Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How does Sweet Orange work in skin cleansers?

Sweet orange adds a fresh, citrus scent to your cosmetics. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
© Khomulo

You may have one on your breakfast table. But should orange also be in your skin cleanser?

Sweet orange essential oil is often used in cosmetics as a fragrance, adding a fruity citrus scent to your cleanser. This oil comes from the fruit of the orange tree Citrus sinensis or Citrus aurantium dulcis, with varieties including Valencia, blood and navel oranges. The oil is extracted from the fruit's peel either through the process of cold pressing or distillation, and the result is oil that smells light and sweet, just like the fresh fruit.

Sweet orange essential oil is usually at least 90 percent limonene, a naturally occurring chemical found in citrus fruits [source: Dugo and Di Giacomo]. Because of its fresh scent, limonene is included in many cosmetics, skin cleansers and other kinds of cleaning products, but it also can cause skin irritation, especially in those with sensitive skin [source: Cosmetics Database]. As for safety, some studies have linked high usage of limonene to cancer in animals, but other research has shown it to be effective in preventing growth of certain cancers in animals [source: Cosmetics Database, Maltzman et al]. No conclusive evidence has been found to determine whether its carcinogenic effect in people, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers it to be an unclassifiable carcinogen in humans [source: Filipsson et al].

As with certain other essential oils, sweet orange oil can cause dermatitis in some people when used even in small amounts, perhaps in part because of the limonene. Signs you may be experiencing dermatitis include redness, swelling, itching and skin lesions. If you have any of these symptoms, stop using the product right away, and call your doctor if the problems don't go away quickly [source: Mayo Clinic]. Usage of the oil has also been shown to cause photosensitivity in some people, so take caution when using it in cleansers and always remember to use sunscreen when spending time outdoors [source: Placzek et al].

For fans of aromatherapy, sweet orange oil is thought to have positive benefits to people through its scent. A study in 2005 found that orange essential oil helped calm people who were waiting to undergo a dental procedure, but many scientists still question the actual benefits of aromatherapy [source: Lehrner].

To learn more about how sweet orange oil works in your skin care products, read the links on the next page.