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Why and How of Applying Lemons to Your Skin

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Use lemons for healthier skin!  10 Reasons to use lemons on your skin!  It seems like headlines like those are everywhere. Using lemons to improve your skin seems like the latest skincare trend. But does it work, and is it safe? Read on to see if you should use lemons on your skin or just have them around to make lemonade.

Why and how should you apply lemons to your skin? First, it is important to never apply lemons directly to your skin. There are several well-known uses of lemon juice to benefit the skin, and many masks and moisturizers use lemon as one of their ingredients because the Vitamin C in lemons contains collagen, a protein that helps provide structure to the skin.

In this article, we will explore all of the claims made about the lemon juice and the benefits it can have for your skin as well as some things you try to help improve your skin.

Never Apply Lemons Directly

Let’s get this out of the way first—if you decide to try using lemon juice to improve skin tone, look younger, or reduce acne, do not apply it in its undiluted form directly. 

I repeat:  do not apply it directly.

Lemon juice should almost always be applied in a diluted form like with honey and or water. How come?  Lemons contain psoralens, which is a substance activated by light. When you apply lemons directly to the skin, the psoralens can create a reaction in the skin that dermatologists call phytophotodermatitis.   

In plain English, we’re talking skin rash, which may include swelling, redness, or blistering. This rash can last for two or three days, or longer. According to Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist

“Undiluted lemon water can cause erosions and chemical burns.”

Among dermatologists, Shainhouse is not alone. Another dermatologist, Doris Day, says this about the psoralen in lemons:

“Psoralen makes you exquisitely sensitive to light. It activates in about 10 to 15 minutes, and it takes about 24 hours to wear off. So, if you do that, and go out in the sun, you can actually blister.”

If you have ever seen anyone with poison ivy, they are experiencing a more severe version of phytophotodermatitis.  When it comes to lemon, the good news is that if you notice your skin reacting to lemon water—washing your skin with soap and water will easily remove the chemicals that cause phytophotodermatitis. 

You will not need to scrub your skin and hope you have removed all the oils that cause poison ivy or poison oak.  Or, if you have severe reactions to poison oak or ivy, use a special soap to wash off the oils, such as Marie’s Original Poison Ivy Soap Bar. 

By the way, if you want to get your inner nerd on so you can confidently pronounce  phytophotodermatitis then click on the word, and follow the link.  (Warning: this site can be slightly addictive. Seriously. After ten minutes of Quizzes, I decided to see how my name was pronounced in different countries!).

Why Should You Apply Lemons?

Lemons contain Vitamin C and lots of it. It’s common knowledge that vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps fight the common cold.  Less well-known is how lemons can benefit our skin.  According to Dr. Rhonda Klein, a dermatologist who trained at Yale University:

“Lemons are loaded with vitamin C in high concentration, which is the main ingredient in the formation of collagen in the body”

Vitamin C helps to strengthen your bones and provide structure to your skin.  That’s because Vitamin C contains collagen, your body’s most plentiful protein. Collagen makes up over 70% of your skin and is found in the middle layer, or dermis, of the skin. There the collagen helps the skin achieve its fullness. 

Collagen is also found in most of your body—bone, ligaments, organs, muscle, tendons, hair, even blood vessels. That doesn’t leave much leftover. Because of its prevalence, many people consider collagen the glue that holds the body together. 

Egyptians knew that 4,000 years ago when they began using collagen as an adhesive. Not human collagen, though. Collagen is found in most animals.  Want to know more about collagen?  This site at askthescientists lists 30 cool facts about collagen — just another chance to get that inner nerd on.

Unfortunately, as we age, the amount of collagen we produce decreases. The signs of aging that we see on our skin—wrinkles, fine lines, flat and dull skin—are caused by that slowing down of collagen production. Less collagen means less strength in our skin—a nasty cycle because less collagen means less stability in the skin, which leads to additional wrinkles.

Another protein in the skin is elastin, and its production is also lessened over time. That combination of losses results in sagging skin. Add long-term exposure to UV light, and skin is less able to bounce back into shape.

The role of treatments such as skin creams is to stimulate collagen and elastin production.  Vitamin C is an important component of that treatment.

