When Life Gives You Lemons, Dont Put Them on Your Skin

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

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:

  • 1. Lemon Can Damage Your Skin’s Protective Barrier
  • 2. You Never Really Know What You’re Getting
  • 3. Lemons can cause blistering burns

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.

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?

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?

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.

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