Skip to content
Jump To:
Selected Item

Key Points/Overview

Citric acid is commonly used as a food additive for natural flavoring. It is often added as an emulsifying agent and preservative. Citric acid is also added to many canned and jarred foods to help prevent botulism.

Citric acid is used in cosmetics and personal care products to help brighten skin, correct dark spots and minimize fine lines. It can also be used to as preservative and to help adjust the products’ pH levels.

Citric acid is used to help kill harmful bacteria and help prevent infections on the skin’s surface that can be common in people with diabetes, the elderly and those who smoke.

Uses & Benefits

Citric acid is commonly used as a food additive for natural flavoring and as a preservative.  It is also used in cosmetics, for medical purposes, as an antioxidant and in cleaning products.

shutterstock_1864156237-scaled

Flavoring and preserving food

Citric acid can be added to processed and packaged foods and drinks such as ice cream, sorbets, sodas and wine. It is added as a preservative, emulsifying agent and for flavoring. Citric acid is also added to many canned and jarred foods to help prevent botulism.2

shutterstock_280427486

Antioxidant

Antioxidants, which are derived from citric acid, can help keep food edible over a longer period.5 For example, sprinkling lemon juice, which contains citric acid, over apples or bananas can help prevent them from turning brown. Ascorbic acid, better known as Vitamin C, is also found in citric acid and is often used to help protect and preserve soft drinks and meats.

shutterstock_332560013-scaled

Medical

Citric acid is used to help kill harmful bacteria and infections on the skin’s surface that can be common in people with diabetes, the elderly and people who smoke. Citric acid also can be combined with sodium citrate and potassium citrate to lower acid levels in the urine to help prevent gout attacks.4

African,Woman,Hands,Using,Cosmetic,Liquid,Soap,In,Bathroom.,Close

Cosmetics and personal care products

As a personal care products ingredient, citric acid can help to brighten skin, correct dark spots and minimize fine lines.3

Products containing citric acid can be formulated for use near the eyes, lips, mouth and nasal passages, as well as for safe application to babies’ skin. Citric acid and its salts may also be used in hairsprays, deodorant and body sprays.

Sodium citrate, a salt of citric acid, is used in lipstick and soap. Citric acid and its salts can be used to preserve cosmetics and personal care products, and to help adjust their pH levels.

shutterstock_1704761092-scaled

Cleaning products

Citric acid may be added to commercial cleaning products, as it can help remove hard water build-up on dishes and glassware. It also can be used to remove coffee and tea stains, yellowing/browning discolorations and water and urine stains.6

Some commercial products that contain citric acid are water-based and can cause corrosion on metals. To minimize and prevent rust from forming, dry the metal after cleaning it.

shutterstock_1491466379-scaled

Safety Information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)7 states that citric acid is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as a direct food additive.

Since the early 1900’s, approximately 99 percent8 of the world’s production of manufactured citric acid has been developed from black mold (the Aspergillus niger fungus). Black mold efficiently converts sugars into citric acid. Its fermentation is also generally recognized as safe by the FDA under its Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.9

Excessive amounts of citric acid may cause tooth enamel to dissolve over time. The Academy of General Dentistry recommends foods containing citric acid be consumed in moderation. They also recommend rinsing the mouth after eating or drinking food and beverages that contain citric acid.10 Using a straw when drinking beverages that contain citric acid can also help minimize tooth decay. Drinking water and eating less acidic foods, such as nuts, bananas and cheese, when consuming foods that contain citric acid can also be beneficial.11

FAQs

What are some fruits and vegetables that contain citric acid?

Citric acid occurs naturally in lemons, limes, pineapples, grapefruits, berries (not blueberries), tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and some varieties of peppers.

What is citric acid used for?

Citric acid is used in insecticides and disinfectants to help destroy bacteria and viruses. It is used to preserve and marinate meats, and flavor foods and beverages. For example, citric acid is used in wine to reduce low acidity and improve taste.

Citric acid is also used in cosmetic and personal care products as a preservative, and in cleaning products to remove hard water build up.

Does citric acid come from black mold?

Approximately 99 percent of the world’s production of manufactured citric acid is developed from the Aspergillus niger fungus, also known as black mold. Black mold efficiently converts sugars into citric acid and its fermentation also is generally recognized as safe by FDA under its Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Is citric acid bad for your teeth?

Excessive amounts of citric acid may cause tooth enamel to dissolve overtime. The Academy of General Dentistry states that foods containing concentrations of the organic acid should be consumed in moderation. Rinsing the mouth after eating or drinking food and beverages that contain citric acid is also recommended. Using a straw when drinking beverages that contain citric acid is another option.

Back to Top

For more chemical safety facts, follow us on social media.

© 2005 – 2022 American Chemistry Council, Inc. The ACC mark, Responsible Care®, the hands logo mark, CHEMTREC®, TRANSCAER®, and americanchemistry.com are registered service marks of the American Chemistry Council, Inc.