Browse Pinterest’s hair and beauty section and you’ll quickly find dozens of all-natural, DIY alternatives to traditional products: fluffy coconut oil moisturizers, anti-aging scrubs and masks, genius home remedies for acne, and so on. But there there’s one summery tip popping up that we just can’t get behind: using lemon or lime juice as deodorant.
Sure, juice seems like a pretty harmless substance to put on your skin, and citrus is so refreshing in hot weather (garnish for your margarita, anyone?). But it turns out that when the sun interacts with the lime or lemon on the skin, it can cause a chemical burn—seriously.
“Lemons and limes contain a chemical called psoralens, which make the skin photosensitive,” explains Debra Jaliman, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and founder of Sea Radiance skincare. “That means that when the skin comes into contact with the sun, it is more sensitive to the sun. It can cause bad burns with redness and blisters.”
Not only can lemon-juiced armpits leave you with a nasty sunburn, it can also make the skin darken to a level that’s difficult to reverse, a condition called hyperpigmentation. “It takes a lot of time and effort to get rid of this hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Jaliman says. “It can be treated with topical treatments, but may even need lasers.”
Traditional antiperspirants have had a bad reputation for some time—though don’t believe everything that you hear about them. “There are no studies that show they’re dangerous,” says Dr. Jaliman. “Some people get allergic reactions to deodorants because the skin under the arms is so sensitive and they may want to look for a more natural solution.” Dr. Jaliman explains that the aluminum-based ingredient in an antiperspirant gets into the sweat gland to effectively plug the pore. It then can reduce sweating for up to 24 hours, and even if you take a shower it won’t affect this. “Many people feel that sweating is natural because it cools off the body by evaporation,” she says. “Therefore they don’t like the concept of an antiperspirant.” If you think you’re having a reaction to your deodorant, test the product by applying it to the skin inside the elbow where your arm bends, since that’s very similar to underarm skin. Then wait 24 to 48 hours to see if you get a reaction.
Natural deodorants typically have fewer ingredients, and many are made with natural oils like lavender. “I like natural deodorant myself, as I have very sensitive skin,” says Dr. Jaliman. One of her favorites is JASON deodorant ($7; target.com). (One of Health‘s editors also identified the 9 best natural deodorants after road-testing more than two dozen of them.)
If you’re still not sold on store-bought deodorant, tea tree oil is a safe bet. Just apply a few drops directly on the skin. “Tea tree oil is antibacterial so it works well as a natural deodorant since bacteria causes a lot of the odor,” says Dr. Jaliman. Swap that out for your lime or lemon juice for an au naturel solution that won’t do any damage—that’s just the pits.