When Life Gives You Lemons, Don’t Put Them On Your Skin

by Gio
why putting lemon juice on your skin is a bad idea

I’m obsessed with lemons.

I love a cooling lemonade in summer. A lemon cheesecake at the end of a special dinner. A whiff of citrusy perfume to remind you summer’s on its way.

But, I would never use lemon in skincare. Putting lemons on your skin is just asking for trouble.

I know, it’s hard to believe. Lemons are natural. Loaded with antioxidants. A key ingredient in plenty of DYI beauty recipes. How can they be bad for your skin?

I’ll tell you how. Read on:

Benefits Of Lemon On Skin: Why Do People Think It’s Good?

On the surface, lemon is perfect skincare ingredients. This bright yellow fruit is full of goodies skin loves and can never get enough of:

  • Vitamin C: An anti-aging superstar, this vitamin fights the free radicals that cause premature aging, boosts the production of collagen to keep skin firm and elastic, and reduces dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
  • Niacin: Also known as vitamin B3, it has anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate dry and irritated skin, and reduces hyperpigmentation, too.
  • Citric acid: This is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a family of exfoliants that gently dissolve the “glue” that holds your skin cells together so they can slough off and reveal the brighter, smoother, more even toned skin underneath.

What does this all mean for skin? Let’s translate this science jargons into real benefits for your skin:

  • Antiaging: The antioxidant content of lemons helps you fight free radicals and keep your skin as young as possible for as long as possible.
  • Brightening: Vitamin C and citric acid help reduce all kinds of dark spots and hyperpigmentation, including a botched tan job.

Related: The Complete Guide To Vitamin C In Skincare

lemons in skincare

The Problem With Lemon In Skincare: Why It Does NOT Help Skin

Lemon should be amazing for the skin, right? But, there’s a catch (or two):

1. Lemon Can Damage Your Skin’s Protective Barrier

Because of its high vitamin C content, lemon is often the top choice for DIY treatments to fight hyperpigmentation. But, vitamin C is highly acidic. It has a pH of just 2.

What does this mean? Well, skin’s natural pH is around 5.5 or 6.5. When you put something on it with a pH as low as 2, you could potentially damage its protective barrier. You know, that wall that keeps moisture in, and germs, pollutants, and all kinds of crap out?

When this barrier is damaged, skin becomes dry and prone to irritations. Ugh.

In an effort to reduce dark spots and even out the skin tone, you’ve now irritated and dried out skin. Not the smartest move…

Related: How To Strengthen Your Skin’s Protective Barrier (And Why It Matters)

Want DIY skincare tips that really work? Subscribe to the newsletter below to receive the “5 DIY Skincare Hacks That Really Work” below:

2. You Never Really Know What You’re Getting

A lemon is a lemon, right? But, have you ever noticed how some lemons taste more tarty or more acidic than others? There’s a reason for that: even though all lemons are made up of the same compounds, their quantity changes.

This depends on a lot of different factors, like the variety of lemon, where it was grown, the time of year, if it was refrigerated or not after it was picked up, and how long it’s been sitting at the grocery store…

How much goodies does that lemon in your kitchen really contain? Enough to be effective? Or too much? (FYI, a 61 year old woman ended up with patches on her skin after using a lemon toner because it had reduced the dark pigment in her skin too much).

You have no way of knowing. Each lemon is a gamble that could result in little improvement, no improvement, or red and irritated skin. Again, why take the chance?

why diy beauty recipes with lemon are a bad idea

3. Lemons can cause blistering burns

Did you know that fruits, like lemons, are made up of thousands of different substances? Some of them are good, others not so much.

Lemons, for example, contain fluranocourmarins and psoralens. All you need to know is, when exposed to sunlight, these compounds can irritate and even burn the skin!

This condition has a name, phytophotodermatitis (or PPD for short), and is more common than you think. PPD is tricky, because it doesn’t always show up immediately.

But, it will – eventually. When it does, you’ll recognize it: you’ll see red rashes and brown discolourations that worsen the hyperpigmentation you were trying to correct. Ironic, isn’t it?

Oh, in case you were wondering, these phototoxic compounds can be removed from citrus oils during the processing phase, so not all of them are necessarily bad.