Besides Vitamin C, there are other ways to get collagen.  When you boil the skin and bones of animals, you can obtain collagen.  We call it something else though:  gelatin. Here some common foods that can contain this form of collagen:

  • Cakes
  • Soups
  • Bone broth
  • Coating for vitamins and capsules

Research has shown that taking collagen supplements can reduce wrinkle depth and increased skin hydration. Although people get enough collagen through Vitamin C and food sources, some experts recommend that additional collagen will provide the extra nourishment that skin needs, especially as we age. 

But not all are convinced.  When asked if collagen supplements will benefit skin, Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University says,

  “No way. The collagen is going to be digested by your GI tract because it isn’t built to survive the massive pH changes in the gut.”

So, why buy supplements that may be made from ground-up fish, cow, chicken parts, and who knows what else when you buy a lemon, you know exactly what you’re getting.

In addition, skin care products often contain two other ingredients found in lemons:

  • Niacin, also known as vitamin B3.  An anti-inflammatory, this vitamin can provide help for dry skin
  • Citric acid. This compound is often used for exfoliating skin.

No wonder many people recommend using lemons to assist with skincare.

Lemons Can Help with Several Conditions

What skincare conditions can lemons help combat? There is a long list of claims people have made about the benefits of lemons and skincare. The following uses were considered worthy of repeating because they had been reported repeatedly.  In addition, sources that suggested putting lemons on your skin for extended periods of time were not added to this list. Numerous sources have indicated that lemons can help with the following:

Lightening Knees and Elbows

Vitamin C is a natural whitener, which is why it works well to lighten elbows and knees.  This is the reason that many beauticians recommend using lemon on dark elbows or knees. While some people rub the lemon directly on the elbows, it would be better if you mixed it with a little water or a little oil.

Clearing Blackheads and Acne

Citric acid is a naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acid, a fancy way of saying a natural acid that exfoliates. Because lemons contain citric acid, it works to unclog pores that contribute to blackheads. After cleansing your face, dip a Q-tip into some lemon water and apply it to the area with the blackheads. Kris Rile wrote about her experience in Good Housekeeping

“My overall complexion was more even and looked healthier. The blotchy red zones that I spent 15 minutes every morning trying to cover up had faded, and my skin had a fresher (citrusy!) glow.”

Some basic reminders about using lemons to help combat blackheads and acne

  • Lemon juice kills bacteria that causes bacteria
  • Lemon juice can both fight and cause inflammation
  • If the source of the acne is oily, clogged pores, the effect can be immediate
  • Do not keep lemon juice on your face if you are going outside because exposure to the sun’s rays will intensify the juice’s effects
  • If you have dark brown skin, the juice can lighten only those areas where it was applied, leaving patches of lighter looking skin

Reducing Oil on Your Skin

Along with exfoliating your skin, citrus acid is an astringent. After you wash your face, wipe it with a cotton pad soaked in lemon water.

Whitening Your Teeth

A simple home treatment that will not leave you with sensitive teeth is to mix lemon juice and baking soda and then use a Q-tip to apply the paste to your teeth.  Because the acid in lemon juice can weaken tooth enamel, leave the paste on your teeth for a maximum of one minute.

Gently brush your teeth and rinse.  

Strengthening Nails

Many people report that lemon juice strengthens nails.  Try mixing a combination of olive oil and lemon juice with enough water to soak your nails. Others report success rubbing lemon juice directly on their nails.  Either way, you have a natural nail hardener using ingredients you have lying around.

If your skin reacts to this treatment, remember to wash with soap and water.

Brightening Hair Color

Combining lemon juice with a hair conditioner, or if you want to go all-natural, some honey is a great way to get cheap highlights.  Combine the lemon juice with either the conditioner or the honey, comb it through your hair, and leave it in for at least fifteen minutes. For more detailed instructions, follow this YouTube link.

Applying Lemons Safely

Having decided to try lemons and knowing not to apply lemons directly, going about it safely is important.

