Some say green is the new black; but in the skin care industry, are we already past that? Is Yerba Maté the new green (green tea, that is)?

Well, a large sample of both in vivo and in vitro research says so. Independent studies have discovered that Yerba Maté contains higher levels of antioxidants than both green tea and red wine; and, based on cellular studies, discovered a correlation between Yerba Maté's polyphenol content, antioxidant capacity, and its ability to protect DNA from double-strand breaks that may help prevent oral cancer.

And that's what a slew of respected brands are betting on with the release of new skin care lines containing the South American ingredient Ilex paraguariensis, or Yerba Maté (pronounced yer-ba mah-tay) of the tea-drinking fame.

Traditionally used by South American cowboys to supplement their Atkins-heavy diet of meat and cheese, folklore from the region has associated numerous magical effects to this “liquid vegetable”, including: anti-aging and immunity boosting properties… plus turning gray hairs back to brown (or blond, or red), appetite control, both fatigue and insomnia inhibition, blood detoxification, mind stimulation and a reduction in the effects of debilitating disease.

Whoa! That's quite a reputation. So, what do the men in white coats have to say? And what really is in Yerba Maté that makes it so special?

According to the Yerba Maté Association (and backed up by independent research), Ilex paraguariensis contains 196 active chemical compounds (of which only 144 are also found in green tea) to include: 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and 11 polyphenols—a group of phytochemicals that act as powerful antioxidants. These are:

Vitamins—A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin (B3), B5, B Complex
Minerals—Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus
Additional Compounds—Fatty Acids, Chlorophyll, Flavonols, Polyphenols, Trace Minerals, Antioxidants, Pantothenic Acid and 15 Amino Acids.


As concluded by scientists at The Pasteur Institute and The Paris Scientific Society after a 1964 investigation, ”it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to Maté in nutritional value…containing practically all the vitamins necessary to sustain life.”

Additional research (see below) on the plant adds more punch to that already powerful line, and you can be sure that I will be adding bottles of Yerba Maté tea to my grocery cart in addition to the pomegranate seeds that I eat regularly.

I still have a question about just what effect it will have in my skin care creams. There just aren't that many studies out there specifically investigating what its topical application effects are. So in my mind, the skin care industry is currently making a leap of faith with this ingredient, albeit an educated leap.

The thinking behind this leap hinges upon the hypothesis that the phenolic constituents present in this plant can translate into anti-aging and anti-inflammatory qualities because they protect against the free radical damage that can contribute to cell degradation. A study undertaken by the Department of Dermatology at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, however, did show that Yerba Maté does posses strong anti-cancer effects within the skin.

Perhaps thats why tried and true lines such as Kiehl's and Whole Foods natural body care have recently announced the launch of new collections spotlighting this ingredient. But I first stumbled upon it doing some research into the ingredient for my review of Bioelements' Power Peptide Spray, which you can read about here.

If anybody has any experience with Yerba Maté—as either a tea drink or an ingredient in your favorite skin care product—I'd be interested in hearing about it. Does it live up to all the hype?

Additional research from the Yerba Maté Association:

"Prior to this most recent research, researchers in 1995 published a study in Biochemical and Molecular Biology International in which they concluded that water extracts of Yerba Maté “were more potent antioxidants than either ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or butylated hydroxytoluene.” A few years later, a group of researchers embarked on a study to again investigate the antioxidant properties of Ilex paraguariensis infusions. Those findings were published in March of 2000 in the Journal Biochemical and Biophysica Research Communications. Their results suggest “that ingestion of extracts of Ilex paraguariensis could contribute to an increase in the antioxidant defense of an organism against free radicals attack.” In a more recent study, published in the November 2001 issue of Fitoterapia, researchers took a look at seven different plant species in South America. They found that Yerba Maté “contained a higher content of flavonoids and caffeoyl derivatives than any other assayed species.”

Ilex Paraguariensis (Yerba Mate) extracts are potent inhibitors of nitrosative stress: A comparative study with green tea and wines using a protein nitration model and mammalian cell cytotoxicity.
Life Sci. 2005 Jun 3;77(3):345-58. Epub 2005 Feb 9.
"...we decided to conduct a comparative study of three commonly used beverages with the highest polyphenol contents and proven antioxidant properties: mate (Ilex paraguariensis); green tea (Camelia sinensis) extracts and white and red wines of the main varietals."
"Taken together, our results indicate that when the herbal preparations studied here are prepared the way they are usually drunk, Mate displays the highest inhibition of protein nitration, and the highest promotion of cell survival, whereas green tea or red wines display significant but lesser effects at the same concentrations."


Effect of Yerba Mate (Ilex Paraguariensis) Tea on Topoisomerase Inhibition and Oral Carcinoma Cell Proliferation
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2005, 53
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign conducted a study on the ability of Mate to inhibit oral cancer. This study revealed that Mate has a significant ability to inhibit oral cancer cell proliferation. "The fact that Mate also inhibits oral cancer cell proliferation makes this botanical product a potential source of still unknown active substances that can be added to the arsenal of compounds that could be used in cancer prevention and treatment."


Antioxidant activity of a botanical extract preparation of Ilex paraguariensis: prevention of DNA double-strand breaks in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and human low-density lipoprotein oxidation.
Laboratory de Radiobiologia, Department of Biofisica, Facultad Medicina, University of the Republica, Montevideo, Uruguay.
This study suggests that Mate may be helpful in mitigating DNA damage and the formation of cancerous cells.


Jorge Weil, MD
Monograph, January 2006
Among other valuable phytonutrients, Yerba Mate contains practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life, including vitamins A, E, B-complex and C. In addition, it contains 15 different amino acids and significant amounts of magnesium, calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, manganese, phosphates, zinc, niacin, sulfur, chlorophyll, choline and inositol.

Minerals content of Paraguayan yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis, S.H.).
Direccion de Investigacion, Facultad de Ciencias Quimicas, Universidad Nacional de Asuncion, Paraguay.
This study confirms significant mineral content of Mate, including Fe, Ca, Mn, Mg, Na, K, Zn and Cu


Naturally occurring proteasome inhibitors from mate tea (Ilex paraguayensis) serve as models for topical proteasome inhibitors.
Department of Dermatology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA. jarbise@emory.edu
This study suggests the Mate is helpful in the mitigation of cancerous cell growth.