Detox to retox: A diary of my fish collagen-drinking, Dirty Lemon “cleanse”

I feel about juice cleanses the same way I feel about psychic mediums. This is a trick, right? And yet, I have to fight the urge to give them all my money.

The only real hardcore cleanse I’ve ever done was a year ago, and on day three after a lunch of pulverized fennel I drove straight to a Subway with the full intention of ordering the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich. I had that “5-dollar footlong” jingle in my head, and I don’t think that commercial had aired for years. I stopped myself before going full footlong, but that’s when I ended my relationship with juice cleanses. In a Subway sandwich shop in Silver Lake. It just wasn’t worth it. Not only was I craving 5-dollar footlongs all day, but I felt like my relatively sunny disposition was replaced with the soul of a goat demon. If I saw a little girl eating a giant pretzel, my instinct was to knock it out of her sweet hand.

And even though I’ve since sworn off cleanses, I recently found myself reeled in by a new-ish cleanse trend: the “Dirty Lemon.” I first came across Dirty Lemon during a particularly bad bout of insomnia when I was so bored that I resorted to scrolling through the “explore” section on Instagram. I randomly clicked on a post of a girl drinking a bottle of Dirty Lemon, feel down a clickhole, and emerged on the company’s website.

A few things about Dirty Lemon caught my attention from the start.

For one, it’s a drink supplement — not a true cleanse. Meaning it’s a drink you have once daily for a week and can conceivably eat whatever you want (even 5-dollar footlongs! That’s the last time I speak of those, I promise). Also, they have a cool, kind of subversive Instagram that, admittedly, piqued my interest. And finally, you can only order the drinks through text message. As an elderly millennial, this both appealed to and confused me at first. But it was actually quite simple. I placed my order while in the bathtub.

I ordered the Dirty Lemon Detox drink and the Dirty Lemon Skin + Hair drink. Both include 6 bottles each, so I drank one a day for 12 consecutive days. I started with the Detox drink. It’s pitch black and consists of lemon juice, dandelion root, ginger root and “activated charcoal from coconut shells.” Basically, it tastes like a very tart lemonade. You drink it right before bed, which I liked because it filled me up and helped me fall asleep quickly. It didn’t feel like something I “had” to drink, but rather, wanted to.

My typical diet is very light on meat, heavy on veggies. So while an average week for me is filled with “good choices” like “interesting salads,” I also love cheese, bread and refined sugar. The Dirty Lemon detox works so that you can incorporate the drink into your normal routine and not make any other alterations. I had an acai bowl for lunch one day and bed pizza for dinner. Bed pizza is exactly what it sounds like.

Really the biggest change I noticed with the Dirty Lemon Detox drink was my inclination to exercise more often. I noticed an uptick in my energy level, but mainly I think this was a positive mental side effect. Because I already felt like I was doing something healthy by drinking the detox, I felt inclined to keep it up for the rest of the day. It makes sense. I started my days feeling like I had a leg up, so I felt motivated to keep it going into the evening. On the flip side, if I start my day with, say, a corndog, I’m just going to say F it and eat two more corndogs for lunch and take the elevator. Logic.


The Detox drink seemed to affect my overall mood primarily. Dirty Lemon’s Skin + Hair tonic, on the other hand, promised physical changes — it’s right there in its name. After my 6 days of the detox, I moved onto the skin and hair elixir which consists of: cold pressed lemon juice, horsetail, red clover, cayenne, and — wait for it — hydrolyzed marine collagen peptides.

Yeah, you know, hydrolyzed marine collagen peptides. Those old things. Essentially, they are collagen amino acid strands sourced from fish scales. So, fish collagen. This is the magic ingredient that helps make your hair healthier and your skin more elastic. It tastes…okaaaaay. It’s a little pucker-y, but it’s not bad. It’s just not as delicious as the detox drink.

And really, who cares what it tastes like, because this stuff worked. I didn’t so much as have one baby blemish the entire time I was on the Dirty Lemon cleanse. And while I don’t suffer from regular breakouts, I typically have at least one itty bitty zitty in a two-week period. But with this? Nothing. My skin was crystal clear the whole time. As for my hair, I got one single compliment — which is exactly one compliment more than I received the week before, so I count that a success. My blonde, fine hair certainly felt healthier (fuller, thicker), although to the untrained eye I’m sure it didn’t look much different.

I thought about including before and after pictures here, but to be honest, I look almost identical in each. If anything, I look a little worse in my “after” photo, because I took it after an exhausting day. See my face in the photo above? That’s pretty much exactly what I looked like at the start of Dirty Lemon and at the end. Same face. So, no, I didn’t transform into Bella Hadid after two weeks of drinking this stuff.

But here are the three main changes I did notice.


1. I looked forward to working out more than I typically do. The drinks worked just as well mentally as they did physically. They made me feel pro-active and lit a fire under my ? (or rather, my ?).

2. My skin was at its clearest. It’s not that suddenly I had perfect skin, but rather, it just stayed blemish-free for longer than it typically does. I definitely attribute this to Dirty Lemon, because a few days after I stopped the drinks I noticed a tiny zit on the side of my nose. Just a barely-there one, but it was there nevertheless.

3. I felt less bloated on the detox drinks. I didn’t even weigh myself at the beginning and end, because I didn’t want to focus on that. But I was surprised to notice that each morning I woke up with that flat-stomach feeling I get whenever I lower my sodium intake. Although, clearly I didn’t cut sodium out of my diet (*see the photo evidence above).

So let me bottom line you here.

I got better results on this than I did on my brutal 3-day juice cleanse last year. My skin wasn’t nearly as clear during that cleanse, and I spent most of it Googling “Subway near me” and wanting to break my MacBook Pro in half when the search results were all for the Metro line. The Dirty Lemon drinks, on the other hand, were utterly painless. Not to mention I had about ten times the energy while I was Dirty Lemon-ing it than when I was on a juice cleanse.  It’s not all sunshine and lemons, however. The price, at $60 for a pack of six, is fairly steep. And while not cheap, it is less expensive than a full juice cleanse.

Oh, and that’s a perfect segue to point out that I did not receive these Dirty Lemon cleanses for free. I pulled out my debit card and paid for these 100% myself, because I wanted to do something that would make me feel healthy but didn’t require me to, you know, change anything.

Essentially, I loved this detox because it’s the anti-cleanse. There’s always been something about cleanses that feels deeply lonely to me. Bringing a green juice to a barbecue is just so bleak. If a juice cleanse is an agoraphobic shut-in, then Dirty Lemon is a social butterfly.

But mainly I liked this experience because it embraces moderation. I will spend $13 on a pressed juice, but I’m also the only adult I know who still buys canned grape soda. My grocery cart is deeply complicated. And that’s why, ultimately, my anti-cleanse soul is sold on Dirty Lemon. It’s all about living your damn life.