Lemon for acne and acne scars, lemon for skin lightening, or lemon for aging skin, you name it - lemons can prevent it. Or, can they?
Lemons are a widely popular folk remedy for many skin ailments which is why you can find them in almost any homemade skincare recipe. Except maybe for sensitive skin...which leads us to the question: Are lemons bad for the skin?
The answer is both yes and no. No, because they do hold a lot of benefits, and yes because they have just as many side-effects.
Some people on the internet say you don’t get results without taking risks, but before you rush with excitement to follow their advice, let’s go over the evidence and facts.
What are the benefits of applying lemon juice on your face? What are the side-effects? And, how can you protect yourself and still use lemons in your skincare routine?
Definitely not fiction. Lemon juice, as well as lemon peels, have high concentrations of citric acid which has a very drying effect on the skin and can effectively get rid of excess sebum, cleanse the skin and clear its pores. The problem is that it’s so strong and potent that it irritates the skin while leading to unfavorable consequences.
Yet, the beauty industry hasn’t given up on lemons, neither the natural-lover beauty gurus. You can find lemon juice, essential lemon oil, or lemon peels in many skincare products or natural home remedies nowadays.
That being said, is there a difference between using freshly squeezed lemon juice and products with lemon juice?
Yes, of course, there’s a difference. Not just between pure lemon juice and lemon products, but between homemade facial packs and pure lemon juice as well.
You should never, ever use pure lemon juice on your face. It’s extremely strong, potent and can cause several side-effects, including chemical burn.
Most experts advise using lemon juice or lemon extract, diluted, in small amounts mixed in with other soothing and gentle ingredients. This way, you can get all the benefits that lemons have to offer and avoid the scary side-effects.
In this context, products with lemon juice, lemon peels or essential lemon oils are generally safe to use. However, people with sensitive skin should probably avoid them and seek alternatives. It all mostly depends on the concentration of the lemon ingredient in the product. Some products are stronger than others.
You can apply this logic to your homemade recipes. To safely use freshly squeezed lemon juice in your homemade recipes, think about the percentage of lemons versus other substances, and also learn what ingredients might counteract the lemon’s potential side-effects.
With enough information and proper care, you can prevent almost every side-effect, except phototoxicity and sensitivity to sunlight. We’ll discuss this below in more detail.
In the abundance of products and ingredients on the market today, why are people still hung up on using lemon juice in their skincare? What are lemons made of, and what makes them so strong?
Lemons contain a lot of vitamins: niacin; riboflavin; thiamine; choline; pantothenic acid; folate; vitamin C; vitamin B6 (deficiency in B6 is associated with skin dermatitis).
They also contain beneficial minerals: calcium; copper; iron; manganese; magnesium; phosphorus; potassium; zinc (zinc plays a major role in acne prevention).
Lemons and grapefruits are the strongest sources of natural alpha-hydroxy acid. Yes, that’s right. Citric acid is an AHA used in many skincare preparations because of its exfoliating properties.
Aside from being powerful exfoliators, AHAs help promote collagen and blood flow, manage the melanin production in the skin’s cells and correct discoloration. It can stimulate cell turnover, which helps in improving the appearance of superficial wrinkles and fine lines. AHAs can also increase the absorption of other products and make them more effective.
Citric acid is a popular alpha-hydroxy acid. It’s believed it has anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and antioxidative effects.
In one lemon there’s around 64% vitamin C and the peel exceeds 200%, so we can safely say that lemons contain the highest concentration of vitamin C, among the citrus fruits. They contain little more than limes, twice more than grapefruits, and five times more vitamin C than oranges.
Talk about abundance. But, why do we need vitamin C so much?
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and major building block in the body. The skin restores itself approximately every six weeks. To do this and build new cells, it needs collagen. Vitamin C plays a big role in collagen synthesis, which makes it vital for the optimal health of the skin.
If your body lacks vitamin C, the skin won’t be able to heal effectively.
Additionally, vitamin C has the potential to prevent photodamage, reduce wrinkles, aid dry skin, accelerate cell turnover, and scavenge free radicals.
If you have ever used lemon juice on your face, then you have felt its powerful drying effect. For people who have oily skin this must feel amazing. This is because of the citric acid, which can cleanse your skin deeply, penetrate deep into pores and suck out oil and dirt as it dries.
One study from 2011 published in the British Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology, studied the antimicrobial activity of lemon peels. The researchers concluded that the peel of a lemon is not only an astringent but also a good antimicrobial agent, which is important because certain skin flora like pseudomonas and micrococcus can grow when there’s excess sebum and cause skin infections.
This implies that the lemon peel is potentially beneficial in preventing some types of skin infections.
The authors of the study continue: “Simple use of lemon juice can prevent such types of infections (acne infections) and could help in keeping a good and healthy skin.”
The mere fact that lemons have the potential to prevent oiliness, is all by itself a contribution in the fight against acne breakouts. We all know that people with oily skin are more prone to acne, and excess sebum leads to pore-clogging. Clogged pores start to enlarge, add pressure to the cell’s walls, irritate the skin’s tissue and cause inflammation. The end result is red, painful pimples.
Controlling the oil production on the skin will bring relief and less frequent breakouts.
The additional antimicrobial and astringent benefits of the lemon peel, which can prevent infections, is another advantage when fighting acne vulgaris caused by the bacteria p. acnes.
So, what about acne scars?
