All that glitters is not gold and all that is milky and sugary is not good and healthy. These words are apt for a beverage like bubble tea. What is bubble tea? What does it comprise? What is so special about this tea? Is this tea good for health?

Time to get scientific ;)


What is a bubble tea? (just in case you live under a rock) 

Bubble tea is an East Asian drink that was invented in the 1980s in Tainan and Taichung regions of Taiwan. This tea contains grains of tapioca extract and is blended with flavourings and sweeteners, usually served cold and shaken to a froth (Faulkner, 2003).

In recent years, boba tea has gained popularity across the globe. You can now find bubble tea in every street corner in New York City in the U.S. Once an unknown drink found only in some Asian regions, now the tea chains are springing up in every nook and corner of the world.

However, boba is not a healthy and harmless drink that is being assumed by many people. When tapioca fun balls present in bubble tea are boiled and saturated with processed sugar, the health value of the tea becomes worse. The tea offers all carbs and lacks any beneficial vitamins, minerals and fibres (Donaldson, 2014).

One bubble tea contains as much as 50 grams of processed sugar and around 500 calories. Apart from the negative impact bubble tea has on overall health, it has damaging effects on the skin as well (deGuzman, 2006).

Some of the negative impacts of bubble tea on the skin have been discussed below:

1. Drinking too much bubble tea may cause acne breakouts

Bubble tea or Boba Milk tea is more than a chemical cocktail full of empty calories. It comprises of ingredients like sugar, tapioca and dairy that are associated with causing acne. Dairy items like milk does not directly result in acne breakouts. Cow’s milk can result in inflammation. Your skin may not be lactose intolerant and hormones in milk can react with the testosterone in your body. This increases the sebum production (oily substance that is responsible for clogging the pores) in the skin resulting in acne breakouts.

Sugar has high glycaemic index, that apart from resulting in insulin spikes, increases androgen secretion, inflammation and oil production, all of which play a significant role in acne development (Han, 2018).


2. Tapioca pearls in bubble tea offer no benefits to skin and overall health

The “tapioca pearls” in bubble tea are starch extracts from the roots of cassava plant. These little black balls at the bottom of the bubble tea are as bad for your health as actual candy. These bouncy tapioca balls are high in carbs and low in well-being promoting nutrients like vitamins, minerals, proteins and fibres. These become worse when they are boiled in sugar. Sugar triggers insulin levels to spike, resulting in clogged pores and a bunch of annoying skin issues (Min, Green & Kim, 2017).


3. Pimples

Overconsumption of bubble tea results in the appearance of pimples. Excess bubble tea creates an imbalance and generates extreme heat in the body that triggers outbreak of zits (annoying pimples). The most affected areas include the neck, face, and the chest (Kucharska et al, 2016).


4. Sugar in bubble tea makes skin rough and skin tone uneven

High sugar content in the bubble tea cancels out any nutritional benefits to the skin and overall health. Some of the ill effects of sugar-laden tapioca balls in the bubble tea include;


5. Inflammation

Excess sugar in the bubble tea produces a surge of insulin, that is helpful in stabilizing your blood sugar levels. When insulin spikes, so do inflammation. This inflammation can worsen existing inflammatory and infectious skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne.


6. Causes breakouts

Acne breakouts thrive well in the environment created by a sugary diet. Sugar and excessive sweetness spike chronic inflammation throughout the body triggering more pain and redness in the skin blemishes. Excessive sugar also suppresses WBC’s (White Blood Cells) – soldiers that kill infectious agents. Low white blood cells in the body make you vulnerable to acne breakouts-causing bacteria that lurk on your skin. Increased inflammation increases the production of stress hormones like cortisol that augments oil production from the skin, providing acne-causing bacteria with the oleaginous environment they require to populate and thrive.


