Hold Up—Does Vinegar Really Lock in Hair Dye?

Apple cider vinegar in a variety of cups

Tawni Bannister / Byrdie

Vinegar is a multi-faceted tool. It can be used to clean, cook, and keep unwanted pests out of the garden. But did you know that it can also be used on your hair?

Don’t act too fast, though. Vinegar is available in many variations, and when it comes to using it on hair—particularly dyed hair—those variations matter. As it turns out, it's a matter of chemistry, really. To help us make sense of it all, we tapped board-certified trichologist Penny James and celebrity colorist Justin Anderson. Keep reading to find out what they have to say about how vinegar can impact the health of our strands, scalp, and hair color.

Meet the Expert

  • Justin Anderson is a celebrity colorist and co-founder of dpHUE
  • Penny James is a professional board-certified trichologist and the owner of Penny James Salon in New York City.

What Is Vinegar?

The basic makeup of vinegar consists of acetic acid and water. While there is a variety of vinegar out there, only one type of vinegar is expert-recommended for use on your hair, especially if it's color treated: apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar is the holy grail of vinegar for our strands and scalps, and its makeup is slightly different than that of plain white vinegar. Crushed apples, yeast, and sugar are the main ingredients that differentiate ACV. James says this makes this type of vinegar safe for our strands, telling us that it's all about our pH levels. pH is used to measure the acidity and alkalinity of any aqueous solution. “Vinegar is very acidic,” James tells us. If our hair’s pH ratio has too much alkaline to acid, “it will leave the hair porous, causing the structure of the strand to become weak, vulnerable, and prone to breakage.” If your hair or scalp is already too acidic on its pH scale, adding more acid can create “acute dryness, affecting the skin and hair.” Due to the yeast and apples, apple cider vinegar is typically slightly less acidic than its white vinegar counterpart. So how does this tie into our hair color?

Can Vinegar Set Your Hair Color?

The pH level of apple cider vinegar will help re-seal the cuticle after a color treatment, says James. Due to the acidic properties of vinegar, when emulsified into the hair after a color treatment or shampoo, apple cider vinegar can close the surface of those cuticles after water and a color treatment’s pH levels—which are typically alkaline—have opened them up. “Sealing the hair’s cuticle is what locks in your hair color,” says Anderson.

So in short, yes, using apple cider vinegar can help set and preserve your hair color’s lifespan. “The more firmly closed your hair cuticle is, the less likely your color is going to fade," says James.

Risks of Vinegar on Colored Hair

Have you ever heard the saying, "too much of a good thing"? Well, it’s pretty applicable to the situation. If you use straight ACV alone, you might experience some unwanted side effects from its lower pH and higher acidity. “Using vinegar alone can strip your hair color and leave a scent behind,” says Anderson. The trick to getting that bright, prolonged color and the other added perks of ACV is to use it in a diluted solution.

How Can You Use Vinegar if You Have Colored Hair?

Regular shampoo can end up stripping your hair color, especially if your washing frequency is every day. On top of that, the natural oils that your hair and scalp produce—and need to retain to remain healthy—are likely getting stripped away from excessive washing. That’s why Anderson suggests an ACV rinse in place of too-frequent shampoos. "It's rare for me to even shampoo my hair anymore," he tells us. "All the cleanse you need, without dulling down your hair color investment, can be found in an ACV rinse."

Using ACV on colored hair offers plenty of benefits beyond keeping your hair’s pH levels balanced. “It can increase your hair’s natural shine and gently exfoliate the scalp, allowing you to cleanse the hair naturally without stripping away the good stuff that your hair and scalp need,” says Anderson. “This is why I’m obsessed with dpHUE’s ACV Hair Rinse ($37)–it removes unwanted buildup and cleanses the hair and scalp without stripping away your hair color or essential oils your hair and scalp need. If you have fine hair that gets oily or weighed down easily, opt for the ACV Hair Rinse Lite ($37)." 

Alternative Rinses for Colored Hair

While there aren't other types of vinegar that can give you the same effect of loaded benefits for hair and scalp, one alternative worth mentioning is coconut oil. "Interestingly enough, coconut oil is also a great anti-inflammatory on the skin," says James. "The oil's properties can help close the hair cuticle and retain moisture, making it a helpful alternative after a color service." While there are many benefits to be had from using coconut oil on the hair, it could leave a minor coating that's felt on finer strands. Coarser hair and textured hair types, however, can reliably soak up the perks of both.

The Final Takeaway

Apple cider vinegar is a hair hero for colored strands. A diluted ACV solution will help re-seal hair cuticles and protect them from breakage and other vulnerabilities that may come with an imbalanced pH level after color treatments. Replacing every other shampoo with an ACV rinse can brighten your color and gently exfoliate the scalp, leaving you with shinier, healthier hair and a prolonged lifespan on your color investment.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  4. ohnston CS, Gaas CA. Vinegar: medicinal uses and antiglycemic effectMedGenMed. 2006;8(2):61.

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