Lemon contains an abundance of plant compounds that may help treat and prevent acne. However, using lemon juice or lemon oil directly on the skin may cause unwanted side effects.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million people each year.

Many people seek home remedies to treat their acne before turning to medical options.

This article provides information on the safety and effectiveness of lemon as an acne treatment. We also outline some alternative treatment options for acne.

sliced lemon which should not be used for treating acneShare on Pinterest
Applying lemon to the skin may cause burning or stinging sensations.

Some people claim to have success using lemon as an acne treatment. They suggest that lemon prevents inflammation or reduces the amount of oil and bacteria on their skin.

Scientists have not directly investigated the efficacy of lemon as a treatment for acne. However, some studies have investigated lemon’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects more generally. Most have investigated lemon essential oil, which derives from lemon peel.

Although research suggests that essential oils may have some health benefits, it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of these. A person should talk with their healthcare provider before using essential oils, and they should be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. A person should always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Anti-inflammatory effects of lemon essential oil

A 2018 animal study investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of essential oils derived from four different types of citrus. This included one species of lemon and three different species of lime.

The study showed that the lemon essential oil and two of the three lime essential oils reduced inflammation in mice. The authors attributed these anti-inflammatory effects to the chemical limonene, which is abundant in citrus peel.

A separate 2018 animal study also found that topical application of lemon oil helped to reduce skin inflammation and skin damage in mice.

Given that both studies involved only animals, it is not possible to say whether the findings apply humans.

Antimicrobial effects of lemon

A 2016 study found that juice concentrates of lemon and other citrus fruits inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and fungi in the lab. The authors attributed these antimicrobial effects to special plant compounds that citrus fruits contain in abundance. Examples of such compounds include:

A 2017 laboratory study investigated the antimicrobial properties of the following three essential oils:

  • lemon
  • rosemary
  • litsea

The researchers tested each oil against five different pathogens responsible for causing skin infections. One of the pathogens they studied was Staphylococcus epidermidis, which is one of several bacteria that cause acne.

Of the three oils studied, lemon essential oil was the least effective at inhibiting the different pathogens. Litsea essential oil showed the most significant antimicrobial activity overall.

Lemons contain citric acid. This is the chemical that gives lemons their strong, sour taste. It can also cause reactions if a person applies it directly on their skin.

Some potential risks of using lemons on the skin include:

  • burning or stinging sensation
  • excessive dryness
  • redness
  • itchiness
  • increased skin sensitivity to sunlight

People should consult a dermatologist before using lemon as an acne treatment. A dermatologist will determine whether lemon is suitable for a person’s skin type.

People who go ahead with the treatment should not apply lemon juice directly on to their skin, as this can result in skin irritation. They should always dilute the juice in water first. A person’s dermatologist will be able to recommend the appropriate juice-to-water ratio.

Fresh lemon juice may be better than store-bought, as it will not contain added sugars or other ingredients.

It is not clear whether lemon products have any effect on acne scarring, specifically. However, the results of a 2016 animal study suggest that lemon oil may assist wound-healing more generally.

The study investigated the effects of lemon oil on rabbits infected with mange. The researchers found that topical applications of lemon oil helped speed up the healing of smaller skin wounds.

It is not clear whether these effects apply to humans or other skin wounds.

Several treatments are available for acne. Some are available over the counter, while others are available by prescription only.

Some common treatments include:

  • topical creams and ointments that contain benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics or salicylic acid
  • birth control pills
  • antibiotic pills

If a person’s acne is severe, a doctor may recommend one of the following procedures:

  • light or laser therapies
  • chemical peels

A person can also talk to their doctor or dermatologist about natural treatments they can try at home. These healthcare professionals will be able to recommend treatments that are suitable for a person’s skin type and acne type.

The AAD recommend the following tips for managing acne:

  • avoiding touching the face or other areas where acne is present
  • avoiding picking at acne pimples or popping acne pustules
  • avoiding using exfoliants, astringents, and toners, which can aggravate acne
  • avoiding cosmetics that clog pores
  • avoiding excessive sun exposure
  • using lukewarm water to cleanse the skin
  • washing acne-prone areas as soon as possible after sweating
  • shampooing oily hair daily

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that can have a bacterial cause.

Lemon contains compounds that appear to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria in a laboratory setting. These compounds also appear to reduce inflammation in animal studies. Despite these promising findings, scientists have yet to directly investigate lemon as a treatment for acne.

A person should consult their doctor or dermatologist before trying lemon oil or lemon juice as an acne treatment. Applying lemon topically can irritate the skin, which may aggravate existing acne.