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Can Lemon Juice Really Lighten Skin?

Updated on April 19, 2016

Lemon Juice and Skin Lightening

Lemon juice is commonly suggested as a skin lightening treatment, but does it really work?

The short answer is YES it does but it does take time and it is not a permanent solution.

Citrus fruits, especially lemons, are effective for treating dark spots, acne damage and freckles because they are packed with Vitamin C which is a powerful anti-oxidant. When applied topically to the skin, lemon juice has been shown to play several roles in preventing hyperpigmentation.


Vitamin C or abscorbic acid is a natural exfoliant which can help to lighten the skin and improve skin tone. The upper layer of the skin (the epidermis) is exfoliated by the acid, removing old skin cells including old cells with dark pigmentation.

The outer layer of our skin naturally exfoliates every 3- 4 weeks as new cells move upwards from the basal layer to the epidermis, gradually dying after they move up. Vitamin C reduces the cohesion between the cells in the outer skin layer causing them slough off. This stimulates the production of new skin cells which makes the skin appear brighter and more youthful. After several months of regular use there will be a noticeable reduction in fine lines and an overall improvement in skin tone and texture.

Stimulates Collagen

As a powerful antioxidant, Vitamin C can help to minimise the cell damage caused by free radicals and it has been shown to stimulate the production of skin collagen. Vitamin C is a water soluble so it can be readily absorbed into the skin to protect non water soluble molecules located within cell membranes.

Applying Vitamin C can help the skin to become stronger with a more even complexion. For this reason it is often used in anti-aging products to promote skin peeling and re-growth.

Vitamin C can also boost the level of vitamin E in the body which helps to protect cells from oxidation. This results in healthier skin and more even complexion.

Reduces Melanin Production

Vitamin C in it’s ascorbyl form has been clinically tested and shown to reduce melanin production in the skin. While melanin has an important role to play, protecting us from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays, an overproduction of melanin can result in skin problems in the form of dark spots and other areas of hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin C causes skin lightening by interrupting the action of the enzyme tyrosinase which stimulates melanin production in the skin. Studies conducted at the Tulane University School of Medicine by Patricia K. Farris, M.D in 2005 found that Vitamin C, when applied topically, was effective in "promoting collagen synthesis, photo-protection from ultraviolet A and B, and lightening hyperpigmentation." The results of this study were published in the journal of "Dermatologic Surgery".

Fresh Lemons For Skin Lightening

Use fresh lemons for your skin lightening treatment and not bottled lemon juice. Bottled lemon juice purchased in the supermarket is often diluted with water and contains preservatives to keep it fresh. Lemons are cheap to buy and you might only need one lemon per day depending on the treatment you use. You can make fresh lemon juice quickly each morning with a hand juicer.

While lemon juice is a safe and natural remedy, if you have any serious skin problems or allergies you should be cautious when using this treatment. Lemon juice is a natural astringent, which makes it a great treatment for oily skin, but people with dry skin could find lemon juice too harsh and it could burn or sting the skin. You could also try mixing the lemon juice with natural yoghurt or honey to make a more nourishing mask and remember to moisturise daily.

Skin Treatment Using Lemon and Milk

To make this refreshing skin treatment you can use the juice of half a lemon, or a whole lemon, mixed with equal parts of milk. The juice will cause the milk to curdle but that is not a problem.

Milk contains lactic acid, a mild alpha hydroxy acid, that will exfoliate the skin and promote cell renewal. Milk is also rich in amino acids and enzymes that enhance water retention and skin moisture. This helps to soften the skin and allows for deeper penetration of the lemon juice. The lemon juice is acidic and acts as a bleaching agent which will help to fade uneven pigmentation. If you find the lemon is too acidic for your skin you can add a little more milk and less juice.

This treatment should be applied as a polisher to exfoliate the skin. To apply the milk and lemon you can soak a flat sponge in the mixture and use that to massage it into your skin using a circular motion for about 3 minutes. This can be used on any part of the body, including the hands and feet, and does not need to be washed off - but the smell might be a bit over powering!

If you are using this mixture on your face you can massage it in and leave for about 10 minutes before rinsing it off and patting it dry with a towel. Your skin will feel nice and smooth afterwards.

This lemon-milk whitener can be used once or twice a week. Remember that lemon will make your skin more photosensitive so you will need to use a good quality sunscreen during the day.

Lemon Skin Whitening Tips

Here are some tips to consider when using lemon juice to whiten your skin:

  • Test a small area of your skin with dilute lemon juice first in case of allergic reactions
  • Lemon juice will make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so remember to limit your sun exposure and always use a broad spectrum sunscreen
  • Lemon juice can dry out your skin so you may need to apply moisturiser afterwards
  • Don't use lemon juice if you have a cut or injury on your skin as it could sting or burn
  • Avoid getting lemon juice near your eyes or eyelids as it can sting
  • Lightening your skin with lemon juice can take a while but it is better to stick to using this treatment 3 to 4 times a week, instead of everyday. Lemon juice has astringent qualities so it can dry the skin out too much if applied every day
  • Don't go out into the sun with lemon juice on your face. Lemon juice makes your skin extra sensitive to sunlight and it can burn, so rinse off any traces of lemon juice before going outside
  • Lemon juice is useful for lightening the skin and reducing freckles and it is also a time-honored treatment for oily skin

DIY Creamy Lemon Face Mask

Lemon Skin Whitening Creams

Vitamin C, or lemon juice extract, is a major ingredient used in many skin lightening creams and serums. If you are looking for an all natural lightening cream check the ingredients first.

