Apple cider vinegar has become one of the darlings of natural skincare. With purported benefits like brighter, clearer skin, can you really blame anyone for risking smelling like a salad dressing if it means better skin? We've definitely done weirder things in the name of beauty. Even skincare experts agree that this fermented liquid can do great things for your skin. "Apple Cider Vinegar is not only famous as your favorite salad dressing and as a fat-melting elixir," says Dr. Michele Green, a board certified dermatologist based in New York City. "It also has lots of skincare benefits."
Because it can be found in your kitchen, the pantry staple may seem innocuous to try in a DIY skincare recipe. But before you go pouring the bottle all over your face, find out what dermatologists and skin experts have to say about the potential benefits and side effects as well as the best way to apply apple cider vinegar (hint: pouring the bottle all over your face is not recommended). Below, expert-approved ways to use apple cider vinegar for skin.
Apple Cider Vinegar
- Type of ingredient: Exfoliator
- Potential benefits: Balances pH, chemically exfoliates, and antibacterial.
- Who should use it: In general, people with oily and acneic skin.
- How often can you use it: The use of apple cider vinegar depends on what product and concentration you're using it in.
- Works well with: Anti-inflammatories.
- Don’t use with: Other acids, retinoids.
What is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar (aka ACV) is derived from apples and made by a process of fermentation. It comes in a liquid form and when used topically, it's commonly applied as a toner but can also act as a spot treatment. "[Apple cider vinegar] naturally has an acidic pH and can help balance the pH of the outer skin layer," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, Mount Sinai Hospital director of cosmetic and clinical research. As a vinegar, it contains acetic acid, which has antibacterial and keratolytic properties, and it also contains malic acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant.
Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar for Skin
Although there's not enough scientific evidence to support most of the claims made about apple cider vinegar, in theory, its properties could potentially provide the following skin benefits:
- Balances the skin's pH: Because apple cider vinegar can help balance the pH of the outer skin layer, according to Zeichner, it may keep your skin functioning optimally—that is, doing things like producing the right amount of oil and dealing with acne-causing bacteria.
- Exfoliates: "Apple cider vinegar contains malic acid, which is similar to alpha hydroxy acid," Green says. "Malic acid works well on acne-prone skin as it gently exfoliates to unclog the pores and eliminate bacteria."
- Fights blackheads: According to Green, apple cider vinegar, which has anti-bacterial assets, can also be mixed with baking soda and water to exfoliate and help diminish blackheads.
- Improves hyperpigmentation: Green says the malic acid in apple cider vinegar may be helpful for clearing up any hyperpigmentation issues, like dark spots. "Malic acid is known for its ability to decrease the production of melanin," she says. "Melanin is what gives the skin its pigmentation; therefore, malic acid is great at improving hyperpigmentation."
Side Effects of Apple Cider Vinegar
Because the chemical exfoliant malic acid is more mild than most AHAs, Green notes that it's suitable for all skin types—just make sure to patch test any new products on your skin beforehand. Other components of apple cider vinegar can be irritating and drying to the skin, and studies show the acetic acid found in apple cider vinegar can cause chemical burns. An easy way to avoid this is just to dilute the formula more than is recommended if it ends up being too harsh.
How to Use It
Apple cider vinegar is very strong and, as we mentioned, can cause chemical burns. For this reason, it should always be diluted with water first before applying it to the skin—generally, a ratio of one part apple cider vinegar to four parts water.
Like many, Sophia Roe, a natural-beauty expert, holistic chef, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council, recommends using it as a toner. "It’s a beauty product–saturated world we live in," Roe explains, "So many are using multiple cleansers, masks, etc. Over time, this can disrupt the skin's natural defenses." Once that happens, you open your skin up to things like breakouts and dry skin. "Using ACV as a quick toner is a great way to restore the skin's natural defenses, remove excess dirt, and helps fight against acne,” she says.
Cosmetic chemist Ginger King, CEO of Grace Kingdom Beauty, concurs. "It's been used as a toner due to its acidity," she says, "and dilution is recommended, especially for sensitive skin."
"Apple cider vinegar is remarkable at fighting acne-causing bacteria and helps to reduce the appearance of both pimples and scars," Valerie Grandury, founder of Odacité, says. Her recommendation is to use it as an overnight spot treatment by mixing a bit of it with a powder mask like Odacité Synergie Immediate Skin Perfecting Mask ($64) until it forms a poultice, then applying it to your blemish and leaving it on overnight.
The Best Products With Apple Cider Vinegar
This is just your standard bottle of apple cider vinegar—good for drinking or use in at-home skincare remedies.
Made for people with oily and problematic skin, this toner is extremely potent thanks to its inclusion of not only apple cider vinegar, but glycolic and salicylic acids. If you have lots of acne or need a more intense toner, this is a good option to look into.
Apple cider vinegar isn't the kind of ingredient that needs to be reserved for your face—in fact, this rinse from dpHUE is a beauty editor favorite. Although some choose to make their own rinses from ACV, this one is fortified with aloe and lavender meant to repair and cleanse the scalp. It also doesn't strip your scalp of the natural oils that keep it healthy.
Dermatological peels aren't one-size-fits-all, but when it comes to peel pads we too often forget that. Luckily, these apple cider vinegar-based peel pads are meant for everyday, so they're gentle enough that if you have sensitive skin you can use them occasionally. You should start with once or twice a week, as the brand recommends, but if you have tougher skin you can go up from there.
Marie Veronique is an esthetician-favorite brand, and kind of a queen of serums. So her collaboration with skincare specialist Kristina Holey comes as no surprise, but is exciting regardless. This particular serum contains AHAs, BHAs, and vitamins B5 and B3 in order to decongest your skin and bring it to tip-top shape.
Meow Meow Tweet is another natural brand that picked up on apple cider vinegar's potential detoxifying, exfoliating, and anti-acneic properties—properties which make it perfect for use in toners.
This foam cleanser uses apple cider vinegar and willow bark to cleanse your skin gently but effectively, and manages to balance the pH of your skin while doing so.
Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the skin. Molecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863
Bunick CG, Lott JP, Warren CB, Galan A, Bolognia J, King BA. Chemical burn from topical apple cider vinegar. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;67(4):e143-e144. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2011.11.934