Sourced from the peel of the Citrus limon plant, lemon essential oil is incredibly versatile. Not only is its bright, zesty scent a universal crowd-pleaser, but the oil also has the potential to help with digestion and skin breakouts. Here's your primer on what lemon essential oil can and can't do, and how to use it safely.
A few of the top benefits of lemon essential oil:
1. It can be effective at treating acne.
Lemon essential oil can help treat acne thanks to its antimicrobial1 and antibacterial2 compounds. Its high antioxidant count3 may also reduce tissue damage in the skin caused by free radicals. (In other words, it can help lessen irritation from things like pollution, cigarette smoke, and solar radiation.) However, when applying lemon essential oil topically, you need to dilute it in carrier oils so that it makes up less than 2% of the mixture, or else you risk a skin reaction when exposed to sunlight. You should also avoid applying it to open wounds or sores.
2. It might alleviate stress.
Amy Galper, co-founder of the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies, points to this study4, which demonstrated that lemon essential oil was a powerful calming agent during three stress test experiments on mice. It proved even more stress-relieving than other oils commonly associated with feelings of calmness, like lavender and rose.
3. It can boost your mood.
"Inhaling the scent of lemon essential oil directly influences the hypothalamus and limbic system, increasing your cognitive capabilities and creativity while simultaneously boosting your mood," explains Mariza Snyder, D.C., functional wellness practitioner, aromatherapist, and author of The Essential Oils Hormone Solution. Lemon essential oil can serve as one part of your mood-boosting arsenal, but it's important to remember that its effects won't last forever, so you need to pair it with other tools that work for you.
4. It helps concentration.
If you're having one of those days when you're feeling a bit sluggish and unable to concentrate, a whiff of lemon essential oil could help perk you up. One 2005 study revealed that a group of students who attended language lessons in a classroom where lemon oil was spread using a diffuser performed much better on their exams than those students who attended classrooms with no oils in the air.
5. It could help with digestion.
6. It could be a helpful tool during pregnancy.
How can lemon essential oil be used?
1. As a DIY household cleaner.
"Lemon is commonly associated with cleaning products due to its powerful anti-oxidative, antimicrobial,7 and antifungal properties8," notes Snyder. To make your own multipurpose cleaning solution, she recommends grabbing an 8-ounce spray bottle (preferably a dark glass bottle, since essential oils can damage plastic over time) and filling it with 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup distilled water, and 25 drops of lemon essential oil: "Simply spray, let sit for a few minutes, and then wipe down hard surfaces with a microfiber cloth for amazing aromatherapeutic scents that purify your air and disinfect your house."
2. As an air freshener.
"Lemon's bright aroma freshens and cleans the air, especially when combined with grapefruit, ginger, and peppermint essential oils in a spray," says Stephanie Tourles, certified aromatherapist and author of Stephanie Tourles' Essential Oils: A Beginner's Guide. To make a freshening spritzer, grab a 2-ounce PET plastic or glass spray bottle, add 6 drops of each scent, then top off with 100-proof, plain, unflavored vodka. Shake well.
3. As an immune supporter.
4. As a shampoo booster.
If you have super oily hair or dandruff, Tourles suggests adding 24 drops of lemon essential oil to your 8-ounce bottle of shampoo. It'll help tackle a greasy scalp and any odor that may accompany it. Quick rules of thumb: Shake the bottle vigorously immediately before using, and always keep your eyes closed while shampooing with this mixture. As you probably already know, lemon in the eye is no fun.
5. As a skin care savior.
According to Hope Gillerman, author of Essential Oils Every Day and founder of H. Gillerman Organics essential oil remedies, there are a couple of easy, DIY ways you can incorporate lemon essential oil into your skin care routine.
For an everyday face oil, add 2 to 3 drops of lemon essential oil to 1 teaspoon of carrier oil like jojoba, rosehip seed, or grapeseed. If you're looking to combat acne, combine 15 drops of lemon with 5 to 10 drops of geranium. Add to 2 tablespoons each of grapeseed oil and jojoba oil. Apply nightly.
6. As a body oil.
To make a refreshing body oil, Gillerman suggests combining no more than ¼ teaspoon of lemon, ⅛ teaspoon geranium, and ⅛ teaspoon cedarwood oil in 2 ounces of grapeseed oil. Use this daily after skin brushing in the shower. Again, lemon essential oil should make up less than 2% of any formula you're placing on the skin, so make sure you're not putting in any more than the prescribed amount.
7. As a diffuser scent.
8. Straight up.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to get some of the benefits of lemon essential oil is to simply inhale it! "Dispense 1 drop of your citrus oil on a cotton ball or smell strip and simply inhale for several cycles of breathing," recommends Stiles.
9. As an itch reliever.
"Lemon oil is great for reviving tired, achy legs—especially when combined with peppermint essential oil," notes Tourles. To make a massage oil for the legs and feet, she recommends combining 16 drops of lemon and 16 drops of peppermint essential oils, then topping off with jojoba oil, almond oil, or coconut oil. Shake well in a 4-ounce container prior to massaging into skin. Be sure to label and date the container! It should keep for up to one year.
10. As digestive support.
If you're having some tummy trouble, Tourles swears by this combo: In your palm or a tiny glass bowl, add ½ teaspoon of coconut oil or jojoba oil (or your favorite carrier oil) and 1 drop of lemon essential oil plus 1 drop of ginger, peppermint, or cardamom essential oil. Stir to blend, and massage onto your belly as needed.
"If you are going to use this blend on yourself, begin massaging gently at the navel and move toward your right side, then upward, then toward your left side, then down in circles," notes Tourles. "This spiraling massage motion stimulates your colon to release gas and helps quiet spasms."
Is it ever unsafe to use?
Lemon oil can be irritating, so it shouldn't be applied directly to the skin. "It is generally recommended to dilute it in a carrier oil or an oil without scent such as jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, or coconut oil," says Michele Farber, M.D., FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. However, she adds that some oils, like coconut oil, are more comedogenic (i.e., more likely to clog your pores), so if you have sensitive skin, you might want to avoid those—especially on your face.
It's also super important to remember that lemon essential oil is phototoxic, meaning it could cause severe skin reactions if it comes in contact with UV rays from the sun. "Dilution won't be enough to decrease the sun's effect, so be sure to avoid direct sunlight for at least 12 to 24 hours after using lemon oil topically on your skin," cautions Snyder.
And as for adding lemon essential oil to drinking water in lieu of actual lemon? Well, it might not make much sense. "We all know that oil and water do not mix—the oil stays on top of the mixture, like an unshaken oil and vinegar dressing," Tourles says. This practice could also cause lip irritation because of the oil's aforementioned phototoxicity, so it's best avoided altogether.
OK, sold. Where can I find it?
If you're looking to purchase lemon essential oil, Gillerman says to always go with organic. "If you buy directly from an essential oil website, you will have the option to contact the company and ask for the manufacturing date and how they store their oils," she says. A few of her favorite companies include Organic Infusions, Eden Botanicals, and Pranōram.
Store your oils in a cool, dry place to preserve their soothing, energizing, all-around-awesome properties.
Kristin Hickey is a consultant and freelance writer living in Hoboken, NJ. She has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Queensland in Australia and received her bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut. She enjoys covering lifestyle, wellness, parenting and beauty topics.