While we speak frequently about the historical use of many essential oils including lemon essential oil uses, the history of lemon itself is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. We have seen lemons in Ayurvedic medicine for as much as a century, and lemons appear again in Josephus’ writings, describing a high priest’s fruitful encounter with an angry crowd in 90 B.C. – who preceded to pelt him with lemons for his errant ways!

And dulling tastes of happy Citron fruit,
Than which, no helpe more present can be had,
If any time stepmothers worse than brute
have poyson’d pots, and mingled herbs of sute
With hurtfull charmes: this Citron fruit doth chase
Blacke venome from the body in every place.

~ Virgil 70 BC – 19 BC

Despite the quote from the storied author above, the history of Citrus limon is quite silent. The lemon itself is native to Asia, grown from a small, evergreen tree. Multiple cultures claim the lemon as their own, from Burma and China to northeast India. Botanists from the University of California have their own twist, believing that the lemon is actually a hybrid fruit, combining sour orange and citron, rather than standing alone as a historical species. (1)


d-Limonene and the Benefits of Lemon Essential Oil

The key to it’s healing power, lemon rinds (where the essential oil is extracted from) are one of the richest sources of d-limonene, which is the most common cancer-fighting terpenes in nature. (source)  Additionally, we know that d-limonene can help:

  • Boost immunity (sourcesource)
  • Reverse liver and pancreas damage (source)
  • Kill pathogens and acts as a food preservative (source)
  • Aid in weight loss (source)
  • Decrease anxiety (source)
  • Promote restful sleep (source)

Some of the richest sources of d-limonene are: (source, p 580)

  • Sweet orange (83.9 – 95.9%)
  • Grapefruit (84.8 – 95.4%)
  • Clementine (94.8 – 95.0%)
  • Bitter orange, peel (89.7 – 91.7%)
  • Tangerine (87.4 – 91.7%
  • Lemon, expressed (56.6 – 76.0%)
  • Celery seed (68.0 – 75.0%)
  • Mandarin (65.3 – 74.2%)
  • Tangelo (73.2%)
  • Lemon, distilled (64.0 – 70.5%)
  • Dill seed (35.9-68.4%)
  • Elemi (26.9 – 65.0%)
  • Palo santo (58.6 – 63.3%)
  • Yuzu (63.1%)
  • Lime, expressed (51.5-59.6%)
  • Lime, distilled (55.6%)
  • Fir needle, silver (54.7%)
  • Bergamot, expressed (27.4 – 52.0%)
  • Caraway (36.9 – 48.8%)
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Potential Phototoxicity

In addition to d-limonene, other commonly shared chemicals in the citrus family are furocoumarins like bergapten, notable for their phototoxic effects. When bergapten is left on the skin, then exposed to the sun, it amplifies the effect of the sun and can leave burns. Some people like to avoid using bergapten-heavy oils topically altogether, but simply avoiding the sun after use (such as using it at night before bed) is sufficient. Alternatively, steam-distilled citrus oils have lower concentrations of bergapten and mitigate this effect.

This list of photosensitizing and non-photosensitizing came from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapists. (3)


Essential Oil Latin Name
Angelica root Angelica archangelica
Bergamot Citrus bergamia
Cumin Cuminum cyminum
Distilled or expressed grapefruit (low risk) Citrus paradisi
Expressed lemon Citrus limon
Expressed lime Citrus medica
Orange, bitter (expressed) Citrus aurantium 
Rue Ruta graveolens

Non-Phototoxic Citrus Oils

Essential Oil Latin Name
Bergamot: Bergapteneless
(FCF: Furanocoumarin Free)
Citrus bergamia
Distilled lemon Citrus limon
Distilled lime Citrus medica
Mandarin – Tangerine Citrus reticulata
Sweet orange Citrus sinensis
Expressed tangerine Citrus reticulata
Yuzu oil (expressed or distilled) Citrus juno

Great care should be taken when using citrus oils, including lemon essential oil uses, during summer months and with your children, but you don’t have to avoid them all together. Many aromatherapists agree that heavily diluting citrus oils minimizes the risk.

For example, the Essential Oil Safety text and Aromahead Institute teach that phototoxic oils can be used if diluted as follows:

  • Cold Pressed Bergamot — 2.4 drops (I just consider this 2 drops per oz)
  • Cold Pressed Lemon — 12 drops per oz
  • Cold Pressed Lime — 4.2 drops (I just consider this 4 drops per oz)
  • Cold Pressed Grapefruit — 24 drops per oz

13 Key Ayurvedic Uses

Traditional use has carried us where historical origins fail, and we have plenty of record of lemon’s benefits in Ayurvedic medicine, followed in recent decades by scientific confirmation.

Ayurvedic food and medicinal preparations use lemon and lemon essential oil heavily, giving us an excellent basis for discovery and use.

Assistant professor of Alva’s Ayurveda Medical College, Dr. J.V. Hebbar, relays the 13 key benefits of lemon and lemon essential oil in the Ayurvedic model: (2)

  1. Vakrashodhi – Oral health
  2. Rochana – Digestion.
  3. Trushna Nivarana – Thirst quencher.
  4. Shula Nivarana – Remedy for abdominal colic pain.
  5. Kasa Nivarana – Cough relief.
  6. Kaphotklesha, Chardi Nivarana – Calms stomach and relieves nausea, excessive salivation and vomiting.
  7. Amadoshahara – Prevents malabsorption.
  8. Hrutpeeda – Relieves chest pain due to gastritis.
  9. Asya vairasya hara – Relieves bad breath
  10. Vahnimandyahara – Promotes digestion, it is naturally detoxifying.
  11. Varnya – Improves complexion and skin tone.
  12. Pushtiprada – Nourishes the skin.
  13. Kapha Dosha – Weight loss.