Skin whitening products like Cuccio Lemon Skin Whitening Serum combine the power of lemon extracts with Kojic acid, a natural skin bleaching agent that comes from an Asian fungus.

Whitening creams such as Meladerm Pigment Reducing Complex include Vitamin C and lemon extract in their formulation, along with other proven whiteners like bearberry extract, mulberry extract and emblica.

Ingredients to avoid in whitening creams include chemical-based lighteners like hydroquinine and mercury. While hydroquinine is banned in some countries, it is available by prescription in the US and can be sold over the counter in concentrations of up to 2%.

Mercury is banned in the US but it can still be found in lightening creams outside the US where the industry is not so regulated. While these ingredients effectively lighten the skin they have been found to have dangerous side effects when used over the long term.


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    • profile image

      Nutankumarisinha 2 years ago

      I really feel that lemon juice can really make your complexion fairer and flawless as i use it regularly in my beauty routine.

    • profile image

      Blah blah blah 2 years ago

      Yeah I've used lemon juice on my face for a long time and I can personally tell u that it only shows results after using it A lot so u gotta have patience

    • profile image

      sharma 2 years ago

      Im eager to do tis

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      Alex 22 months ago

      can one mix lemon juice and orange peals with body moisturizing cream?

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 22 months ago from Australia

      Hi Alex , yes you can add these to your moistutising cream. Its best to do this in your hand just before applying and not in the bottle as it can become a bit sticky.

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      Mirabel+2348170315595 9 months ago

      Can one add lemon extract to his or her body moisturizing cream and still get the lightening effect?

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 9 months ago from Australia

      Yes I believe you could add this to body lotion although I have never tried. You could try the method above of mixing it in your hand.

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      anx 8 months ago

      can i just directly apply the fresh lemon juice onto my skin? recently i had 2 hours of sports in the hot sun and it made me really tan on my face, neck, arms and especially the legs. will b glad if u could answer sasp

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 8 months ago from Australia

      Yes you can apply fresh lemon juice to your face but some people find it dries out the skin. You can try the lemon juice and natural yoghurt suggested here. This method does take while so be patient . Lemon juice is great for lightening but dont leave it on your face if you go out in the sun. Wear a good sunscreen to avoid more tanning.

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      Priya 4 months ago

      Pleaseeee help...I had big pimples on my face...I applied lemon on them and left there are dark black patches around the can I remove them..?

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 4 months ago from Australia

      Hi Priya. Im sorry to hear that. Lemon juice can make you skin more sensitive to the sun which can cause dark patches. Or the lemon juice could be reacting with the skin causing post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or dark spots. You should stop using the lemon juice and, if you need to, consult a dermatologist if the condition is worrying you.

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      brady 2 months ago

      how long does it take to make your skin light?

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 2 months ago from Australia

      Hi brady. It wont lighten your skin straight away but most people start to see results after a couple of weeks. Some people continue using a lemon juice recipe over several months. 3-4 times a week. It depends what result you want to achieve. It can dry your skin put so just use it cautiously or mix with moisturizing ingredients.

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      Andrew Paul 4 weeks ago

      What method do you recommend would work the best?

    • profile image

      Andrew Paul 4 weeks ago

      or what would have the best effect? Would just putting the lemon juice on your skin be as effective as the other methods

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 4 weeks ago from Australia

      Hi Andrew Paul. You can just try fresh lemon juice but it depends on your skin type. You might want to mix something like honey or yoghurt with it because fresh lemon juice can be very drying, unless your skin is very oily.

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 3 weeks ago from Australia

      Hi. You can apply the whitening mask above with a small sponge and massage into the face in a circular fashion for about 3 mins. Leave for 10 mins before washing off and pat with a towel.

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      Paris Dar 2 weeks ago

      Ive been suffering from extremely sensitive skin my entire life. I used to have dark spots on areas like pits and knees and inner thighs. I did this method practically everyday for almost 2 years (fresh lemon alone & i never even bothered to rinse it off) and believe it or not my pits are now lighter than the rest of my skin! (I think I mightve overdone the lightening)

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      abi 9 days ago

      Applying lemon on face .Is make problem or not

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 8 days ago from Australia

      Hi Abi. Its no problem to use lemon juice with make up. Just use lemon first and then moisturise before applying makeup.

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      Bad 4 days ago

      will chemiCal burn like Colgate scar will be removed with this ?

    • Angie Woods profile image

      Angie Woods 3 days ago from Australia

      Hi Bad. Lemon juice will lighten the skin but I'm not sure if it will remove a chemical burn if the scar is deep.

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