Well, the lemon juice is loaded with vitamin C and the lemon peel even more. The potent antioxidative power and its role in stimulating collagen production, make this vitamin a building block for new undamaged cells, that can replace the cells in the scar tissue and make your scars less visible. Collagen is crucial for the healing process the skin goes through on a daily basis. This is important not just for old scars, but for acute acne lesions as well. Having optimal levels of vitamin C in the body will ensure that your skin produces collagen enough to effectively heal the inflamed pimples that are currently raving on your face.
The abundance of vitamin C in lemons is the culprit for its anti-aging properties.
Vitamin C stimulates and maintains optimal levels of collagen, elastin and growth factors in the skin’s tissues. What this means is that your skin will be more resilient to premature aging, fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, and discoloration.
Collagen will aid the healing process of the skin, stimulate cell turnover and replace damaged, pigmented cells with new ones, reducing discoloration and age spots.
Collagen will also tighten the skin’s pores, and make it more flexible, preventing dry and saggy skin.
In 1999 a study in the journal Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research demonstrated that topical application of lemon oil is highly effective for the anti-aging management of the skin.
Last, but definitely not least, is the lightening property of lemons that you all know and love. I mean, seriously, if you google lemon juice for skin, most results are from people asking whether lemons can really lighten their skin, and how this can be done.
Well, citrus fruit contains the enzyme tyrosinase which is a known inhibitor that can interfere in the melanin synthesis preventing pigmentation.
In the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, a study from 2009 that reviewed natural skin whitening agents placed lemon extract as a potent skin bleaching ingredient used in many product preparations. Still, the authors advise that lemon extract should only be used at low concentrations because it easily causes skin irritation.
Although rare, allergic reactions can happen. Lemon juice is a potent and strong ingredient which can be too much for many skin types. Even if you drink lemon juice regularly, you should still do a patch test for the product you want to use.
A case study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology documented an example of a contact allergy and skin sensitivity with hand dermatitis from citrus peel oil.
The most common and known side-effects from using lemon juice topically is burning the skin which can result in redness, swelling, blisters, pain, and peeling.
It’s never a good idea to use pure lemon juice on your face despite all the potential benefits. It might work wonderfully the first, or second time, but it’s like playing Russian roulette and you never know when you might cause a chemical burn.
People with sensitive skin should, by all means, stay away from lemon juice and consider alternatives for tightening and lightening the skin or reducing oil on the face.
Phototoxitiy or photoirritation is a chemically induced skin irritation that happens when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It’s a type of photosensitivity. For this process to happen there must be a photoactive ingredient on your skin which will react with sunlight.
And you guessed it, lemons have photoactive ingredients. These ingredients react to light, so when they absorb it, the energy from the absorbed light produces molecular changes that cause toxicity.
Phototoxic reactions look like a bad sunburn - red, itchy, and swelling with blisters.
Over time, phototoxicity can cause changes in skin color and even skin cancer.
This is why most brands that use citric acid in their formulas instruct their customers to stay away from sunlight while using the products. And, if you decide to use a homemade pack with lemon juice in it, it’s most vital that you’re informed of the side-effects and take safety measures to prevent harmful consequences.
In the benefits section, we said that lemons are filled with tyrosinase that inhibits melanin production and works as a potent skin bleaching ingredient, which is true. But, it’s also true that applying lemon juice topically makes the skin sensitive and prone to hyperpigmentation. It’s like a double-edged sword, I guess.
When used properly, with caution, and with no contact with sunlight, it can help you lighten the skin. Nevertheless, because of its highly photoactive properties, over time, it can lead to phototoxicity, discoloration and brown spots.
Yet another way in which your lemon juice treatment might go wrong is getting the counter effect of what you want to accomplish. This is because citric acid has powerful drying effects on the skin. It might sound like a good thing, but if you overdry the skin you’ll stimulate the already very active sebaceous glands and make your face oilier than it previously was.
To prevent this, you should always use a powerful moisturizer after applying a strong and abrasive product with lemon juice or lemon peel in their formula. This way you might control the negative effects and still enjoy the benefits.
No, it’s actually harmful. Many overnight recipes contain lemon juice, but this is wrong. You don’t need to leave lemon juice on the face for a long time to get its benefits, but you will surely experience its side-effects. Lemon juice absorbs in the skin really quickly, which is one of the reasons why it irritates the skin. After only ten minutes you’ll feel your skin completely dry, and this is the time when you need to moisturize.
Lemon juice has ingredients that increase the absorption of other products. Use this window to get hydration and moisture in your skin.
If you have decided to use lemon juice in your skincare routine, then make sure you wash your face after 10 minutes, pat it dry - let your skin be a little damp, and apply a moisturizer.
This is the best strategy to prevent overdrying the skin.
Also, don’t use pure lemon juice directly on the skin. Dilute it with other moisturizing ingredients.
Lemon juice is popular for a reason. It has a number of benefits for the skin. It’s one of the strongest natural exfoliators, which makes it appealing to people with oily and acne-prone skin.
Excess sebum doesn’t stand a chance. It can quickly dry the skin, clear its pores, and even fight off bacteria that cause skin infections, including acne.
Clearing the pores, tightening the skin and evening out the skin tone is appealing to everyone who’s fighting signs of premature aging.
So, don’t be surprised next time you see lemon juice in the best homemade remedies for oily and acne skin or in anti-acne products.
However, great strength comes with great consequences. Chemical burns, overdrying the skin, phototoxicity, and sensitivity to sun and hyperpigmentation are very common.
It’s definitely not recommended for people with sensitive skin.
If still want to use it, it’s best to look for products containing lemon extracts (the concentration is controlled) or start with amazingly small amounts in packs containing soothing ingredients. Slowly learn what your skin can handle and don’t go overboard.
Last advice to stay with you: Avoid contact with sunlight while using lemon juice in your skincare routine.