Friday, February 7, 2014

Don't Put Lemon On Your Face, Even If Birchbox Tells You To

Caitlin writes, "Hey Robyn, would you be willing to do a post talking about birchbox advocating the use of citrus fruits on the undereye area? It's in this month's feb teaser..."

If you don't want to watch the whole thing, the offending suggestion takes place at 5:40.



The claim is that lemons are a natural diuretic, and thus that putting lemon juice under your eyes is somehow a good idea for reducing undereye puffiness.

Okay, first of all, what is a diuretic? A diuretic is a substance that increases the production of urine. Typically, they are used to treat serious medical conditions like heart failure or kidney disease. Because the skin around your eyes is very thin, slight differences in fluid levels will affect this area more significantly. The idea, then is that a diuretic will drain the extra fluid in your eye-area, leaving you with model-perfect undereyes.

Not for faces.
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/67502676@N00/2119107500/in/photolist-4efYQd-dxLJxa-f4rsbz-6o65SC-5DdTwP-9C8wLZ-e6oNp1-5WDaqg-4hdqbb-ygfm2-ygfmK-4XBoxM-9maFbo-8cmdF4-84zAdp-dgSM7U-bup5Jf-3mt5FK-bvCtDJ-xY8G-fspjP8-aaWzJb-a285L4-4RNh5N-7vBo1P-8JSwiB-7WrJQS-hPjdJe-hPiof3-7zWCe5-aT2e4x-aT2ch2-hv4gm7-7qrDRf-7qnHAi-632DKW-8b9muQ-4yooET-cCC8iu-rthBE-cXzbFq-ds3Rv8-ds3Rs4-ds41vd-8sLqZu-5cqWMF-aD9fYs-81kAfR-5k5Ve5-5JVz8k-5LE2KH

Lemon juice does indeed have a mild diuretic effect.There are a lot of different diuretic mechanisms and I can't find a reliable source on the mechanism of lemon juice in particular. However, regardless of the specific mechanism, lemon juice's (very, very, very slight) diuretic effect is when consumed. Putting it on your face isn't going to do much of anything. 

There are also serious risks to putting citrus on your face. Putting citrus on your face can cause a phototoxic reaction called phytophotodermatitis, an inflammatory reaction that results in bruise-like hyperpigmentation, with the potential for nasty-looking blisters. It's often mistaken for chemical burns. This is not only an ineffective treatment for undereye bags, it is downright dangerous.

I'm guessing that Birchbox made this video using the assumption that lemons are natural and therefore can't be harmful. Remember, though, to do your research before sticking random crap on your face.

51 comments:

  1. What? I cannot believe they recommended lemons! I've heard of using lemons to whiten teeth - and anything that is acidic enough to burn (or whatever) stains off teeth is probably not good for sensitive skin...

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    1. Even beyond that, trying to brighten teeth with lemon juice can kinda fuck up your enamel, and hasn't been shown to work!

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  2. It's amazing how many DIY facial products include lemon as an ingredient and how many seemingly reputable beauty gurus advocate it. I've seen a couple of articles/videos from skin experts that try to explain how it can be harmful to the skin, but they don't seem nearly as widespread as the ones that promote it. :/ I hope more posts like this gain popularity!

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    1. Most people just don't even think about it!

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  3. Also, for those of us that are both unlucky and clumsy, putting lemon juice anywhere near the eye makes it very likely we will get lemon juice IN our eye, which would be horrible and painful.

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    1. That is definitely something I would do. Apparently, when I described myself as "clumsy" to my now-boyfriend, he just thought that was something that girls say to be "cute"... but I am "slam my fingers in the car door on a regular basis" clumsy.

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  4. Seeeeeriiiooouuussllyyyyyyy.

    Also I can't even watch that video long enough to get to the sneak peeks. They are trying SO hard to be twee and, I don't even know what. Campy? Corny? It is like the uncanny valley of corniness... not corny enough to be enjoyable, not girly-sincere enough to be believable. It's becoming a standard tone for Videos Where White Women In The Beauty Industry Try To Sell You Something Indirectly. I'm sure someone can come up with a workable acronym for that.

