As a rich source of vitamin C and citric acid, lemons are known for their detoxifying effects, especially when you add a few freshly cut wedges to your drinking water.

Because of the health benefits of eating lemons, there’s a growing popularity for using lemons as a natural treatment for skin conditions like age spots and acne.

However, using lemons on your face can cause more damage to your skin than good. Here, we weigh the risks and benefits of lemon juice on the skin.

The purported benefits of using lemon on your skin have to do with the natural acidity of this citrus fruit, as well as its vitamin C content. Lemons are sometimes used for:

Acne treatment

Lemon juice has astringent qualities due to its acidic level. Ingredients with a high pH level like lemons can help decrease inflammation and oil that may contribute to the formation of acne.

Furthermore, citric acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), can help break down dead skin cells that lead to noninflammatory forms of acne like blackheads.

Antimicrobial effects

Lemons also have antimicrobial effects, which may help tame Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that lead to inflammatory acne.

At the same time, lemon also has antifungal effects, which may help treat Candida rashes as well as scalp fungus that sometimes occurs with seborrheic dermatitis.

Skin or hair lightening

Citrus ingredients like lemon may also work well on lightening age spots or acne scars, as well as any hair on your face.

Psoriasis and dandruff treatment

Since lemon juice can get rid of dead skin cells, the theory is that it might also alleviate skin patches attributed to psoriasis and dandruff.

The sloughing-off effects are attributed to lemon’s natural levels of citric acid, as AHAs have exfoliating effects on the skin.

Increased collagen

Some proponents of using lemon on the skin say that the citrus fruit is a natural method of increasing collagen in your face.

Collagen itself is a protein that naturally breaks down with age, which can then result in fine lines and wrinkles.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C may help prevent free radicals that can damage collagen, leaving you with smoother skin.

Lemon tends to have more side effects than benefits for the skin, making this a risky DIY option for home skin care. The risks can also be greater if you have sensitive skin or you expose your face to the sun after applying lemon.

Skin irritation

Skin irritation is the most common side effect from using fruit acids. Lemon is extremely acidic, which can irritate your skin.

You might experience excessive dryness, redness, and peeling of your skin. These effects can be worse if you have sensitive skin. As a rule of thumb, people with sensitive skin ought to stay away from topical lemon applications.

Phytophotodermatitis

Phytophotodermatitis is a type of skin reaction to citrus fruits, as well as other culprits such as parsley, celery, and carrot plants.

When you have citrus substances on your skin and your skin is then exposed to UV rays, an inflammatory reaction may occur. This can result in symptoms like redness, swelling, and blistering.

Leukoderma

Leukoderma, also known as vitiligo, occurs when your skin is lightened due to a loss of melanin, the substance responsible for creating your natural skin color.

While some people use lemon on the skin to lighten dark spots, large, widespread white leukoderma spots may develop instead.

Sunburn

Citrus fruits applied topically can also increase your risk of sunburn. Never apply lemon before going outside in direct sunlight, and don’t use it for several days before any planned outdoor activities.

If you decide to try out fresh lemon as a face treatment, you may start with once-a-day applications. Ideally, you would discontinue using lemon once you see improvements in your complexion.

You shouldn’t use lemon if you know you’re going to be out in the sun, as doing so can increase your risk of sunburn and other side effects.

Lemon is highly acidic, and it may be difficult to catch any side effects that start to develop overnight. It’s best to start out using the product during the daytime when you can monitor your skin.

Also, leaving lemon on your face overnight isn’t a good option if you have sensitive skin.

When applying lemon directly to your face, you’ll want to treat the fruit like you would any new skin care product. Due to its potency and potential side effects, lemon ought to be used as a spot treatment only.

  1. Do a patch test on an area of skin away from your face, such as the inside of your elbow. Wait one to two days to ensure that no side effects develop before proceeding with using lemon on your face.
  2. Squeeze a small amount of juice from a fresh lemon onto a cotton ball. Gently apply to the desired area of skin using gentle pressure (don’t rub).
  3. Once the lemon juice dries, you can continue with the rest of your skin care routine.
  4. Start with one daily application, potentially working your way up to twice a day.
  5. Discontinue use if you have side effects.

Due to the risks involved with applying lemon on your face, you’re better off using other remedies that are known to help the skin without hurting it. Talk to a dermatologist about the following:

While the allure of using all-natural lemons on your face can be appealing, only small amounts are safe as an occasional spot treatment — if your skin can tolerate the citrus fruit to begin with.

If you’re still wanting to use lemon, consider using over-the-counter products that contain extracts of the fruit instead so you still benefit from AHAs and vitamin C.

You can also see a dermatologist for treating any specific skin conditions. They will know which treatments are safe for your skin, along with which ones you ought to avoid.