Why is Limonene used in Skincare?

Posted by Dr. Natasha Ryz on

Limonene is a terpene found in the skin of citrus fruits.

Limonene is the major component of most citrus essential oils, including orange essential oil.

Limonene is widely used in skincare products for its fresh citrus aroma.

What is limonene?

Limonene is a terpene, and is found naturally in the skin of citrus fruits, such as orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit.  

The predominant form of limonene is D-limonene, which is present in nearly 98% of all citrus oils (Anandakumar et al, 2021).

Learn more: What is Limonene?

Why is limonene used in skincare?

Limonene is widely used in skincare products for its fresh citrus aroma.

Limonene also has cleansing activity, antioxidant activity and may boost the absorption of active compounds into skin.

Limonene has a pleasant aroma

Limonene is used for its fresh, pleasant citrus aroma. However, the purer the limonene is, the less odor it has (Chiralt et al, 2002; Sell et al, 2004; Kvittingen et al, 2021). 

Commercially, D-limonene is isolated from orange peel. The cruder the D-limonene is, the more impurities it contains, and the more it will smell like orange (Kvittingen et al, 2021). 

D-limonene is the main component of most citrus essential oils. 

For instance:

  • Blood Orange (Citrus sinensis) essential oil contains ~ 98% limonene.
  • Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) essential oil contains ~ 96% limonene.
  • Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) essential oil contains ~ 96% limonene.
  • Clementine (Citrus clementina) essential oil contains ~ 95% limonene.
  • Tangarine (Citrus reticulata blanco var tangerine) ~ 95% limonene.
  • Lemon (Citrus limonum) essential oil contains ~ 78% limonene.
  • Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) essential oil contains ~ 75% limonene.
  • Lime (Citrus aurantifolia).essential oil contains ~ 52% limonene.
  • Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) essential oil contains ~ 48% limonene.

(Limonene values obtained from essential oil supplier New Directions Aromatics).

It is interesting that such small differences in other minor terpenes can lead to such big differences in aroma between the different citrus fruits.

Limonene has cleansing activity

Limonene is a gentle, yet powerful cleaner that is reputed to effectively remove  grease, tar, oil, soot, grime and soils.

Limonene is a cleanser and a degreaser. Limonene is used as a solvent in water-free hand-cleansers at a concentration of about 10% (Karlberg et al, 1997).

Its mildness has made limonene a popular ingredient in water-free hand soaps, as it not only cleanses, but also leaves hands smelling fresh. 

    Limonene has antioxidant activity

    Antioxidants protect your skin by preventing free radical damage. 

    Free radicals are unstable molecules or atoms that can damage skin cells.

    Free radicals are generated from normal aging, and by daily environmental damage - such as UV radiation from the sun and air pollution. Free radicals cause destruction to your cells and tissues, and accelerate skin aging (Masaki et al, 2010).

    Antioxidants protect your skin by neutralizing unstable free radicals.

    Limonene has antioxidant activity (Anandakumar et al, 2021).

    Recently, limonene has been shown to have a protective effect in skin cells by activating a cellular antioxidant defense system ( Kumar et al, 2022).

    Limonene may also increase product shelf life. For instance, limonene has been shown to inhibit lipid oxidation, and is being investigated to extend shelf-life in food products (reviewed by Bora et al, 2020).

      Limonene is a permeation enhancer

      The delivery of active ingredients into the skin is a challenge. 

      Permeation enhancers help the skin absorb active ingredients.

      More specifically, permeation enhancers are substances that improve the absorption of drugs or active ingredients through the skin by increasing skin permeability. 

      Limonene is a permeation enhancer (Mendanha et al, 2017) and can boost absorption of nutrients and active ingredients (Valgimigli et al, 2012).

      Learn more: Limonene is a Permeation Enhancer 

      Is limonene safe to use for skin?

      Pure limonene is safe for most people to use, when it is properly diluted.

