There are more DIY skincare recipes on the internet than you can shake a stick at, and most of them really, really like lemon juice. According to these DIY tips you should be slathering it all over your face and hair. But is it effective? And is it safe?
Is it effective?
Lemon juice contains a lot of ingredients that are used in skincare:
- Vitamin C – Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C does a great job at evening out pigmentation without too much irritation.
- Citric acid – Citric acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). You can read more about AHAs in skincare here, but in short they’re great for exfoliating your skin, making it look plumper and smoother.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) – This is anti-inflammatory, helps with pigmentation and alleviates dry skin as well.
So yes, lemon could be great for your skin! But there’s a catch…
Is it safe?
Before you rub a lemon on your face, there are a few issues with using lemon juice:
1. You don’t know how much of each ingredient is in your lemon. You know how different varieties of apple can taste completely different? Or how different brands of apple juice look and taste different? Or how an unripe banana is nothing like an overripe banana? That’s because they contain different amounts of chemicals in them. This is exactly the same for lemon juice – the amount of each good ingredient in your lemon will depend on all sorts of things, like where it was grown, the time of year, how long it’s been sitting around for, the variety of lemon, whether the lemon was kept refrigerated or at room temperature after picking… there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to replicate a recipe.
2. Lemons can be too effective. We think of lemons as pretty benign, harmless creatures, but they can be surprisingly effective. For example, this article has photos of what happened to one woman who tried using a lemon juice toner – instead of evenly fading pigmentation to leave gorgeous glowing skin, the lemon juice faded it in patches, leaving weird spots everywhere.
3. There are millions of other chemicals in lemon juice… some of these are not good on your skin. The peel of citrus fruits contain chemicals called furanocoumarins and psoralens which are fine in the shade, but when they’re exposed to sun, they turn into nasty skin irritants. There are many stories of people who have gotten lemon juice on their skin and gone into the sun; the result was nasty blistering burns! (These phototoxic compounds can be removed from citrus essential oils by processing though, so not all of those need to be avoided.)
While it’s incorrect to say that lemon juice is always unsafe in DIY recipes, there are enough scary stories to make you think twice!
What does this all mean?
- Don’t use leave-on recipes with large amounts of lemon juice (more than a few drops).
- Be cautious when using lemon juice for rinse-off recipes (e.g. masks or hair rinses), especially if there’s a large amount of lemon juice in it, and make sure you wear sunscreen next time you go into the sun. And stop immediately if you see any signs of irritation or depigmentation!