    It's a lot like the way women playing cheerleaders talk, except they're not supposed to be performing an evil character. Maybe they confused "evil cheerleader voice" with "super-girly-popular voice"!!

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    1. Eh, I think that tone stems from having it be your job to be positive about random things. I can't necessarily fault them for that tone (but I can fault them for spreading dangerous information!)

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  5. I cringe every time I see someone pin the half-a-lemon-dipped-into-sugar face scrub to Pinterest. Just because something comes from the ground doesn't mean it's ok for your face. I saw once on Paula's Choice - "poison ivy is natural too." ; ) Great post! Recently found your blog and have been enjoying it.

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    1. Lol, that sounds like my general response to "all natural" marketing (just replace poison ivy with snake venom or bile). Nature is beautiful, certainly very inspiring, but a lot of the time it probably wants to kill you in some way. I just wonder what tomorrow's vapid catch phrases are going to be.

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    2. I have heard "snake venom" in that place, as well!

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  6. omg bless. I found a esthetician on youtube doing videos, and she said why it's harmful to put lemon on your face cause the PH balance can be thrown off. I never knew how harmful it could be and now I make sure there is nothing citrus in my stuff.

    I know Michelle Phan did a video using lemons in it, and there were people saying it was unsafe to use. However SO many people said it was safe and one user even said it helped their skin and cleared their acne. well that may be the case now, but wait several years and not so much.
    Also someone commented "Michelle would never recommend something if it harmed us". I sincerely think that was not Michelle's intention, however just like any other beauty guru, they have known this for years and therefore if nothing has happened so far it's not safe. It's annoying cause I wish gurus did more research.
    If I never found that esthetician on Youtube, I probably would still be putting lemon or other citrus on my face and not have known I was damaging it.

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    1. I am glad that she was there to provide the information!

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  7. Replies
    1. What is there to debunk? Surfactants like SLS are almost unavoidable in traditional shampoo, and are really drying and potentially irritating. Sincerely, someone who hasn't regularly 'pood since 2011.

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    2. Haha, or at least debunk the "using baking soda to wash your hair is better than traditional shampoo!" trend. I <3 sulfates.

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    3. hahaha... sample size n=1 but I love the no poo thing. (Except for the name!) I had coarse, slightly wavy Italian hair, and I asked my hairdresser how I could make it curlier. She said that the best thing I could do would be to just condition it as much as possible. I read about the "no-poo" thing (I don't remember whether she suggested it or not, I don't think she did) and decided to go all out. It took some work to find a conditioner that my hair liked AND which didn't end up building up and weighing it down. My hair got much curlier as a result... it's still just wavy on top and in the back, but the sides are curly, even to the point of forming corkscrew curls sometimes. And it's a LOT softer and easier to deal with.

      Sulfates are terrible for curly or wavy hair; the reason they're in shampoo is because they make it suds up a lot more, which makes it seem more effective, and they are extremely effective at stripping away oils, which makes hair seem cleaner. It's a vicious cycle... we're used to thinking it's only clean if it's not really moisturized, and then our scalps often overproduce oil to make up for it, and then we shampoo it away because it seems really greasy and therefore dirty, and...!

      Seems to me like the same shift in consciousness we've seen with skin over the past couple of decades, from "Let's soap it all up real good!" to "Wow, that's super-drying and we actually need to make sure everything is really moisturized!" is now happening with hair.

      (For me, the Trader Joe's rosemary one was great for my hair, but the holy grail one ended up being the Giovanni "Eco-Chic" Conditioner. My hair sometimes still seems weighed-down or greasy, but only when there's something in the air -- like, it's limp because it's been super-dry for a while -- and if I wait it out instead of hitting the shampoo, it fixes itself and I don't end up overcorrecting and drying it out.)

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    4. Do you have a specific claim that you want debunked?

