18 October 2021 / Caitlin Devlin
Lemon Essential Oil: History, Uses and Benefits
The historic 'fruit of health' has great benefits for skin, gut and overall wellbeing.
From its bacteria-fighting abilities to its use in treating morning sickness, lemon essential oil has many possible applications.
Lemons have been considered one of the most benefit-rich foods in the world for centuries now. Referred to as 'the fruit of health' by societies in ancient India, Egypt and Rome, they used to be grown primarily for their medicinal properties. Greeks and Romans believed them to support a healthy digestive system, and well over a thousand years later they were adopted by the Royal Navy to treat scurvy. Today, many people still use lemon essential oil to counter nausea, infections, and inflammation.
Lemon essential oil is extracted in two main ways.
These are: cold pressing and steam distilling. In both methods, it is the peel that the oil is collected from rather than the fruit, as the peel is more nutrient-dense.
Cold pressing involves pressing the oil out of the peel in a spiked drum. The oil then drips down through small holes in the base of the drum and is collected.
Steam distilling involves passing steam through a closed chamber containing the peel, and letting the oil condense on top of the water.
There has historically been some debate around the safety of applying citrus oils to skin, as some citrus oils can be phototoxic - this means that after application exposure to sunlight can cause redness and irritation. However, steam distilled citrus oils are very safe to apply to skin when properly diluted with a carrier vegetable oil. The furocoumarins that cause photosensitivity take longer to evaporate than many of the other constituents in essential oils, and so are separated from the rest of the oil in the steam distilling process.
It can fight against harmful bacteria.
A 2019 study found that lemon oil is among the most effective oils for fighting various microbes and bacteria, mainly due to the presence of a chemical constituent known as d-limonene. D-limonene gives lemon its anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, and its presence is what makes lemon oil such a popular addition to homemade cleaning products.
The anti-microbial properties of lemon oil also make it effective at preventing receding gums and tooth decay, as the d-limonene attacks the bacteria and stops it from building up.
Oil pulling with a carrier vegetable oil and a drop of lemon oil is a great way to improve oral health and naturally whiten teeth.
It can be used to treat acne.
When diluted with a carrier oil and applied with a warm cloth, lemon oil can be a very effective facial cleanser. Not only is it anti-microbial, but it is also astringent, meaning that it can shrink and tighten pores and leave skin brighter.
In some cases, this astringency allows it to shrink the tissue around areas affected by inflammatory acne, reducing the inflammation, whilst the d-limonene attacks the P.acnes bacteria.
It may help to ease symptoms of morning sickness.
An exciting new area of research is the effect of lemon essential oil on morning sickness. A study in 2014 of one hundred pregnant women found that inhaling lemon oil relieved symptoms of morning sickness to a greater degree than inhaling a placebo oil, and diffusing lemon oil is now a common way to safely cope with nausea in the early stages of pregnancy. We still don’t know a lot about this association, but research is ongoing.
Lemon essential oil is extremely versatile, having both medicinal and cosmetic applications, and is supported by a fascinating medical history. Whether applied topically or inhaled, it can have a huge number of benefits, many of which are still being explored centuries later.
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