When it comes to DIY beauty, the list of common at-home ingredients is getting longer and longer— baking soda, olive oil, apple cider vinegar. And now the latest addition to the list is vodka. Everybody’s favorite cocktail base has, as of late, been touted across the beauty internet as an alleged panacea for virtually all hair-related issues, from busting product buildup and restoring pH levels to boosting circulation, balancing sebum production, reducing shedding, preventing frizz, and tackling dandruff.
An exciting list, no doubt, but does vodka hold up to any of these claims? “There is no scientific evidence of vodka having any effect—positive or negative—on hair,” says Jodi LoGerfo, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, DCNP. Although vodka dates back hundreds of years, its role in modern haircare regimens is still relatively new. LoGerfo says there are, as of yet, no clinical studies that confirm any potential benefits.
Despite this, more and more people are adding vodka to their shampoos or using it as a rinse, so we decided to explore this exciting new ingredient at the clinical level with the help of LoGerfo and board-certified dermatologist Dustin Portela, DO.
Vodka for Hair
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Astringent, solvent, and anti-foaming agent.
MAIN BENEFITS: Reduces buildup, restores hair/scalp pH levels, balances sebum production, anti-dandruff, and prevents frizz.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Generally, most hair types can benefit from vodka in some way, especially oily or greasy, as well as frizz-prone hair. However, those with dry or damaged hair—as well as color-treated hair—should stay away.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Depending on how you use it, once a week is generally safe.
WORKS WELL WITH: Putting vodka in shampoo is how it’s most commonly used, but some people opt to use it as a rinse.
DON’T USE WITH: Any ingredient potentially drying or harsh to hair or scalp.
Is vodka the next big thing in home haircare, or is it better left mixed with cranberry juice and served on ice? Read on to find out.
Meet the Expert
- Jodi LoGerfo, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, DCNP, is a doctor of nursing practice and a family nurse practitioner certified in family medicine and dermatology with the Orentreich Medical Group in New York City.
- Dustin Portela, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist at Treasure Valley Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center in Boise, Idaho. He also shares tips with his 2.2 million+ TikTok followers.
What Is Vodka?
LoGerfo defines vodka as a clear distilled alcoholic beverage primarily composed of water and ethanol. It’s usually made from grains or potatoes and most vodkas are about 40 percent alcohol (80 proof). “Therefore, when we are looking at the effects of vodka on hair, we are really looking at the effects of ethanol on hair,” she says. As such, in exploring its benefits, we’ll focus primarily on ethanol as the active ingredient of vodka.
LoGerfo points out that ethanol is already used in many skincare, oral care, and body care products—including haircare—playing several roles that end up improving the feel and texture of the product. As a solvent, ethanol helps to dissolve other ingredients in a product, while allowing said ingredients to be delivered directly to the skin. Ethanol also helps to decrease the viscosity of products, so they’re easier to spread and therefore penetrate.
Ethanol is also an astringent, which can temporarily make skin feel tighter and toned (if you grew up in the '90s using Seabreeze, you know exactly what we mean), and LeGerfo says it could have the same effect on the scalp. Moreover, ethanol is an anti-foaming agent that’s added to prevent a product from foaming up—something to consider when adding vodka to shampoo.
Benefits of Vodka for Hair
The potential benefits of vodka for the hair area fall into two areas: on the hair itself or the scalp.
- Dandruff remedy: Dandruff, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a common skin issue that causes scaling, flaking, redness, and itching of the scalp, thought to be caused by a common skin yeast called Malassezia, LoGerfo explains. And because the yeast tends to thrive in “high fat” environments, the oil produced by the scalp is ideal for enhancing its growth. This, in turn, causes an inflammatory process that leads to scaling and the dreaded white flakes. The thinking behind using vodka in shampoo to treat dandruff lies in the fact that ethanol possesses bactericidal and fungicidal properties, which could have an effect on the dandruff-causing Malassezia yeast. “Vodka and other alcohols can act as an antiseptic by killing bacteria and other organisms on the skin,” Portela says. “However, it could also cause significant irritation on the scalp and lead to dryness.”
- Clarifying agent: “Vodka is also hyped to be a clarifying agent for hair,” Lo Gerfo says, “recommended [for removing] product buildup from both the hair and scalp.” She says this can be attributed to ethanol and its role in helping to regulate sebum.
- Anti-frizz treatment: LoGerfo explains how vodka’s low pH theoretically could reduce the conditions that lead to static and frizz. The pH of our scalp tends to be around 3.67, and anything applied to the hair with a pH higher than that causes an increase in the negativity of the electric charges of hair, thus increasing the likelihood of static electricity. Furthermore, she points out that using products with a pH higher than 5.5 could increase friction and cause hair to frizz, break, and tangle. “It makes sense, then, that since most vodkas have a pH of around 4, those who have used a vodka rinse have felt that their frizz is eliminated and that their cuticle scales become ‘sealed,’” leading to hair that’s shiny and more lustrous.
- Increase scalp circulation: As a vasodilator, LoGerfo explains that alcohol causes blood vessels to relax and widen, which fans of adding vodka to shampoo say increases circulation. However, she added that it becomes a vasoconstrictor at higher concentrations, shrinking the blood vessels and decreasing circulation. Therefore, the jury (and science) are still out on this one.
Hair Type Considerations
Based on the science we’ve just applied to the claims of vodka as a haircare savior, LoGerfo says those with chronic frizz problems and/or hair types that are excessively oily or greasy could be the ones to reap most from vodka's potential benefits. On the flip side, Portela says vodka could damage color-treated hair, so if this is you, consider skipping out.
How to Use Vodka for Hair
If intrigue gets the better of you and you’re determined to try vodka haircare for yourself, there are two ways to go about it.
- Mix with shampoo: Adding vodka to shampoo and thoroughly working it through your hair and scalp is one way to ensure every part of your hair comes into contact with it. However, this comes with two caveats. The first is that, as an anti-foaming agent, the ethanol might reduce the latherability of your shampoo. The second, according to Portela, is reactivity with other ingredients. “You have to be careful because this can lead to chemical reactions inside the bottle that you might not expect,” he says. “Commercial hair care products are formulated to be effective and stable for a designated shelf life and altering the composition of what's inside the bottle can change the formula's stability.”
- After-shampoo rinse: Perhaps better geared for those seeking vodka’s potential anti-frizz benefits, applying a post-shampoo rinse containing vodka will ensure maximum penetration since the hair and scalp will be free of products. The exact amounts are hazy (and both dermatologists were hesitant to make suggestions, owing to the lack of solid science), but one popular blog suggests using one cup of water to one tablespoon of vodka and applying immediately after washing.
As using vodka in haircare is still quite a new concept, there aren’t many brands who’ve jumped on the bandwagon yet. But we did manage to find one—Tiber River’s Vodka on the Locks ($12) shampoo, with an ingredients list that reads more like a screwdriver (vodka, orange juice, sweet orange peel) than a shampoo.
The Final Takeaway
As much fun as we had exploring the potential haircare benefits of vodka on a scientific level, both of our experts agree: Without the research and testing to back up using vodka to treat hair, you’re better off seeking commercial products that are formulated to treat specific scalp conditions.