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  8. Birchbox, ohhhhh you. I watched this video a couple of days ago and did an immediate facepalm. Serious phototoxicity issues aside, who really wants to have lemon juice near their eyes?!

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    1. No one. No one wants lemon juice near their eyes.

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  9. I love these posts of yours so much!

    As a chemist, I am constantly...offended? Saddened? I'm not sure what...by the assumption that science = bad and natural = good. It's just not that black and white. Water can kill you in more ways than you can probably name. Oxygen is hilariously harmful. Lemon juice is ACID FOR GOODNESS SAKE DO NOT PUT IT NEAR YOUR EYES - and that's even before you get to the phototoxicity. 'No chemicals' is, by the definition of 'chemical' an impossibility...

    Must. Stop. Before. Rant. Gets. Out. Of. Control.

    Don't even get me started on how incredibly moronic the Birchbox people must think their viewers are with the way they talk in that video...

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    1. S'funny... I am a respiratory therapist and was called to ICU one night because they couldn't get an oxygen flowmeter out of the wall. A piece was broken and the oxygen was hissing very very loudly as I walked in. I went to the wall, twisted it gently and pulled...stuck. I walked out and called engineering. Everyone was nonplussed as to why I wasn't really trying to get the broken flowmeter out of the wall.

      I explained... combustible... don't want to die... keep the damn door closed and don't go in until engineering go in there.

      You may ask why I didn't turn the oxygen off... well I had ventilated patients in the next two rooms and they were on 100% O2 (very sick)...all rooms are connected.

      ...nothing to do with beauty... mind you I wouldn't have been even close to beautiful if a spark had ignited. :(

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    2. You could have no chemical products if they were made of light! Or... magnetism! Somehow!

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    3. Check out our new dry shampoo! It's made of gravitons and the weak nuclear force!

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  10. I have a huge pet peeve over the argument that "natural" = always good, never harmful. It just such nonsense. I have a terrible allergy to lavender and when I buy products I always ask about it (and scrutinize the ingredients) and am often met with a response along the lines of "but it is natural!" So are bee stings - and they kill people. Other natural things: asbestos, fire ants, jellyfish. You probably shouldn't put those things on your face either.

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    1. Oh, wow! That must be really frustrating, especially if you have an allergy.

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  11. Do these people even research things before making suggestions? I feel like the answer here is a resounding "no".

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    1. It is definitely a no. I am sure Birchbox wouldn't intentionally advocate for unsafe procedures, but... here we are.

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  12. But nothing is more attractive than burning the skin around my eyes.... And think of the money I'll save on concealer!

    I've never understood the 'topical lemons = prettier face' thing. Even if you're not a chemist you probably still know that lemon is an acid and that it reacts with light (like how it can blonde up hair). Why would you put it on your face?

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    1. I am pretty sure you'd need a crapload of concealer to cover something that looks like burns...

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  13. This is the exact same thing I was thinking when I watched that part of the video! Thanks for getting the word out! I would NEVER put lemons on my face!

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  14. Looks like Birchbox needs a lecture on pH.

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  15. I would have thought that Birchbox had enough people on staff now to properly research the claims they make. I mean, do they WANT to be sued? Seriously...

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    1. Birchbox inspired by "Beauty Bullshit" series, soooo...

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  16. Well, I'll tell you one thing that doesn't help all of yall's credibility in this snippet and in the comments: bias. Plenty of people use lemons on their face to even skin tone. Naturalists arent saying that everything in nature is good, but just that there are plenty of viable alternatives to expensive, chemical-filled products. There is a wide spectrum of good to bad in the natural world, but 2 centuries into mankind's existence, we know which are the good and which are the bad by now... or do we? All I'm saying is, this ^^^ is very condescending and offers no sources for the argument. Lemons aren't, as you say, "random crap". There are merits for both scientific and natural beauty and health remedies. For example, chemotherapy drugs recently reduced all my mother's tumors; and on the other side of the coin, I haven't used bottled shampoo or conditioner on my hair in a month and it is better than ever because my scalp is self-regulating its oil production. THANKS

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    1. Actually, there's a link to a source in the last paragraph...hover your clicker over the sentence starting with 'putting citrus on your face...'

