Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Apple Cider Vinegar for Hair

apple cider vinegar

Tawni Bannister for BYRDIE

Apple cider vinegar is to hair like coffee is to creamer. You don't necessarily need it, but try it once and you (likely) won't go back. We know that this kitchen staple has health benefits and can even fight blackheads, but still, we have questions when it comes to using it in our hair. For one, how is it any different from a clarifying shampoo? And, is an apple cider vinegar hair rinse for colored hair deemed safe by experts? After all, it burns like crazy when you toss it down the ol' hatch, so it's natural to assume our bleached and dyed strands wouldn't be able to tolerate apple cider vinegar's acidity. To find out all the benefits ACV can have on the hair and if it's safe to use on colored strands, we turned to the pros. Keep scrolling to see all they had to say about how to safely use apple cider vinegar on colored hair.

  • Type of ingredient (hydrator, relaxer, etc.): For example, aloe is both a hydrating and anti-inflammatory ingredient, so you can simply say, “Hydrator and anti-inflammatory”. 
  • Main benefits: Include a list of at least three benefits laid out in short, concise phrases i.e. Soothes the scalp, repairs the hair shaft, and regulates oil production.
  • Who should use it: Which hair type is the ingredient best for and who should proceed with caution? No ingredient is applicable to every type of concern, so start with the descriptor, “In general… ”. For example, argan oil has proven reparative benefits, but may be too heavy for someone with thin hair, so you can say something like, “In general, anyone with medium-coarse or dry, damaged hair. Argan oil is not recommended for particularly thin hair.”
  • How often can you use it: How often is typical use? How much is dangerous? What time of day should it be applied? For example: “Don’t use apple cider vinegar more than once every two weeks,” or “It’s safe to use up to two times a day, morning and night.”
  • Works well with: Discuss which other ingredients the ingredient-in-question performs especially well with, i.e. if the ingredient is keratin, you can say “Vitamin E.” There is no need to list everything the ingredient works well with, just those elements that help it perform its best/better.
  • Don’t use with: Some ingredients will deactivate others or irritate the skin if used in conjunction with something else, so note that here.  

What is Apple Cider Vinegar?

apple cider vinegar on weathered muslin fabric

klenova / Getty Images

Apple cider vinegar—or cider vinegar—is a vinegar made from fermented apple juice. "It is made by crushing apples, then squeezing out the juice," says Gretchen Friese, Bosley Professional Strength certified trichologist. "Bacteria and yeast are added to the liquid to start an alcoholic fermentation process, which converts the sugars from the juice to alcohol. Then in a second and final fermentation step, the alcohol is converted into vinegar." Apple cider vinegar contains antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that make it ideal for many uses ranging from cooking to health and beauty.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar for Hair

Apple cider vinegar is chock-full of properties that can be nourishing and healing for the hair.

  • Alleviates dry scalp: "The antibacterial and anti-fungal properties of ACV help to keep the pH level of the scalp balanced," says Friese. "Dandruff is a buildup on the scalp that happens when too much yeast is present on oily areas of the skin. Using a mix with ACV can help avoid that build up."
  • Reduces color fading: Friese notes that for color-treated hair, ACV can help close the cuticles, thus maintaining your color's vibrancy.
  • Controls frizz: Friese maintains that ACV can help smooth the hair and keep frizz at bay, making it a popular treatment option among those with curly and textured hair.
  • Detangles: If you have hair that's prone to knots or tangles, ACV and a wide-tooth comb can help rid them.
  • Reduces hair loss: With its ability to balance the skin's pH and clear the hair follicle from debris, Friese says that ACV can help reduce hair loss.

Close your eyes and mouth when using an apple cider vinegar rinse (a DIY one or not) to avoid any discomfort.

How Does it Differ From a Clarifying Shampoo?

Apple cider vinegar may be effective at getting rid of buildup on the scalp (think: hairsprays, dry shampoo, and excess grease), but isn't that what a clarifying shampoo does? Yes and no. Friese breaks it down for us: "Clarifying shampoos are formulated to remove product buildup and excess oils as well as prep the hair for some types of color or hair treatments. However, when used alone it can fade color and make the hair feel dry and look dull, making following up with a good conditioner or treatment necessary." On the other hand, while apple cider vinegar—like a clarifying shampoo—also removes buildup and debris, it has the added benefit of offering healing properties for the scalp. Plus, it can seal in hair color as well as add shine and control frizz.

Hair Type Considerations

teal cropped fro

LaylaBird / Getty Images

Our experts agree that apple cider vinegar is safe for all hair types, including color-treated hair. If you're looking for a solution for how to remove buildup from color-treated hair (but don't want to strip your hair of its color over time), you've found it in ACV. "Apple cider vinegar rinses are really truly about removing buildup of products, and they make the hair really clean,” says Jo Blackwell-Preston, founder and master stylist at Dop Dop Salon. Apple cider vinegar, while being acidic, is only slightly so—just enough to balance the pH of your hair (and scalp), not strip it. And because it’s a chelating agent (the thing responsible for making your hair lather up), it has the ability to grab the minerals and metals (mostly from hard water) that build up and dull your hair. “Apple cider vinegar coats the cuticle, leaving the hair soft and shiny,” Joico celebrity colorist Denis de Souza says. “It also helps to strengthen your hair by closing the cuticles and the hair shaft.” Shiny hair, healthy scalp, and unclogged hair follicles—it’s an all-around do.

All this to say, because ACV is slightly acidic, when it's mixed with two to three parts water it may extend the life of hair color, but only when applied right after the color is rinsed off. "Most hair colors are alkaline, which opens up the hair cuticle, and applying an acidic solution may reseal the cuticle," notes Friese.

How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Hair

Here's a good guideline for an apple cider vinegar rinse: one half to four tablespoons of ACV for every eight ounces of water. That said, you can experiment to find a dilution that works best for you and your hair type. Fill the solution in a plastic squeeze bottle or spray bottle. Friese recommends shampooing first and then saturating the hair with ACV, massaging the solution into the scalp. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before rinsing. "The frequency of use depends on the individual and their hair type, but too much use can cause brassiness and damage," she warns. de Souza agrees, noting that using an ACV rinse a few times a week isn’t going to harm your color, though you should use it less frequently if your skin skews sensitive.

If you have dry hair, use a higher water to ACV ratio to avoid further drying out your scalp. Oily hair types can get away with using a higher concentration of ACV.

Shop Our Recommendations

Below, find a Byrdie-approved list of apple cider vinegar hair products.

DpHue Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse
DpHue Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse $35

You won't find yourself missing the lather with this shampoo alternative—it leaves hair looking and feeling smooth, clean, and frizz-free.

100% Pure Grow More Shampoo
100% Pure Grow More Shampoo $34

Have hair that sheds? This shampoo is infused with apple cider vinegar to provide clarifying, deep cleaning benefits that encourages new hair growth while simultaneously minimizing hair loss.

Smooth Shine Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner
Avalon Organics Smooth Shine Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner $7

Apple cider vinegar along with argan and babussa oil blend to make for a hair-nourishing conditioner that wards off flyaways and seals hair cuticles.

R+Co Apple Cider Vinegar Cleansing Rinse
R+Co Apple Cider Vinegar Cleansing Rinse $32

Use it in place of shampoo or as a co-washing conditioner—either way, this wash rids hair of product buildup (without nixing color) and imparts a commercial-ready shine.

New York Biology Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Mask
New York Biology Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Mask $19

For hair that's in dire need of some repair and clarifying, this one delivers both. It makes hair feel silky-smooth, revives limp strands, and balances pH.

Related Stories