A fragrant compound found in many essential oils (especially lemon myrtle and lemongrass essential oil). It has a sweet, lemon-like scent. People with sensitive skin should try to avoid products with citral, or at least do a patch test before using.
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What is Citral?

Citral, also known as geranial, is an organic, fragrant, volatile, and liquid compound known for its strong lemon-like odor. It's a key component of several essential oils derived from citrus fruits (especially lemon myrtle) and lemongrass, making it a popular ingredient in various industries such as cosmetics, food, and beverage. It is added as a fragrance ingredient to many skincare products.

There is a term known as ‘cis-trans isomerism’ in chemistry. It refers to the phenomenon where two molecules with the same chemical formula can be oriented in space in two different ways. There exist two different kinds of citral because of this.

Cis-citral, also called neral, has a gentle, sweet scent while trans-citral, also called geranial, has a strong, lemon-like scent. The name “citral” is usually assigned to a 1:1 mixture of both isomers.

Citral's strong, lemony scent makes it a popular choice in perfumery. It's often used to create floral and citrus notes in perfumes, bringing a fresh, invigorating element to many fragrances.

Apart from skincare and perfumery, Citral is also used in the food and beverage industry due to its pleasant flavor. It's often used to enhance the flavor of dishes and beverages like tea, sweets, and more.

Citral is known for its insecticidal properties, which is why it's found in some bug repellents. While this isn't a skincare benefit per se, it's a significant bonus for those who enjoy outdoor activities.

Citral in Skincare

Primarily, Citral is recognized for the following uses in skincare:

  1. Fragrance: Citral's foremost use in skincare is as a fragrance. Its fresh, citrusy aroma lends a pleasing scent to various products, from lotions and creams to soaps and body washes. Its distinct scent enhances the sensory experience of using these products, making your skincare routine a delight to the senses.

  2. Flavor: Besides fragrance, Citral is also used as a flavoring agent in lip care products like lip balms and lipsticks. Its tangy, lemony taste adds a pleasant flavor to these products.

Is Citral Safe for Skin?

For the majority of users, products containing Citral should not cause any adverse effects. 

When left unsealed, citral, like most other fragrance compounds and essential oils, can oxidize and form allergenic compounds. People with sensitive skin should thus try to avoid products containing citral, or at least do a patch test before using.


Hagvall, L., et al. (2020). Contact allergy to citral and its constituents geranial and neral, coupled with reactions to the prehapten and prohapten geraniol. Contact dermatitis, 82(1), 31–38.