TikTokers Are Using Lemons to Lighten Underarms and Prevent Odor

Find out if the citrus fruit hack really works.

TTTF: TikTokers Are Using Lemons to Lighten Underarms and Prevent Odor
Lucas Ottone / Stocksy.

TikTok True or False is the answer to your burning questions about the health, beauty, and fitness fads taking over your social feeds. Each story breaks down a buzzy wellness trend with the help of experts and scientific research to uncover the truth and safety behind the viral "advice" you see online. You'll never have to wonder what's actually legit — or what to skip — again.

Scrolling through the TikTok app brings up thousands of beauty videos with the hashtags #beautytok or #skintok, which show users explaining and demonstrating beauty tips, tricks, and discoveries.

Lately, users have shared videos of themselves using lemons to brighten their underarms and as a natural deodorant to help prevent odor. Plugging "lemon underarms" into the TikTok search bar populates hundreds of videos of users putting the acidic fruit to the test.

If you haven't seen it, here's what the fruity hack consists of: Users are either cutting lemons in half or slicing them and rubbing them directly on their armpits, letting the juices absorb into the skin. Other users are either mixing freshly squeezed lemon juice with baking soda or using a lime in lieu of a lemon for the same effect. Some TikTokers are rubbing the lemon juice on their armpits in hopes that it will lighten their underarms, while others are hoping to help prevent odor without using traditional deodorant.

Curious to know if this TikTok lemon hack for lightening underarms and preventing odor really lives up to the hype? Ahead, learn everything you need to know from a dermatologist about the skin benefits of lemons and whether or not rubbing lemons on your armpits is right for you.

What are TikTokers using lemons on their underarms for?

Lemons have various uses, such as adding a citrus taste to food and drinks or leaving a nice fruity fragrance when incorporated into cleaning products. Now, some TikTokers say the fruit can lighten underarms and prevent stinky pits. But before breaking down the hack, it's important to understand why the armpit skin may appear darker as well as why body odor in the armpits occurs (and why some people seek out deodorant alternatives).

"Where skin folds or rubs together — such as the armpits and groin — is often darker than other areas of skin," according to Dr. Geeta Yadav, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology. Additionally, shaving regularly can cause "skin trauma" and lead to skin hyperpigmentation [darkening], according to Dr. Yadav. "In some cases, it's a sign of acanthosis nigricans (AN), a condition that causes darkening and thickening of the skin under the arms (and in some cases, the neck or groin)," she adds. "Sometimes, AN is connected to more serious medical conditions, including diabetes, obesity, and hormonal disorders."

As for the smell? Body odor occurs when "bacteria multiply [in the armpit] and start to break down the keratin proteins on the surface of the skin, which causes odor," says Dr. Yadav. Furthermore, the sweat glands in the armpit, known as apocrine sweat glands, release a thicker sweat that doesn't evaporate as quickly and is rich in sugars, the perfect food for the bacteria living on your skin, explains Dr. Yadav. Body odor isn't necessarily always hygiene based. It can even be a result of the food you eat. "Compounds in certain foods, such as garlic and onions, can also cause odor," says Dr. Yadav.

For some people, traditional deodorants and antiperspirants aren't favorable options because they are wasteful their formulas contain ingredients such as aluminum, which is believed to have negative effects on the skin and overall health. Some of these supposed effects include rashes and inflammation, as well as long-term issues, such as increasing the risk of developing breast cancer by absorbing into the skin near the breasts. However, there are no studies that directly link deodorants or antiperspirants to causing cancer or other health concerns, according to Dr. Yadav.

Though things may get sticky when executing this hack, it's as simple as cutting a lemon in half or quarters and rubbing the unpeeled side directly on your armpits. You may even have some lemons sitting around in the kitchen; if you don't, many users have shared that limes work just as well. For example, one TikToker took to the app to share a lemon-based concoction she uses to lighten her underarm skin. It consists of mixing one tablespoon of baking soda with the juice of half a lemon to make a paste. She then takes the paste and scrub it into your armpits for five minutes, then repeats the process four times a week.

