• Lemon juice can lighten dark spots and clear out clogged pores, and is often added to homemade skincare recipes.
  • Because lemon can trigger allergies and cause stinging, irritation, and skin lightening, it is not the best choice for all skin types.
  • Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, two common acne treatments, are often a better choice for people with sensitive skin.

Can lemon juice be used for acne?

Lemon is often added to do-it-yourself masks, washes, and toners, and is a natural source of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which is used to clear away dead skin cells and rejuvenate the skin. Lemon juice also contains other nutrients that can benefit the skin.

“Lemon juice can have lightening benefits on the skin and hair,” says Dr. Robin Evans of Southern Connecticut Dermatology in Stamford.

“It can help lighten pigmentary changes in the skin, such as the brown marks that can result from acne blemishes in some skin types,” she explains. “It can also act as an astringent in cleaning the skin, including acne-involved skin.”

However, dermatologists warn that lemon juice is not the gentlest skincare ingredient out there. “Caution must be used to avoid contact with the eyes,” says Dr Evans. “And it may sting or burn with application, especially on sensitive or dry skin types.”

RELATED: Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids — Benefits, Risks, and More

How does lemon juice work on the skin?

Here is what is in lemon juice that helps it clear the skin:

Alpha hydroxy acid

These acids occur naturally in sugars and fruits, including lemons. They’re often used in skin care products and chemical peels because they act as chemical exfoliants, removing dead skin and revealing brighter, fresher skin cells beneath. The AHA in lemon juice is citric acid, which is known to clear out pores and excess oil. Thanks to its high acidity level, lemon is also naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal.

Vitamin C

Lemons are a good source of vitamin C, otherwise known as ascorbic acid. Our bodies need vitamin C to thrive, and so does our skin. The vitamin, rich in antioxidant properties, is known to play a role in the creation of collagen, which can help leave our skin looking brighter and younger. However, it’s important to note that pure lemon juice might not have enough vitamin C to actually be beneficial to the skin.

How to use lemon in your acne treatment

Lemon might not be the best choice for clearing up acne, but if you have tough skin, you can add it to your homemade face mask, face wash, or toner. If possible, expose your skin to a very small amount of fresh lemon juice before using it to ensure that you aren’t allergic.

A simple way to clear acne with lemon juice is to mix it with baking soda, rose water, and olive oil to create a mask. Once the mixture turns into a thick paste, spread it directly onto the skin and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse with warm water. You can also simply use a cotton ball with a splash of lemon juice, and directly dab problem areas of the skin.

What are the side effects of using lemon juice for acne?

The alpha hydroxy acids—mainly citric acid—that make lemon potentially beneficial for the skin are also responsible for its potential side effects.The high acidity level in lemon lowers the skin’s pH levels, which can break down its protective barrier, causing skin irritation, infection, and damage. It’s also just hard on the skin, say dermatologists.

“Lemon juice is a known allergen,” says Dr. Cynthia Bailey of Dr. Bailey Skin Care. “I do not recommend it. I see citrus allergies all the time. The most common is chronically ‘dry’ lips from a twist of lemon or lime in tea or mineral water.”

And lemon’s skin lightening properties can be problematic, especially for people with dark skin. Even a small pat on the affected area can cause unintentional discoloration, so be very careful with lemon if you don’t want to alter your skin tone.

What are other treatment options?

For many of us, the risks of lemon outweigh the benefits. Luckily, there are plenty of other acne-clearing ingredients out there that have the same pore-cleaning, clarifying properties without these downsides. The best acne treatments are those that can be measured precisely and have been studied extensively in clinical settings.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends products containing either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid for the treatment of mild acne, and products containing retinoids for treating severe acne.

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide, which is available in all kinds of over-the-counter and medical-grade skincare products, is a popular acne treatment because it has the ability to get rid of acne-causing bacteria. It is generally applied to the skin in concentrations of 2% to 5%, with stronger concentrations found in medical-grade lines.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid known for removing the outer layer of the skin and getting rid of dead skin cells. It is also oil-soluble and is therefore able to reach deep layers of the skin. This allows salicylic acid to rid the pores of dirt, debris, and free radicals that can cause blemishes.

Retinoids

For more severe cases of acne, the AAD recommends isotretinoin (otherwise known as Accutane). This is a type of retinoid—a vitamin A derivative—that works by reducing the oil that clogs pores and causes acne. Isotretinoin has the unique ability to shrink oil glands and kill bacteria that can trigger breakouts. However, there are serious risks associated with isotretinoin and other retinoids, including mental health issues and birth defects in pregnant women.

Should you give lemon juice a try?

There are some benefits to adding lemon to your skin care regimen—it’s cheap, widely accessible, and seems to be effective for treating acne. However, it’s important that you take the risks of using lemon juice into account before you let the fruit anywhere near your skin. The safest bet is to talk to a dermatologist for advice or stick to milder acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

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