Citrus fruit extracts are often included in skin care products due to their antioxidant content. Generally speaking, antioxidants — such as the vitamin C in citrus fruits — are thought to help fight free radicals in the skin and also help boost collagen levels.

If you’re treating acne, you might be wondering if plain lemon juice can be more effective than an over-the-counter (OTC) combination product.

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. While it may first show up during puberty, acne affects many people well into adulthood.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 50 million Americans have acne annually, and about 85 percent of people ages 12 to 24 are affected. Heredity, as well as other risk factors such as oily skin and stress, can also contribute to acne.

The juices from fresh lemons are one of the many home remedies touted in online forums across the internet. This is due to their high level of antioxidants, as well as natural levels of citric acid, a form of vitamin C.

Read on to learn more about this treatment method for acne and acne scarring. Talk to your dermatologist to see if lemon juice is a safe or viable remedy for you to use at home.

For acne, lemon juice is purportedly said to offer:

  • reduced oil (sebum) due to the drying effects of citric acid
  • antiseptic qualities, which may kill bacteria that lead to acne, such as P. acnes
  • reduced redness and inflammation that may help treat inflammatory acne as well as leftover scars

These benefits are attributed to the antioxidant and antibacterial effects of topical vitamin C. However, vitamin C hasn’t been studied for the treatment of acne as extensively as other vitamins, such as zinc and vitamin A (retinoids).

Much of the claimed benefits of lemon juice for acne treatment is found anecdotally in online forums and in blogs.

If you’ve ever taken a bite out of a lemon, you know how strong this citrus fruit tastes. Its effects on the skin can also be powerful, leading to potential side effects. These include:

  • dryness
  • burning
  • stinging
  • itching
  • redness
  • killing good bacteria

Your risk for these side effects may be greater if you use lemon juice on your skin every day.

This acne treatment method may also not be the best option for darker skin tones because the citrus fruit can lead to hyperpigmentation. Lemon juice can also increase your risk of sunburn and sunspots, regardless of your skin tone.

Acne scars develop from blemishes, and they can last for several months to even years if you don’t treat them.

You’re also at a higher risk of getting acne scars if you pick at your skin or pop your pimples. People with darker skin tones also tend to be at a higher risk for hyperpigmentation from acne scarring, according to a 2010 review published by the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.

Evidence supporting lemons as an effective acne scar treatment is minimal. As with the purported benefits of acne treatment from lemon juice, there are a lot of anecdotal discussions on the internet about the positive effects of lemons for acne scars.

Still, there’s no scientific proof that this is the case.

If you’re thinking about using lemons to treat acne scars at home, ask your dermatologist first. They can give you some tips and also discuss any individual risk factors, such as a history of hyperpigmentation.

Your dermatologist may alternatively suggest in-office chemical peels or dermabrasion treatments, which are widely studied options for scars.

Lemon juice is best used as either an astringent or a spot treatment.

To use as an astringent, combine fresh lemon juice with equal parts water. You can use this method two to three times per day before applying your moisturizer. This method may also be used for the treatment of acne scars, though you may not see significant results on this end.

If you’re using lemon juice as a spot treatment to get rid of breakouts, apply it carefully to your pimples with a cotton swab. Leave on for a few seconds and rinse your face with lukewarm water. Repeat a few times a day as needed on a short-term basis until your blemishes disappear.

It’s best to use fresh-squeezed lemon juice rather than store-bought versions that have added sugars and preservatives. Simply squeeze several lemons in a glass container. Store in the fridge for up to a few days.

If you’re looking for other home remedies for acne or acne scars, talk to your dermatologist about the following options:

While lemon juice may have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that could fight acne, not enough is known about the potential dangers to the skin.

Also, like many other home remedies for acne and acne scars, there’s not a wide breadth of scientific evidence to support lemons as a viable treatment option.

However, lemon juice may still hold some promise when used for the occasional breakout. As always, it’s best to see your dermatologist for stubborn breakouts and for treatment options to help heal acne scars.