Another user shared a video detailing how she learned the beauty hack from her grandmother, but instead of using lemons to lighten the underarms, she uses them to reduce odor. She shows viewers half of a freshly sliced lemon and recommends squeezing a bit of the juice directly into your hands, rubbing your hands together, and patting it into your armpits and allowing it to dry. She warns viewers not to try the hack if they've recently shaved, as it may sting.

Does using lemons lighten underams and prevent odor work?

The short answer is yes. Yet, before you go running to the kitchen or grocery store to stock up on lemons to give this hack a try, here's what you need to know.

Some people have darker armpits than others. While this is usually totally normal, it can lead to a desire to lighten them to match the rest of the body's skin. In this case, lemons "can lighten and brighten skin thanks to citric acid, a natural alpha-hydroxy acid found in lemons," explains Dr. Yadav. "This ingredient can help resurface skin, which can improve overall brightness."

As for combating odor, lemon's high acidity also has the ability to reduce body odor. "Lemons can temporarily decrease odor in the armpits, and the alpha-hydroxy acid in citric acid can kill odor-causing bacteria," says Dr. Yadav. Antiperspirants are typically aluminum-based compounds that work to temporarily block sweat pores, and reduce the amount of sweat that reaches your skin therefore masking odor. The difference is that the citrus acid works to kill the bacteria while deodorant attempts to clog the pores to help stop sweat from mixing with the bacteria already in the armpit.

Is it safe to use lemons to lighten underarms and prevent odor?

While lemons serve many purposes, including lightening underarm skin and killing odor-causing bacteria, there are some precautions you should consider before rubbing the fruit's juices under your arms. "Lemons are very acidic, and using pure lemon on skin — especially in an area that many of us tend to shave — is likely to cause sensitivity and irritation," says Dr. Yadav. "Many skin tones can react to irritation with inflammation, which can lead to hyperpigmentation — the opposite of the desired effect." The high acid levels in lemons can cause burning or tingling sensations in the skin and lead to redness and inflammation.

In addition to possible irritation, lemons can "potentially worsen hyperpigmentation, as there is a unique risk related to getting citrus juice on your skin and going into the sun known as phytophotodermatitis," explains Dr. Yadav. "Compounds in the juice make the skin more sensitive and reactive to sun damage, leaving blisters and rashes behind." If you're going to attempt this TikTok beauty hack, it's best to avoid direct exposure to sunlight immediately after applying the lemon juice as well as doing an initial patch test to check for any reactions on the skin. A patch test is best performed by applying a small amount of lemon juice to the armpit skin and monitoring for any adverse reactions within the next few hours or day.

Instead, to lighten armpits, "use formulas designed specifically for use on skin, [such as] chemical peels, professional micro-needling, or laser therapy may also help," advises Dr. Yadav. This will help you avoid potential reactions while attempting to lighten your underarm skin.

As for combating odor, "antiperspirant and deodorant are a much better and safer way [than using lemons]," says Dr. Yadav. "There is a misconception that aluminum-based antiperspirants cause breast cancer or Alzheimer's, and there are no studies proving these theories."

You can use lemons to lighten underarms and prevent odor: True or false?

TTTF: TikTokers Are Using Lemons to Lighten Underarms and Prevent Odor
Lucas Ottone / Stocksy.

Lemons can lighten your underarms thanks to the citrus acid that helps brighten the skin and decrease body odor by killing the bacteria that causes it. However, there are side effects to consider when trying this fruity beauty hack.

This is not a case of natural is better. "It's 2023, and advancements in beauty technology and chemistry have given [people] options that are safer and more effective," explains Dr. Yadav. Before you go stock up on lemons to help lighten your underarms and prevent body odor, consider the risks that are associated with using lemons under your arms, such as skin irritations and sensitivities to the sun. Therefore, you'll want to slowly introduce this hack into your body care routine.

You may even want to consider scrapping the idea of using lemon to prevent odor and trying a deodorant or antiperspirant with gentler ingredients if that's your concern.

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