Skip to content

Why (and how) you should add apple cider vinegar to your routine

If you're in the business of attracting flies, honey it is. But if a clearer complexion and a healthy scalp are more your thing, that vinegar from the old saying might come in handy. That is, if it's the kind that comes from apples.

The smell isn't what we'd call pleasant, but there is a reason apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a thing in the beauty world. It's naturally acidic, which your skin, scalp, and hair absolutely love. When it's healthy, the natural pH of the skin on our bodies leans more acidic, as board-certified dermatologist Brendan Camprendan Camp, MD, who is based in New York City, explains to Allure. When your skin is stressed, a little bit of this stuff can be your secret weapon in calming it down.

Besides the science, a good amount of ACV's appeal also comes from our collective familiarity with the ingredient. It is, after all, a truly multi-functioning ingredient, both in skin care and in actual cooking. The fact that you could just as well whisk it into a dressing makes it one of the ultimate ride-or-dies. If you're keeping score, what we're saying is that ACV can make your food taste good and get your skin together — this is versatility, people!

While we're on the subject of condiments, it's important to note that when we talk about the skin- and hair-care benefits of ACV, we're speaking to that specific iteration of vinegar. We're not telling you to dab a cotton swab soaked with balsamic or standard white vinegar across your cheeks. "Basic distilled white vinegar that's sold by the gallon at grocery stores is produced by fermentation of industrial ethanol," cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos says.

So, not what you want. White vinegar also has a higher concentration (5 to 10 percent) of acetic acid — which we'll talk more about later — than ACV (5 to 6 percent), which can potentially be harsh on the skin.

With that out of the way, we asked experts to break down the basics of apple cider vinegar, how it can benefit your skin and hair, plus a few products you can try out to experience it for yourself.

What is apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar starts with the humble fruit, crushed to release its juices, which are then fermented down until they turn into acids — malic (from the apples) and acetic (that's the vinegar part). Both, as double board-certified plastic surgeon Jaimie DeRosa, MD, explains to Allure, are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are chemical exfoliants.

Though they both exfoliate, acetic and malic acids each have their own special properties, which come together as a one-two punch to common issues people have with their complexions. Acetic acid is naturally antibacterial, which is super helpful in keeping flare-ups (be they acne, dandruff, eczema, etc.) at bay.

Malic acid, as Dr. De Rosa notes, is known to decrease melanin production, meaning if you're prone to hyperpigmentation, ACV might be a powerful tool in keeping dark spots at bay.

How does apple cider vinegar benefit the skin?

Dr. DeRosa likens the acids that give ACV its skin-perfecting superpowers to a "mild chemical peel, [which] gently exfoliates the skin." Gentle is the operative word here — as Dr. Camp points out, ACV, when used properly, can help slough away the dead skin cells you can't see and in turn, lend some brightness to your complexion.

The acidic properties of ACV also make it well suited for acne-prone skin — it's got a low pH, which, according to Aventura, Florida-based board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, MD, "helps to maintain the healthy acid mantle of our skin."

Remember: Well-balanced skin leans more acidic, so a few strategic swipes of the stuff on certain areas can work to bring your skin back down to a healthier pH, which, as Dr. DeRosa mentions, is helpful in balancing things like oil production and soothing eczema flare-ups. Also worth a mention: Thanks to the fermentation, ACV is naturally antibacterial, adding to its potency in fighting acne.

How can apple cider vinegar benefit my hair and scalp?

You've heard it a million times: scalp is skin. It is for this reason that ACV is similarly beneficial in your hair-care routine. Its exfoliating acids curb oiliness and can help bust up any dirt or product residue that may linger from day-to-day activities. "Since it is a mild exfoliant, it helps to lessen a scaly scalp," Dr. Ciraldo says. "The application of diluted ACV can also help your hair appear shinier by removing product buildup on the hair shaft."

It's great for dandruff, too. Remember those antibacterial and anti-fungal properties we mentioned before? They also make ACV a useful natural remedy for flakes, which "can be exacerbated by yeast [a type of fungus] on scalp skin," according to Dr. Camp. "[Overall, it can] promote a healthy scalp by [targeting] dead skin cells that contribute to dandruff, thereby reducing flakes and helping you get back to wearing black shirts again," he says.