Other notable effects include the regulation of cholesterol deposits in the circulatory system, which can help to reduce risk factors for heart disease!

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Current Research

Hundreds of studies have referred to the benefits of lemon essential oil, and exploring the dozens of traditional uses. Its most prominent component, limonene, is likely the key to its potency, found in many citrus oils. Its cancer-fighting antioxidant power is impressive, as well. With such a strong foundational composition, it’s not surprising that the science is catching up to 1,000-year-tradition at breakneck speed!

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Dementia occurs when brain nerve cells become damaged. Being that this affect several areas of the brain, people experience dementia quite differently. There are various types of dementias, and they are often categorized by the part of the brain damaged and whether the condition worsens. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia in seniors over 65 years old is, has been researched extensively and essential oils can be of great help.

For instance, the effects of aromatherapy were evaluated on elderly people suffering from dementia, with the majority being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They were given rosemary and lemon inhalations in the morning, then lavender and orange in the evening. Through multiple tests and forms of analysis, the “patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation” without any deleterious side effects. (3)

Nausea and Vomiting

An interesting study came out the spring of 2014, highlighting the benefits that lemon essential oil has for pregnant women dealing with nausea and vomiting. This was actually the first study of its kind and they discovered some promising results. Basing their research findings on the personal report 100 women provided to the researchers, they learned that the majority were significantly more satisfied with aromatherapy (i.e. simply smelling lemon essential oil out of the bottle) than with the drugs that they were given or the placebo. (4)


Another component of lemon that researchers have recently validated is geraniol. To evaluate the antioxidant ability to reverse damage from inflammation and oxidative stress, scientists in India gave geraniol to rats with diabetic neuropathy. Over the course of the 8-week study, markers of sciatic nerve damage and mitochondrial enzymes were both restored significantly. As a bonus, they also observed restored dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter that is associated with healthy functions like movement and unhealthy functions like addiction. (5)

Although this was an animal study and not necessarily indicative of mirrored results in humans, the potential beneficial effects of regular lemon essential oil use are promising, especially with our current influx of mitochondrial disease and the effects of stress on the heart and aging. And, as concluded,

“From our data, we hypothesize that [geraniol] may be a promising therapeutic candidate in the management of [diabetic neuropathy] in humans!”

Food Safety

Food safety is another major benefit of lemon essential oil use. A USDA study utilized lemon in a study regarding E. coli and Salmonella. It successfully protected apple juice against the dangerous bacterial strains, confirming its antimicrobial use. (6)

Canine Dermatitis

After just a couple of examples, it already seems like lemon is a super-oil. And for good reason – it really is! Not only for us, but for our four-legged friends, as well. In 2014, Italian scientists documented the benefits of bitter orange, lavender, oregano, marjoram, peppermint, and helichrysum in a sweet almond/coconut oil carrier on dogs with dermatitis. A common denominator and major active compound? Limonene. Twice daily applications for one month were comparable to conventional treatments, with no side effects and benefits lasting for six months. (7) Impressive, to say the least!

I would love to see the study replicated with lemon included or replacing some of the oils, since lemon contains the highest limonene amounts of all citrus oils. (8)

Fun & Effective Lemon Essential Oil Uses

We’ve already walked through quite a range of uses for lemon essential oil, so there’s no surprise at the long list of practical applications. These are just a sampling, and some of my favorite ways to use lemon outside of medicinal benefits.

1. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – Freshen Clothes: We’ve all forgotten to switch laundry to the dryer at least once. Just add a few drops of lemon EO in a rinse to prevent that awful odor.

2. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – Remove Gum and Sap: Playtime around trees can quickly become a mess. Remove pine gum or tree sap from clothes and carpet with an essential oil application.

3. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – Wash Greasy Hands: Soap just doesn’t always cut it after doing mechanic work. But with a couple of drops of lemon essential oil added to your soap, the grime should wash right off!

4. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – Disinfect (Without the Toxins!): Alcohol and bleach are harsh, especially when little hands and lungs are around. Instead, add 40 drops lemon oil to 8 oz pure distilled water and 8 oz witch hazel or white vinegar to clean the moldy shower and germy countertops.

5. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – Safe Leather Treatment: A dab of lemon oil on a cloth will restore leather furniture, shoes, and clothing to their original luxe.

6. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – Polish Silver: Try the same effect on tarnished silverware and jewelry to bring back the shine.

7. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – Goo-Be-Gone: Sticker books are a parent’s nemesis when the stickers find their home on windows and furniture. Remove stickers, gum, and other gooey remnants with the help of lemon essential oil!

8. Lemon Essential Oil Uses – In Recipes: We love using lemon in some of our favorite recipes like our Healing Lemon Cooler.

What’s YOUR favorite way to use lemon?

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  1. http://journal.ashspublications.org/content/126/3/309.full.pdf
  2. http://easyayurveda.com/about/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20377818
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24829772
  5. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jnr.23393/abstract
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15366861
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15366861
  8. http://www.perkinelmer.com/cmsresources/images/app_lim



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