      However, oxidized limonene (old limonene) may cause irritation in some people with dermatitis.

      Limonene is considered to have low toxicity (reviewed by Sun, 2007) and is recognized as a safe ingredient for skincare under the current regulatory guidelines for cosmetics (reviewed by Kim et al, 2013). 

      Learn more: Is Limonene Safe for Skin?

      Summary

      Limonene is a terpene found in the skin of citrus fruits.

      Limonene is the major component of most citrus essential oils, including orange essential oil.

      Limonene is widely used in skincare products for its fresh, pleasant citrus aroma.

      Limonene has cleansing activity and is a common ingredient in cleansers, especially hand cleansers.

      Limonene also has antioxidant activity and protect skin against oxidative damage. Limonene may also extend product shelf life of skincare products.

      Limonene is a permeation enhancer, and may boost absorption of active ingredients into the skin, including vitamins.

      Limonene is safe for most people to use in skincare.

      References

      Addor FAS. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. 2017 May-Jun;92(3):356-362.

      Anandakumar P, Kamaraj S, Vanitha MK. D-limonene: A multifunctional compound with potent therapeutic effects. J Food Biochem. 2021 Jan;45(1):e13566. 

      Bora H, Kamle M, Mahato DK, Tiwari P, Kumar P. Citrus Essential Oils (CEOs) and Their Applications in Food: An Overview. Plants (Basel). 2020 Mar 11;9(3):357.

      Chiralt, A.Martínez-Monzó, J.Cháfer, T.Fito, P. Limonene from Citrus. In Functional Foods, Biochemical and Processing AspectsShi, J.Mazza, G.Le Maguer, M., Eds.; CRC PressBoca Raton, FL2002; Vol. 2, pp 169– 187.

      Kim YW, Kim MJ, Chung BY, Bang du Y, Lim SK, Choi SM, Lim DS, Cho MC, Yoon K, Kim HS, Kim KB, Kim YS, Kwack SJ, Lee BM. Safety evaluation and risk assessment of d-Limonene. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2013;16(1):17-38. 

      Karlberg AT, Dooms-Goossens A. Contact allergy to oxidized d-limonene among dermatitis patients. Contact Dermatitis. 1997 Apr;36(4):201-6.

      Kumar KJS, Vani MG, Wang SY. Limonene protects human skin keratinocytes against UVB-induced photodamage and photoaging by activating the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant defense system. Environ Toxicol. 2022 Sep 5.

      Kvittingen L, Sjursnes BJ, Schmid R. Limonene in Citrus: A String of Unchecked Literature Citings? J. Chem. Educ. 2021, 98, 11, 3600–3607.

      Poljsak B, Dahmane R, Godic A. Skin and antioxidants. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2013 Apr;15(2):107-13.

      Masaki H. Role of antioxidants in the skin: anti-aging effects. J Dermatol Sci. 2010 May;58(2):85-90. 

      Mendanha SA, Marquezin CA, Ito AS, Alonso A. Effects of nerolidol and limonene on stratum corneum membranes: A probe EPR and fluorescence spectroscopy study. Int J Pharm. 2017 Oct 30;532(1):547-554.

      Sell, C. S. Scent through the Looking GlassChem. Biodiversity 200411899– 1920.

      Sun, J. D-Limonene: Safety and clinical applications. Altern. Med. Rev. 2007, 12, 259–264.

      Valgimigli L, Gabbanini S, Berlini E, Lucchi E, Beltramini C, Bertarelli YL. Lemon (Citrus limon, Burm.f.) essential oil enhances the trans-epidermal release of lipid-(A, E) and water-(B6, C) soluble vitamins from topical emulsions in reconstructed human epidermis. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2012 Aug;34(4):347-56.

      D-Limonene – Citrus Terpenes That Gently Scent and Powerfully Clean (newdirectionsaromatics.com)

      Aroma Essential Oil Safety Essential Oils Limonene Natural Ingredients Terpenes

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