But, there’s no way you can remove them at home. So, never ever put lemons on your skin and then go out into the sun unprotected. Never.

What Should You Use To Brighten Skin Instead?

A proper Vitamin C serum. Vitamin C is the key ingredient in lemons and has the same brightening benefits for the skin – without the harsh side effects (unless your skin is super sensitive). Here are my fave picks:

The Bottom Line

Lemons are delicious little treats, but when it comes to skincare, they’re too unpredictable. The risks far outweigh the benefits. Don’t do it!

Have you ever used lemon in skincare? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



H March 5, 2016 - 4:27 am

Totally agree! It’s a shame people jump the gun on these sort of DIY experiments without knowing the possible consequences! Another thing you should not do if put apple cider vinegar on your face.

About drinking it, did you know that by doing that you’ll have to reapply your sunscreen more often?Just by having lemon juice in your water reduces your protection by 33%. Just thought that was interesting.

Gio March 5, 2016 - 8:43 pm

H, I agree. Lots of DIY tips on the internet are dangerous, and it’s so worrying that people just follow them without doing more research. They end up doing their skin so much harm.

Really? Do you have the link to the study? Frankly, I find it a bit odd. If you drink lemon juice throughout the day, you may have to apply it more often, but if you have a glass in the morning and apply your sunscreen afterwards, shouldn’t you be fine?

H March 6, 2016 - 8:38 am

I don’t remember exactly whare I read it. I believe I read it in some fashion magazine like Vogue,Ellie, or Seventeen while waiting on somebody… I dunno.

I did read here that frequently drinking carrot juice boost your drinking carrot juice can protect your skin from the sun. http://www.naturalhealth365.com/protect-your-skin-1083.html/

Gio March 6, 2016 - 12:17 pm

H, oh I see.

Plenty of veggies and fruits can boost sun protection, but none works as well, or is a substitute for, sunscreen, Still, It’a always a good idea to eat a diet rich in them. 🙂

H March 7, 2016 - 3:34 am

Totally agree. Still though,why not eat some of those amazing super foods that give your body some sun protection,a host of antioxidants as well as health benefits? People unfortunately often miss spots/don’t reapply often enough when applying sunscreen. What’s not to love about extra UVA protection.Did you know you can buy antioxidants in capsule form to consume such as astaxanthin ? It also helps people who workout recover faster.Did you know it is 500x more effective than vitamin E, 10x more than beta carotene,and 4 x more effective than lutein in various antioxidant capacities according to the ORAC values of antioxidants.

Have you ever heard of Heliocare? ( not astaxathin)It’s consumable sun protection (well not to be relied on solely for sun protection) recommended by dermatologists . Link: http://www.heliocare.com/ Here’s another (and better with astaxithan) and doesn’t have the artificial colors… : http://www.sunsaferx.com/facts/sunsafe-rx-supplement-facts/
One by another company: http://www.puritan.com/puritans-pride-brand-0102/ppfernblock250mg30cap-054996

H March 7, 2016 - 3:38 am

Yikes! Sorry for that pet-peeve (since you’re an editor)! I left out a few question marks!

Gio March 8, 2016 - 7:30 am

H, I agree. We can only benefit from a diet rich in antioxidants. And thanks for the links. I’ll go check them out now.

Carmela January 30, 2017 - 9:30 pm

I have burns on my face caused by lemon juice.I needed a quick trick to make my pimples disappear and I trtried it.DO NOT DO THAT!It hurts so much and look terrible.What should I do to repair?

Gio February 12, 2017 - 8:12 pm

Carmela, oh no! How awful! How is your skin doing now? If it is still bad, you should consult a dermatologist. In the meantime, use a simple, soothing cream, like aloe vera.

Zoe August 31, 2018 - 10:57 am

Anything Acidic has great potential to damage skin. If I’m really tempted to try one of these diy suggestions on internet, I would try them on an area on my arm that is not very visible and also cut the amount in half or less since I have very sensitive skin and multiple allergies. I can’t even drink lemon juice so I probably will not ever try treating my face with it. BTW, thank you, Gio, for your great post and sharing the above info.

Gio September 7, 2018 - 5:01 pm

Zoe, I agree. I wouldn’t use anything this acidic on the skin, especially if it’s sensitive. It just spells trouble.


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