Applying lemon to your skin may have some benefits but it can also cause irritation and inflammation and may trigger skin conditions.
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.
However, using lemons on your face can do more harm 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 the following.
Lemon juice has astringent qualities due to its acidic level. Ingredients with a low pH level can help decrease inflammation and oil that may contribute to the formation of acne.
Lemons also have antimicrobial effects, which may help tame Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that lead to inflammatory acne.
Skin spot or hair lightening
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 an exfoliating effect on the skin.
Some proponents of using lemon on the skin say that the citrus fruit is a natural method of increasing collagen in facial skin.
Collagen 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.
There are other methods of obtaining the vitamin C benefits of lemon juice for your skin, such as by using a vitamin C serum.
Vitamin C products contain formulated, safe amounts of ingredients developed by researchers and intended for topical use.
In contrast, each lemon you buy may vary in how much ascorbic acid it contains. There’s no telling whether or not its juice may burn your skin when applied directly.
While effective topical products may contain lemon juice, this ingredient is typically mixed with other ingredients and measured to a specific, safe amount.
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 is the most common side effect of using fruit acids. Lemon is extremely acidic, which can irritate your skin.
You might experience:
- excessive dryness
- skin peeling
These effects can be worse if you have sensitive skin. As a rule of thumb, people with sensitive skin should stay away from topical lemon applications.
Phytophotodermatitis is a type of skin reaction to citrus fruits and other culprits, like 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:
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 to lighten dark spots, large, widespread white leukoderma spots may develop instead.
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.
Can you put lemon on your face every day?
If you decide to try out fresh lemon as a face treatment, start with once daily applications. Ideally, you would stop using lemons once you see improvements in your complexion.
You shouldn’t use lemon if you know you’re going to be out in the sun. Doing so can increase your risk of sunburn and other side effects.
Can you leave lemon on your face overnight?
Lemon is highly acidic, and it may be difficult to catch any side effects that start to develop overnight. It’s best to start using the product during the daytime when you can monitor your skin.
Leaving lemon on your face overnight isn’t a good option if you have sensitive skin.
How to use lemon on the face safely
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 should only be used as a spot treatment.
- Do a patch test on an area of skin away from your face, such as the inside of your elbow. Wait for 1 to 2 days to see if any side effects develop before using lemon on your face.
- 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).
- Once the lemon juice dries, you can continue with the rest of your skin care routine.
- Start with once daily application, potentially working your way up to twice a day.
- Discontinue use if you have side effects.
While the allure of using lemons on your face can be appealing, only small amounts are safe as an occasional spot treatment — if your skin can even tolerate the citrus fruit.
If you still want to use lemon, consider using over-the-counter products that contain lemon extracts, 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 and which ones to avoid.