I get stressed out—a lot, and often—and it shows, all over my face. I’d hoped that I would leave all of my embarrassing zit-filled nightmares behind with my teen years, but sadly, acne knows no age. The anxiety that accompanied me into adulthood continues to punish my pores, and I’ve made a reluctant hobby out of trying way too many treatments to calm my over-active skin.
I recently even considered turning to chemical treatments, but having always been an “I prefer natural” kind of gal—and with a baby on the way—I made one last attempt at a non-toxic solution, courtesy of a desperate Google search.
“Eating citrus products that are high in antioxidant plant polyphenols, as well as vitamin C, can reduce the collagen breakdown that can lead to early aging,” says Arash Akhavan, M.D., dermatologist. “But citrus products can also have positive effects when carefully applied as a topical agent to the skin.”
I was ready to give it a go.
Kris before the lemon juice experiment.
I cut up fresh lemons and put them in a small glass jar on my bathroom counter next to my toothbrush so I would remember to add it to my nightly routine. At the start of my week-long experiment, I dabbed a Q-tip into the lemon wedge, making sure that it was completely soaked, then rubbed it on my biggest zits, followed by a cotton ball soaked in lemon juice that I rubbed over the rest of my face
Kris after the lemon juice experiment.
I continued to wash my face with my usual cleanser in the morning and night (followed by the lemon juice regimen in the p.m.), and happily, after two nights, I no longer needed the Q-tip of lemon juice, because my biggest problem areas had disappeared! I continued with the cotton swab, though, as I didn’t want to chance those annoying eyesores coming back.
After a week, while the biggest problem pimples had disappeared, smaller clusters of pimples remained. Although disappointed that my face wasn’t suddenly porcelain-like, I did notice that my overall complexion was more even and looked healthier. The blotchy red zones that I spent 15 minutes every morning trying to cover up were more faded, and my skin had a fresher (citrusy!) glow.
I was hooked. Is it the all-natural, all-perfect acne solution I was looking for? All-natural—yes; all-perfect—not really, as all the zits hadn’t disappeared. But my skin was definitely benefitting from a nice citrus bath followed by a few undisturbed hours of rest each night, and I wasn’t adding harmful chemicals to my skin-care routine, so I put it in the win column for acne sufferers like myself.
Here’s Why It Works
Lemons contain antibacterial properties, so it helps to fight the bacteria agents that are causing your breakouts. It also acts as a natural exfoliator—removing dead skin cells that can clog your pores—as well as a great oil eliminator.
“Citrus products can also be used to treat hyperpigmentation of the face by aiding in exfoliation of discolored skin,” says Akhavan. This was my most exciting take-away from this beauty experiment: the fading of my old acne scars and reduced redness.
For this trial, I used just plain, fresh lemon juice, but there are plenty of combinations to help soothe a variety of facial issues.
Akhavan does caution that using citrus on the skin isn’t for everyone. “Citrus should be avoided in those who are going to be having sun exposure, as an unusual skin reaction that causes inflammation and hyperpigmentation can take place called phytophotodermatitis, due to increased sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation,” he says. So if you’re heading to the beach, leave the lemons at home.
This article originally appeared on Rodale’s Organic Life.
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