Because the leaves are so young, and the tea undergoes so little preparation, white tea is considered to provide the most natural flavor of tea. Although tea historians are not sure of the exact date when white tea first began to be produced, it was probably in the early 19th century in Fujan Province, China; it now also grown and prepared in Taiwan and northern Thailand.
Aside from white tea's popularity as a beverage, it also features some chemical constituents which provide important contributions to skin and other tissue health. Tea, that is, all types of Camellia sinensis (there are four varieties and approximately eight cultivars), contain a flavenoid compound called catechins. Up to 30% of the dry weight of a freshly-picked tea leaf is comprised of catechins, a larger percentage than in any other known plant. These catechins act as very powerful antioxidants, scavenging (that is, absorbing) free oxygen radicals in the body. The effectiveness of an antioxidant is measured on a scale known as "oxygen radical absorbance capacity" (ORAC). This scale shows that white tea, like black and green teas, measure well over 1100 units (the exact figures vary depending upon the samples tested), showing an ORAC level 8 or 10 times higher than that of other famously effective sources of antioxidants, such as wild blueberries. The minimal processing used to prepare white tea seems to retain more of the catechins than in other, more processed, teas.
White tea extract provides a range of practical benefits. As an antioxidant, it helps prevent tumor formation and helps to repair skin damage as a result of over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. While white tea extract should not be used as a substitute for sunscreen - every skin care regimen should include the use of sunscreen with an appropriate SPF level - studies have shown that white tea extract can help repair tissues if sun damage does occur. The catechins also work to strengthen elastin and collagen tissues in the skin by fighting the process which helps break down these tissues. As a result, firmer and more youthful looking skin can be maintained.
Medical studies have also shown that white tea extract is also antibacterial and antiviral, helping to overcome skin infection. Combined with its anti-inflammatory effects, white tea extract can provide benefits for such conditions as eczema, acne, rosacea and other forms of dermatitis.
There are indications that white tea extracts protect the Langerhans cells in the human body. These are antigen-presenting immune cells which are found at all levels of the skin tissue and are sometimes called "watchdog cells." Their purpose is to protect human tissue against germs and mutated proteins (pre-cancerous conditions), so by protecting Langerhans cells, white tea extract indirectly boosts the immune system.
Because of its powerful effect, white tea extract is used in a wide variety of skin care products. It is particularly valued in products with the goal of antioxidant effects, skin repair and protection, anti-aging and youthful toning benefits. White tea extract, and extracts from other products of the tree plant or shrub, Camellia sinensis should not be confused with tea tree oil. This other ingredient is steam distilled from an Australian tree, Melaleuca alternifolia and has entirely different benefits. The ingredients lists in skin care products will usually identify white tea extract by including the scientific name of the species, Camellia sinensis.