How I Cleared My Acne Scars for $1

Asian model with clear skin smiling holding a lemon slice


It’s the most pedestrian of skincare platitudes, and the first piece of advice that dermatologists, high school health teachers, teen magazines and mothers will give you — don’t touch your zits! Do not squeeze, pinch or attempt to extract that blemish from your face…or else. No matter how satisfying the pop — and the multitude of nasty pimple-popping videos on YouTube prove how universally satisfying it really is — you will most likely end up with not only a bigger mess on your face than the speck you started working on, but often an unfortunate, semi-permanent reminder of that zit you just couldn’t leave alone: the acne scar.

I know it and you know it, but unless someone invents an alarm that will sound a “STEP AWAY FROM THE MIRROR!” alert whenever it senses we’ve been squinting with our face two inches from our reflection for more than a few minutes, many of us can’t look the other way when we notice something brewing beneath our (or our boyfriend’s) epidermis. Are we really just supposed to walk away and go on with our lives pretending that zit isn’t there? Yes, that would be the sane thing to do. But I get it, squeezing, or in my case a technique that more closely resembles fracking, makes us feel like we’re in control of our skin woes and actively doing something to combat them. So, I won’t tell you not to do it. I will, however, let you in on a little secret that has made the raging red results of my unpoppable, err, unstoppable, urge infinitely easier to deal with. In fact, it has made them basically go away.

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I didn’t get rid of my acne scars using an expensive product with a faux-French name, although there are many of those out there that undoubtedly work wonders. Actually, I rediscovered an old wives’ remedy on that repository of ancient wisdom made accessible, the Internet. This miracle cure called for applying lemon juice daily to your fresh acne scars and waiting approximately two weeks for the magic to happen. Intrigued, I fetched from my fruit bowl a lemon, which I’d purchased to use as a cocktail garnish, and prepared myself for a concealer (and cocktail garnish)-free lifestyle.

Every night for two weeks I cut off a slice of lemon, coated my fingertips in its juice and dabbed generous amounts on my acne scars, both recent and relics of blemish battles won (or maybe lost) months before. Every good experiment needs a control, and for this role I selected an unwelcome pustule safely hidden from sight beneath my bangs, which I left dormant and un-lemon-zested. If you decide to try lemon on your acne scars, please be careful not to let the juice run down your forehead into your eyes. Also, you will definitely regret applying lemon juice to any open wounds, so make sure you give things enough time to rest and heal before trying to zap them with citrus power. Finally, if you’re going to be outside a lot or live in a sunny location, don’t try to do double-duty and apply the lemon juice in the morning as well as before bed. Citrus + sun = photosensitivity! I know this from experience because while backpacking in Mexico one summer, I was on the wrong end of a splash of lime and came home with a strange brown splotch on my wrist as a souvenir. My dermatologist told me it was not, as I feared, a flesh-eating parasite, but rather a stain caused by the lime enhancing my skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s rays, and took a picture of it for her book.

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I have pretty touchy skin, so I was a little worried that the lemon juice would be too acidic and irritating. It did cause my skin to peel slightly in some places (which is why you’re supposed to apply it just to the scars and not to your whole face), but I thought of this as being just like a really inexpensive chemical peel, and it did indeed reveal fresh, smooth skin after I gently exfoliated. It didn’t even take the full two weeks for me to embrace the lemon juice cure — within days my acne scars were fading like distant memories. Two weeks in, and they’ve almost completely disappeared. Unfortunately, I think the lemon juice method works best for new acne scars since an old friend on my chin was undefeated by my acid attack and serves as a reminder to change my pimple-popping ways. 

Oh, and that control zit? The one I left untouched the whole time, and even forgot about? It’s as if it were never there. Turns out that two weeks of following the golden rule of skincare advice works even better than lemon juice. Go figure.

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