You know the scene in Bridesmaids when Annie, played by Kristen Wiig, arrives at the bridal shower that her frenemy Helen, played by Rose Byrne, is hosting? Annie pulls up to the venue and is greeted by a butler wearing white gloves, who offers her a pink lemonade. Reluctantly, she accepts it and takes a sip, saying, "God damnnit, that's good. Shit, that is fresh." That is exactly how I felt the first time I tried Dirty Lemon water.
Dirty Lemon has been around since 2015, and got popular the same way lots of wellness trends do these days, through Instagram. The bottles fit the minimalist millennial aesthetic, and the brand has more than 100K followers on Instagram. I was always under the impression that Dirty Lemon was just a new version of the Master Cleanse, a problematic old school juice cleanse that involves only drinking lemon water with cayenne pepper and maple syrup — but there's no connection. And Dirty Lemon isn't a cleanse, meal replacement, or weight-loss tool at all.
So, then what is Dirty Lemon? Essentially, it's a fancy lemonade drink spiked with some healthy ingredients. People are into Dirty Lemon for a variety of reasons, and of course lots of people are drawn to the ingredients and their health promises. There are a few different flavors, like: Dirty Lemon Ginseng, which has green tea ginseng for energy; Dirty Lemon Charcoal, which has activated charcoal (more on that later); Dirty Lemon Collagen, which has some collagen from fish; and most recently, Dirty Lemon CBD, which contains cannabidiol (CBD). But they all contain pure lemon juice, pink Himalayan sea salt (for electrolytes), and of course, filtered water.
"The beverages were formulated to be enjoyed as part of your everyday routine," says Zak Normandin, the founder of Dirty Lemon. In fact, they're decidedly anti-cleanse, and the hashtag they use to promote the drinks on Instagram is, #yestomore. "We support moderation over any extreme changes in diet or lifestyle," he says. Normandin was inspired to use lemons simply because he heard they could like keep you hydrated, provide vitamin C, and help with digestion.
One of the most popular flavors of Dirty Lemon is charcoal, which claims to "improve digestion, stimulate liver function, and gently cleanse your system of impurities," according to the Dirty Lemon website. You're encouraged to drink it after your "heaviest meal," in order to calm your stomach and aid in digestion.
But those claims about charcoal are kind of a stretch. Activated charcoal is a popular health ingredient these days, even though "there is absolutely no health benefit to consuming activated charcoal in green juices or in any other food," Kim Larson, RDN and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics told Refinery29 in 2017. Consuming activated charcoal can interfere with certain medications that you take, so you're not supposed to drink it within five hours of taking medicine. Nevertheless, people are drawn to this kind of dangerous, cleanse-like drink because they believe it'll rid their body of toxins and whatnot.
Besides charcoal, the other ingredients in Dirty Lemon seem pretty harmless, Courtney Dunn, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City tells me over email. There's infinitesimal amounts of sugar (1 gram total from the lemons), and Dirty Lemon Collagen contains 4 grams of protein, which is an added bonus for some people looking to increase their protein intake. Like other fancy health waters, you don't need any of the special additives in Dirty Lemon. In reality, Dirty Lemon is really just overpriced bottled lemon water (six bottles is $45), which you can easily make on your own at home.
Even though lemon water seems harmless, you should think twice before chugging it. Let's start with what it does to your teeth. Lemon is way more acidic than fruit juice, so it can hurt the enamel, the outer covering of your teeth, says Lee Gause, DDS, adjunct clinical professor at New York University's College of Dentistry and dentist at Smile Design Manhattan. "Lemon water is just purely an acidic solution, so day after day after day, if you bathe your teeth in an acidic solution, then that can wear away the enamel," he says. Over time, this damage can lead to pain and sensitivity. Dr. Gause suggests chasing lemon water with plain water, and waiting longer than 30 minutes after drinking it to brush your teeth. Once the lemon water gets past your mouth and ends up in your stomach, the acid could also trigger acid reflux symptoms. In other words, lemon is intense.
Alright, so, is Dirty Lemon good for you or bad for you? For those of us who relate to Annie from Bridesmaids and can't get enough of tart lemon water despite wanting to hate it, we hear you. Lemon water tastes good, but just make sure it's not the only thing you're drinking. Too much of one thing is never a great idea, especially something as abrasive as lemon. And at the end of the day, the ingredients in Dirty Lemon are not going to change your life, so it's probably not worth spending $45 on a case of something you could buy from a kid's lemonade stand for $1.