      Where's your source?

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    2. Also lemons have chemicals too. Did you know they produce citric acid? It's used as a preservative for foods as well as in the passivation of stainless steel.

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    3. Everything you put on your face, in your hair, and on your body is laden with chemicals. There is no escape because EVERYTHING is chemicals.

      "Chemical" is a neutral term that has a pretty specific meaning. It doesn't matter if something you use has chemicals in it, but rather what chemicals and in what quantities. This post isn't saying that natural remedies are bad. This post is saying that it's important to be well informed about what you're using even if it seems like it should be innocuous.

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    4. Oh I see that link there. I was just really shocked at the disgust everyone is displaying here about something that is in widespread use. Just a drop of lemon juice added to tea can make a great rinse for hair, since it has that acidity. Yes, we shouldnt hand a cut lemon to a baby and let them rub it all over themselves, but YES, in moderation and with knowledge, lemon can be used successfully and safely, as I can personally atest. Not trying to "troll" but I felt that someone had to stand up for lemons here! And when I said "chemicals", I meant that using something natural makes me feel better than something in a bottle with 40 ingredients on it. For SOME things, not others of course. And also, for that comment here asking for a debunking of "that no poo trend", its real and it works. THAT is simple science. Thanks yall

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    5. Sources are always linked in the post!

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    6. I agree with Allison. Many products on the market have synthetic lab created chemicals. I have been using fresh lemon juice on my face for the past 8 years along with homemade sugar/olive oil scrubs and my skin is nice. I even use fresh garlic juice on a blemish here and there. As well, as peroxide and baking soda to brush my teeth. I never have had to wear foundation and always get compliments from makeup artist and dermatologist on my skin. As a woman of color, it does tone my skin, since it is a natural lightener. However, depending on your skin type, diluting with water may be a must. Also, applying a Vitamin lotion afterwards is key. My natural remedies have never failed me. Knowing your body and researching is a must. Everything does not work for everybody. I firmly believe natural and organic foods and products are the best for the organic human body!

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  17. I can't even imagine the horror show my face would be if I put lemon juice on it. Jeezy creezy. That said, a bit of lemon tea (juice of one lemon, honey to taste, maybe dash of fresh ginger) during Shark Week helps me feel better internally.

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    1. I'm a plain Jane green tea lady, myself!

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  18. I use lemon juice as a toner, and have for years. HOWEVER, I use a mix of about 1tbsp lemon juice to 2 cups of water. Considering pure lemon juice is advocated for whitening teeth and lightening hair, I don't really feel comfortable with it in a non-diluted form on my face.

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    1. I've read a few stories of people who used lemon juice to whiten their teeth, and stripped all their enamel, leading to massive dental issues. It's certainly not a path I'd want to take for teeth whitening.

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  19. You should totally subscribe to BeautyBox5 instead of birchbox, it's much cheaper and they send similar products. I love it!

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  20. Also, citrus essential oils (found in lemon peel, for example) are photosensitizing at best, and rather irritating (as in causing a reaction, not annoying :) for most folks. I'd rather not get any lemon in my eyes if I can avoid it - ouch! Robyn, I haven't read through all of your posts, but did you ever debunk the 'baking soda is the best face scrub' myth? That one always gets me going.

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  21. Natural diuretic for the eye?? LOL. Diuretics work via the kidneys by making you pee more, they don't work by magically sucking water from a specific area of the body. If you're going to put lemon juice on the undereyes for the diuretic effect, you might as well break open one of Grandma's hydrochlorothiazide blood pressure pills and sprinkle the powder there. It's a way stronger diuretic so it should work better, right?

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  22. Augh, this has to be the most vacuous video I've ever seen, how did you even manage to get five minutes in to hear their awful advice?

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  23. And that's why I shall stick with painting the bags under my eyes with Pepto Bismol, for it's color correcting properties and ability to neutralize flare ups.

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