Onions are full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and antibacterials. These may have skin benefits, such as reducing scarring and brightening your skin. However, more research is needed.

When you’re thinking about skin care ingredients, onions and onion juice might not be the first things that come to mind.

For one thing, most people don’t want their face and body smelling like onions. But the vegetable is actually a surprisingly rich source of skin-friendly acids and compounds. The infamous tearjerker might even help soften your skin if you apply it just right.

If you’re looking to refresh your skin care routine with more natural ingredients, it might be worth looking into what onions have to offer. Let’s review what we know — and what we don’t know — about using onions for your skin.

Onions are a member of the Allium plant family. This plant family also includes garlic, shallots, leeks, and chives.

The onion bulb, which grows at the base of the plant, is the part that’s typically harvested and used for cooking. Red, yellow, and white onions have similar botanical properties.

Onions have been used by many cultures as an essential cooking ingredient. This might partially be because onions appear to fight off microbes and parasites in your digestive system, according to 2018 research.

Onions are also rich in antioxidants, especially in their outer layers, a 2019 study suggests. Many people eat onions for their prebiotic properties, which can ease digestion and promote a healthy microbiome in your colon. Onions have a sulfur component as well as nutrients such as selenium and vitamin C, according to a 2015 research review.

All of these properties make a strong case for including onions in your diet. These same properties are what make onions appealing to some people who use it as a skin care ingredient.

Here are some of what onion advocates claim onion can do for your skin, as well as the onion properties the claims are based on:

Onion propertiesClaims for your skin
antioxidantscan reduce surgical scars and soften skin
phytochemicalscan soften and brighten skin
antibacterialcan fight off bacteria that cause inflammation
antiseptichelps fight off viruses and fungi

Despite all these beneficial properties, here’s a major caveat worth considering: Though several studies have looked at how onions affect your digestion, there really isn’t a lot of research showing that the onion is a heroic ingredient for your skin.

Onions contain high amounts of antioxidants. These are compounds that help fight inflammation by defending against free radicals.

Free radicals are compounds that circulate in the body and can cause cell damage, leading to wrinkling and other early signs of aging. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals so they can’t inflict damage.

One of the most well-known antioxidants in onion extract is quercetin. This compound helps fight inflammation and induce healing.

This property makes onion extract popular in topical preparations used to treat scars. A 2017 study in mice supported the theory that quercetin may help your body break create healthy skin as it heals from an injury as opposed to a keloid scar. However, more research needs to be done in humans to confirm this effect.

A different study from 2018 compared the topical application of onion extract gel to silicone gel, another popular scar treatment. After applying each gel for 12 weeks, the researchers found both were equally effective in treating postsurgical scars.

Onion extracts have been shown to inactivate most forms of bacteria, according to a 2016 research review. This property can help your skin because bacteria can increase inflammation on your skin’s surface.

Antibacterial properties also come in handy when you’re dealing with active acne breakouts.

In addition to the properties mentioned above, onions also contain a naturally occurring sulfuric acid. Diluted sulfur can be used to treat some types of acne.

No specific studies explore whether the acid from onions can be used to treat an active breakout. However, enough people swear by it that certain companies use onion juice in some over-the-counter acne products.

Onion also contains vitamin C. Vitamin C is known to increase the speed of your cell turnover, which can help decrease breakouts, lessen redness, and brighten up your skin. Once again, though, no current studies evaluate how the vitamin C in onions may specifically contribute to fighting acne.

For bacterial or fungal infections

It’s important to know that onion extracts aren’t a replacement for medical treatments for bacterial or fungal infections. If you think you have one of these infections, you should seek treatment advice from a doctor.

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When it comes to using onions on your skin, red, yellow, and white varieties seem to be effective in treating skin care concerns. If you’re interested in the highest antioxidant benefit, use the outer rings of the onion instead of the inner ones.

Here are some ideas for trying out onions for your skin.

Onions for spot-treating acne blemishes

Some people swear by onions to treat blemishes from acne and acne scars. You can DIY an at-home spot treatment for acne quickly and easily to see if it works for you.

Here’s how:

  1. Cut a small piece of onion and gently grate it.
  2. With clean fingers, apply the grated onion to your blemish or breakout area.
  3. Make sure you wash your hands afterward with soap to get rid of any lingering onion scent.

Onion extract gel for treating scars

You might also want to try onion extract to treat scarring. Combining onion extract with aloe vera gel could boost your results, since aloe vera has a proven track record for treating skin injuries and scars.

To make an onion extract gel:

  1. Combine approximately 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed onion juice with 1 tablespoon pure aloe vera.
  2. Apply gel topically to scar.
  3. Leave on for about 10 minutes, then rinse off and moisturize area.

Onion mask for moisturizing and skin brightening

The inflammation-fighters in onions may help moisturize your skin. You’re more likely to see results when you combine proven anti-inflammatory skin care ingredients, like honey and oatmeal.

To make a warming, soothing face mask that uses onions and other natural ingredients:

  1. Cook slow-cooked oatmeal for 20 minutes, then allow it to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, in a blender, blend a peeled medium onion until it has a paste-like consistency.
  3. Mix onion paste with oatmeal and 1 tablespoon (or less) honey.
  4. Apply onion-oatmeal mask to your face and rinse off after 10 minutes.

The following are some over-the-counter (OTC) products you can purchase that add onion to their formulas:

  • Mederma Advanced Gel. You can apply this topical treatment to scarred skin areas. The formula contains Allium cepa (onion) bulb extract and can help soften and reduce the appearance of old and new scars.
  • Dr. Jart+ Cryo Rubber Masks. This two-step mask contains an ampoule (a small, sealed vial) that incorporates hydrating ingredients, including onion bulb extract. The rubber-type mask helps seal in moisture and soothe skin.
  • Tarte Knockout Tingling Treatment. This 10 percent acid toner contains salicylic and lactic acids as well as onion extract. The treatment is intended to make skin tone appear more even, reduce oil, and soothe skin.
  • Sesderma Acnises Spot Colour Cream. This product from Sesderma is a combination concealer and acne scar treatment. The cream uses onion extract to reduce the appearance of scars and conceal them.

If you’re looking for more products that use onions, you’ll usually see them called “allium cepa extract” on an ingredients list.

There aren’t a lot of reported side effects of using onion on your skin. The Environmental Working Group reports no evidence of allergies or immunotoxicity from using onion bulb extracts.

However, it’s possible that if you have an allergy to onions when you eat them, you may be sensitive to the effects of topical onion.

Consider doing a patch test before using onion extract on your skin

Because onion extract is rarely the only ingredient in a skin care product, it might be a good idea to find out if onion extract irritates your skin before you use it. You can do a patch test by applying a small amount of onion to the inside of your wrist and waiting up to 24 hours to see if any redness or irritation appears.

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There are plenty of reasons to believe that onions could provide some skin care benefits. They have an acidic component, they’re antioxidant and antibacterial, and they contain vitamin C.

But current research about using onions on your skin is lacking. That means it’s probably not going to replace your go-to beauty routine anytime soon.

That said, trying onion on your skin is low risk for most people. If you’re curious about this ingredient, try to DIY an onion-based home skin care remedy in your kitchen, or check out an OTC product that lists “allium cepa extract” on the ingredient list.