You may have heard numerous reports that lemon—which contains a type of acid called alpha hydroxy acid (or AHA) believed to have potential benefits for the skin—is a skincare powerhouse useful both internally and externally. Of course, with the amount of misinformation that exists in the world of skincare, such claims always merit a closer look before buying in. Today, let’s dive into the use of lemon in skincare, and see if there’s anything to this trend or not.
Drinking Lemon Water
One proposed use of lemon for the skin is to drink lemon-infused water. The idea here is that it will promote clear skin and help prevent or even get rid of blemishes. Sadly, there is no evidence supporting this claim and there is telling, if anecdotal, evidence by beauty bloggers using a scientific approach and testing the effect for themselves, which suggests that imbibing lemon water has little to no effect on the skin. That said, we can’t rule it out, but we also can’t recommend it, as further study is needed before we can say anything conclusive on the matter.
That said, drinking lemon water occasionally isn’t going to hurt you (just don’t overdo it; if you have much more than a glass a day you might give yourself heartburn from the acidity), and it does taste pretty good. Just don’t hold your breath for your skin to clear up if you do.
Used in Scrubs and Moisturizer
Another popular use for lemons if to use them or their juice in scrubs, cleanses, moisturizers, masques, etc, etc. The basis of this practice is the presence of alpha hydroxy acids in lemons, which have some medical backing for use in treating sun damage when used in a cream or lotion (not a peel), and for treating dry skin when used—again—a cream or lotion. They are possibly effective for use treating acne as well, but this potential use needs more evidence before we can say anything conclusive.
All this said, while lemon does contain a fair bit of AHAs, it also contains a bunch of other ingredients that may or may not be harmful to your skin. As with most useful ingredients, AHAs are more reliable and effective when extracted, isolated, and used in products in their pure state. Just as taking aspirin is better and safer than chewing willow bark—which does contain the active ingredient in aspirin, but contains it in amounts which can’t be predicted reliably, and contains other things you may not want—so too is using AHA’s when they’ve been professionally isolated and measured.
In short, lemon contains at least one component (AHAs) that might be good for your skin, but please, please, don’t rub a lemon on your face or even squeeze lemon juice into your moisturizer. Instead, find a cream or lotion that contains AHAs for medical use.