  • Always do a patch test on your skin. Try the inside of your elbow
  • Wait a day or two to make sure that there are no side effects
  • Use gentle pressure when applying lemon juice to your skin
  • Start slowly—use once a day at first, or every other day
  • If you experience side effects—stop. Immediately

Just a word of caution. Before applying oils or any homemade skin formulas, it is important to perform a patch test on your skin. Even if you have never had a prior history of any skin irritation issues you may find that concentrations and different mixtures may cause slight irritation like rashes, swelling, itching or even burning. To learn how to perform a patch test on your skin CLICK HERE  

Making Masks, Moisturizers and More

Time for the fun stuff.  Double pamper yourself by making your DIY masks, body scrubs, and more.  Here’s some of the best we found.

A scrub made with Rosemary, Epsom Salt, and Lemon scrub

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • Several sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 ½ cups salt—Epsom or magnesium salt are best, but rock or sea salt can also be used
  • ½ teaspoon lemon peel

Mix and scrub. This scrub is a great way to cleanse your skin.

Brightening and Tightening Mask 

This is one of my favorite masks.  Raw honey draws moisture to my skin, and it has antibacterial properties that help skin healing. Egg whites shrink skin pores and provide some elasticity to the skin.  And lemon it—well it does all the things we’ve talked about. Ingredients:

  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon raw honey
  • 1 egg white

Mix ingredients together and use just like any other mask.

Brightening and Tightening Mask 2

Sometimes I just want to smell and feel a little exotic, so then I will use this face moisturizer with Lemon and Organic Coconut Oil. Ingredients:

  • 2 small or 1 large lemon
  • 4 tbsp. coconut oil in solid form
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Any other favorite essential oil

If your coconut oil is in a liquid, put it in the freezer or refrigerator long enough to solidify it. Then put it in a medium-sized bowl and use a hand mixer to whip it up until it has a creamy and fluffy texture, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Then squeeze the lemon juice, a little vitamin E oil, lavender oil, or whatever you’re in the mood for. 

Lemon Lip Scrub

Say that fast three times. And then use this scrub to exfoliate and moisturize your dry lips. Ingredients:

  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1 teaspoon Jojoba oil
  • Lemon essential oil

I mix the oil, honey, and a few drops of the essential oil in a small bowl. Then I add the sugar and stir until everything is mixed.  Next, I apply it to the lips and rub gently to exfoliate.  After a minute or two, remove the scrub with a damp washcloth.

Do Lemons Provide Other Health Effects

So, you bought a bag of lemons because they were on sale. What can you do with the lemons not used for skin maintenance?  Don’t throw them out or let them go bad. There are other health benefits. Here are a few

  • Lower cholesterol
  • Prevent overeating
  • Add electrolytes
  • Freshen breath
  • Keep the brain healthy

Did you know that pectin can make you feel fuller for longer? Researchers discovered that eating 5 grams of pectin made people experience satiety for a longer time period.  Since pectin is found in the peel and pulp of citrus fruits like lemons, adding some lemon juice to water can help you feel fuller.

Drinking lemon water provides an additional benefit—providing much-needed electrolytes. Potassium, calcium, and magnesium can be found in lemons. Adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to a glass of cold water will keep you hydrated, especially on a hot day.

If you want to freshen your breath, but can’t find any mints or gum, eating a slice of lemon or drinking some lemon water will help freshen your breath. Lemon’s acids combat odors that contribute to bad breath.

We know lemons are full of vitamin C.  Lemons also have flavonoids. Both help to lower the levels of the LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff), according to researchers, who published their results in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine.

According to several studies originally published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, lemons are part of the Mediterranean Diet that can help protect against cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. That’s because healthy levels of Vitamin C can help prevent mental decline.  And what has high levels of Vitamin C?

Lemons.

Final Thoughts

If you want to try using lemon juice to see if it will help improve your skin, make sure to dilute the juice and test it on an inconspicuous area. If your skin reacts negatively, wash the lemon juice away with soap immediately.

And if you’re not happy with the results, you still have the lemons. Make some lemonade. The lemon juice can aid in the detoxification of skin cells, cleaning sweat, and other impurities.

As dermatologist Dr. S. Manjula Jegasothy says 

“Lemons enhance the purification abilities of skin and other cells.”

As they say, when life gives you lemons, give yourself healthier skin.