7. Breaks down collagen and elastin

Excessive sugar consumption results in an increase in insulin levels that triggers chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Too many carbs from foods like refined sugar get attached to collagen proteins and fats in our skin in a process known as glycation. During the process of glycation, a new category of substance is formed – AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). These AGEs are extremely destructive. These are enzymes that break down and weaken elastin fibres and collagen (collagen is responsible for skin strength and elastin enables the skin to stretch, is responsible for giving youthful skin its plump and bouncy texture) leaving skin rough, dull, discoloured, leading to wrinkles and sagging.

The process of glycation is also responsible for increasing the skin ageing process and worsening skin conditions like rosacea and acne. Glycation process makes the skin more susceptible to breakdown and damage, especially from the sun (Danby, 2010).


8. Worsens allergic reactions

Sugary foods flare up allergic reactions and inflammatory skin conditions like eczema. Also known as atopic dermatitis, increase in eczema condition results in skin irritation, leathery skin patches appearing over time, itchy rashes and oozing blisters. Since sugar suppresses white blood cells and stimulates inflammation, the body’s ability to fight off infection carrying agents declines and the body is unable to fight strongly with even mild allergens. Allergies become worse on excessive sugar consumption for people who already suffer from food sensitivities and intolerances

In addition to all the above, the more sugar you eat, the more you develop insulin resistance. Insulin spikes result in a condition called hirsutism - excess hair growth and dark patches on the body and neck.


How to make your boba or bubble tea a healthier drink?

Some healthy tips that you can consider for making your bubble tea a healthier drink for your skin include:

1. Add fresh, low-fat or skimmed milk to your bubble tea as a substitute for creamers that are non-dairy.

2. Add less sugar or no sugar to your tea (this includes less sweetened fruit purees and flavoured syrup)

3. Drink plain bubble tea without milk and the sugar-laden chewy tapioca pearls reduce the calories.


Takeaway

Bubble tea without processed sugar, artificial flavours, sweeteners and milk, is a zero-calorie beverage. Such tea is refreshing, satisfying and hydrating especially when served over ice, on a sultry, muggy and a hot day. Without sugar and milk, antioxidants present in the tea reduces the risk of cancer and any heart issues. Antioxidants also fight DNA damage from Ultra violet rays and reduce signs of ageing. It also helps fight off systemic bacterial inflammation for toned and smoother skin.









References

Danby, F. W. (2010). Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Clinics in dermatology, 28(4), 409-411.

deGuzman, J. P. (2006). Beyond" Living La Vida Boba": Social Space and Transnational, Hybrid Asian American Youth Culture. Amerasia Journal, 32(2), 89-102.

Donaldson, B. (2014). The Everything Healthy Tea Book: Discover the Healing Benefits of Tea. Simon and Schuster.

Faulkner, R. (Ed.). (2003). Tea: east and west. V & A.

Han, Y. (2018, August). Study on Consumption Behavior of Milk Tea Based on the Customer Value Theory--Taking" A Little Tea" in Shenzhen as an Example. In 2018 International Conference on Management, Economics, Education and Social Sciences (MEESS 2018). Atlantis Press.

Kucharska, A., Szmurło, A., & Sińska, B. (2016). Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology/Postȩpy Dermatologii i Alergologii, 33(2), 81.

Min, J. E., Green, D. B., & Kim, L. (2017). Calories and sugars in boba milk tea: implications for obesity risk in Asian Pacific Islanders. Food science & nutrition, 5(1), 38-45.

Other external links: 

https://stackedskincare.com/blogs/news/how-sugar-affects-your-skin/

https://www.rd.com/food/fun/bubble-tea-is-unhealthy/

https://www.healthxchange.sg/food-nutrition/food-tips/bubble-tea-healthy-or-not

https://blogs.webmd.com/food-fitness/20190329/is-bubble-tea-bad-for-you

https://soyummy.com/bubble-tea-bad/

Cover picture from https://www.businessinsider.sg/brown-sugar-milk-tea-is-the-unhealthiest-bubble-tea-and-milk-foam-is-the-worst-topping-singapore-hospital-warns/