There are a few more benefits the acids in ACV can have for your crown: "It helps seal the hair cuticles, maintains hair color, increase shine, reduce frizz, plus it can soften and strengthen the hair shaft, too," Dr. DeRosa adds. It's also, to that end, safe to use on color-treated hair.

What are the risks of using apple cider vinegar?

Before you reach for the nearest bottle of Bragg, fall back a little. While ACV is generally safe to use at home, "be careful since it is an acid," Dr. DeRosa warns. If you're a newbie or have sensitive skin, test things out by starting with a wash-off treatment, especially if you're using it in its raw, natural form. "It's best to rinse off after 5 to 10 minutes for the first few weeks of use on skin," Dr. Ciraldo advises.

If you're using ACV straight, we beg: dilute it with water before applying it anywhere on your body. "The risks of using ACV are mainly those related to using too high of a concentration, so it's possible to get a chemical burn [when it's used improperly]," Dr. DeRosa explains. Be sure to do a patch test first to make sure you're not naturally sensitive to it. If you're allergic to the malic acid in apples, for instance, you could have an unexpected reaction to it.

Ciraldo and all the other dermatologists we spoke to say that much like other chemical exfoliants, you have to be mindful of the other products in your routine when you use ACV. If you combine them with other acids or even retinol, there is the potential to irritate your skin. Skip the scrubs, too, if you plan to use ACV at any point in your routine.

It is very possible to overuse it, so, as we mentioned before, be sure to give your skin a break in between ACV treatments. Otherwise, you might miss out on all those lovely benefits. "Overuse could potentially lead to dry, red, itchy, irritated skin," Dr. Camp says. "Similarly with hair, overuse may cause scalp skin irritation or frizz by removing too much of the oil that normally coats the hair shaft."

In short, reasonable moderation is key here. "In general, it is recommended that exfoliants be used no more than two to three times per week on the skin. Otherwise, they may strip the skin of important oils that help retain moisture and increase the risk of irritation."

How can I incorporate apple cider vinegar into my routine?

How you use ACV depends on what your skin or hair goals are in general. "On the skin, apple cider vinegar can be used as a cleanser, acne spot treatment, toner, and exfoliant," Dr. Camp says, so you know there are a ton of products out there packed with the stuff at various levels.

"Look for either acetic acid or vinegar on the ingredient list," Dobos advises. "It should sit within the first five or so ingredients, and certainly not below the preservatives. If identified as fruit extract on the label, any acetic acid is further diluted in a solvent like glycerin or maybe only present at a fraction of a percent in the product."

With the note of spacing out your usage in mind, Apple Biotic's Apple Cider Vinegar Rejuvenating Face Wash is a cleanser worth checking out, according to Dr. Ciraldo. For the next step in your skin-care routine, both Dr. DeRosa and Dr. Camp mention the Boscia Resurfacing Treatment Toner, which brightens your skin with the power of AHAs and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs )

Then, Rosen Skincare Break-Out Spot Treatment is Dr. Camp's pick for battling zits on the fly. "It's got a paste-like consistency and a minty scent," he says. "It contains antibacterial products like zinc oxide, apple cider vinegar, and peppermint oil."

For your hair, both Dr. DeRosa and Dr. Ciraldo like the R+Co Acid Wash ACV Rinse, while Florham Park, New Jersey-based board-certified dermatologist Shari Sperling, MD, favors the DpHue's take on an ACV hair cleanser. In between washes and after workouts, Dr. Camp suggests Sunday II Sunday's Root Refresh Micellar Rinse "It removes sweat and oil with micellar water and apple cider vinegar to leave hair clean and fresh."

If you want the raw stuff, all of the doctors we asked name Bragg's Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar as their preferred option, though, again, be sure to dilute it with water. "I have had many older patients who purchase Bragg's and apply it to their arms or other dry and scaly areas as a 10-minute rinse-off product," Dr. Ciraldo says, noting that her clients have reported back to her with glowing reviews. "It's a great price point, too."

This article was originally published on

Share this article: