Once forgotten in the depths of dusty condiment cabinets, apple cider vinegar (ACV) is no longer balsamic’s misunderstood stepsister — it’s a whole damn mood when it comes to holistic wellness.
ACV gets praise for its possible weight loss benefits, but if you’ve fallen down a natural skin care rabbit hole on the ’gram, you know it has complexion-clearing properties too.
But how exactly does a salad dressing ingredient boost your glow factor?
Experts say it’s all about the beneficial compounds that form when apple cider is fermented with yeast and other helpful bacteria to create ACV.
“ACV contains acetic acid, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties,” says Dr. Keira Barr, a dermatologist based in Gig Harbor, Washington. “It also contains alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like citric, lactic, and malic acids, which exfoliate the uppermost layers of the skin, and phenolic compounds, which are potent antioxidants.”
ACV contains acetic acid, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Still, slathering this smelly kitchen staple on your face may sound slightly less than intuitive — not to mention irritating. After all, ACV is largely composed of acids, and it’s been shown to cause chemical burns (yikes!) when applied directly to skin.
Curious if ACV can boost your complexion? Here’s the lowdown on what it can do for your face, how to use it safely (Hint: Dilute that sh*t!), and when to just say no.
Main benefits: antibacterial + antifungal properties, exfoliates with natural acids, balances pH
Research on ACV’s topical skin benefits is limited, but there’s a bit more info available about the natural fruit acids and polyphenols it contains. Here’s what we know.
Acne is primarily caused by bacteria on your skin or by hair follicles becoming clogged with oil and dead skin cells. The good news: ACV may help with both. The main acid in ACV is acetic acid, which has antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
“When acetic acid is used topically, it clears bacteria-related infections of the skin and conditions such as acne,” says Dr. Zenovia Gabriel, a dermatologist based in Newport Beach, California.
Additionally, the AHAs (such as citric acid) that ACV contains may be particularly helpful for comedonal acne, which is characterized by blackheads and clogged pores.
“Excess keratin causes dead skin cells to bind together, leading to clogged pores and acne,” explains Gabriel, “but AHAs help reduce follicular plugging by dissolving excess keratin.”
When acetic acid is used topically, it clears bacteria-related infections of the skin and conditions such as acne.
“Acne is also an inflammatory condition, and phenolic compounds in apple cider vinegar, such as epicatechin and caffeic acid, have anti-inflammatory properties,” says Barr.
Keep in mind: No studies have specifically looked at ACV’s acne-fighting potential. And if you have open lesions on your face from popped pimples, the acidic nature of ACV may make it too irritating.
Skin hyperpigmentation — dark spots caused by excess melanin production — can affect all skin types and is often triggered by sun exposure.
While there’s no scientific data on ACV’s ability to lessen the appearance of dark spots, some of its main AHA compounds look promising.
“ACV contains malic acid, which decreases melanin production to help lighten brown spots and hyperpigmentation,” says Gabriel. “And citric acid, which increases skin cell turnover, has been shown to decrease age spots.”
Exfoliate dull skin
Chemical exfoliants, including a variety of naturally derived AHAs, can be found in serums, toners, and cleansers that claim to smooth and brighten your complexion.
ACV contains several naturally exfoliating AHAs such as lactic, citric, and malic acids, which, according to Barr, help break down the topmost layer of dead skin to reveal skin that appears smoother and more hydrated.
Additionally, the caffeic acid in ACV has tissue-repairing properties and plays a role in collagen production, says Barr, which could help smooth the appearance of acne scars.
Balance skin pH
A good facial toner should remove excess dirt, shrink pores, and balance your skin’s pH — and ACV seems to check most of these boxes.
ACV is slightly acidic, just like your skin, which should hover around a pH of 5.0. But substances like strong soaps, which are more alkaline, can throw your skin’s pH out of whack and impair skin barrier function, leading to irritation.
“Therefore, when properly diluted, ACV can be used safely on skin — without stripping the epidermis — as a toner or balancing agent,” says Gabriel.
It’s not clear whether ACV actually has an effect on eczema.
It makes sense in theory: There’s speculation that ACV’s lower pH may improve barrier function in conditions where the skin’s pH is more alkaline, like eczema (aka atopic dermatitis).
However, in a small 2019 study, 22 people with eczema reported no significant symptom relief or improvements in the health of their skin barrier, and many even experienced additional irritation.
So, while ACV may help rebalance the pH of relatively healthy skin, it may be too irritating if your skin barrier is already compromised.
While ACV may temporarily tighten your skin due to its astringent (pore-constricting) properties, there’s no scientific evidence that it can treat wrinkles.
“While the acids in ACV can slough the dead top layer of skin, true wrinkles are deeper than the superficial epidermis, and ACV alone won’t eliminate them,” says Gabriel.
Eliminate skin tags
Skin tags are noncancerous growths of flesh that protrude from the skin. They generally become more common with age.
Some home remedies for skin tag removal include ACV. The general idea is that ACV will dry out the skin tag so it eventually falls off. But “acids have not been effective in eliminating or preventing skin tags,” says Gabriel.
If you want to ditch your skin tags, your best bet is to see a dermatologist who can freeze them off with a bit of liquid nitrogen.
Some sunburn-soothing remedies call for spritzing or soaking skin with a combination of ACV and water. But again, there’s no scientific evidence to support this.
While ACV does contain anti-inflammatory compounds, the naturally exfoliating nature of ACV may be too irritating when it’s applied to already-damaged sunburned skin.
Unless you’re using ACV as a spot treatment, you should always dilute it before application to prevent irritation and chemical burns.
“To avoid redness and irritation, the recommended dilution is 1 part vinegar to 3 or 4 parts water,” says Barr. If you have sensitive skin, open cuts, or eczema, you should dilute it even more — or take a pass.
Another pro tip: Apply a small test spot on your skin and watch for an adverse reaction. Wait at least a few hours. In the clear? Here are a few DIY treatments to consider.
ACV’s natural astringent properties and acidic pH make it a popular natural toner.
Combine 1 part ACV and 3 to 5 parts water (depending on your skin’s sensitivity level). Apply this mixture to your face with a cotton ball, leave it on for about 1 minute, and then rinse and apply moisturizer.
Over time, you can ramp up to 15 minutes but no longer, says Barr. Use it 1 to 3 times a week if your skin tolerates it.
ACV’s antibacterial and antifungal properties can help naturally rid your skin of impurities. Compared to harsh soaps, diluted ACV is more in line with your skin’s natural, slightly acidic pH.
Combine 1 tablespoon of ACV and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of warm water (depending on your skin’s sensitivity level). Apply the mixture to your face with a washcloth, and then rinse and apply your normal moisturizer.
ACV spot treatment
Due to its antibacterial, antifungal, and astringent properties, you can also use ACV to dry out blemishes and potentially halt their formation.
Simply soak a cotton swab in undiluted ACV and apply it to individual blemishes on your face.
Made with just five ingredients, this all-natural toner combines ACV with skin-clarifying sandalwood and clary sage essential oils, as well as witch hazel, which is known for its anti-inflammatory and astringent properties.
For a hit of ACV on the go — whether you want a full-face rubdown after a trip to the gym or a quick spot treatment on a new breakout — wipes and peel pads are the way to go. These wipes feature soothing rose, lavender, and chamomile.
Formulated by aesthetician Daniela Belmondo, this small-batch cleanser delivers a deep clean without drying your skin, thanks to a combo of hydrating aloe, skin-calming lavender and rose essential oils, and naturally exfoliating organic ACV.
Apple cider vinegar isn’t a magic bullet for your facial skin woes, and more research is needed on its topical benefits before we go all in.
But dermatologists acknowledge that ACV contains a range of beneficial science-backed compounds (including AHAs) that can help support a clear, balanced, and smooth complexion.
Using ACV on your face isn’t for everyone, though. If your skin barrier is already compromised or if you don’t properly dilute ACV (1 part ACV to at least 3 parts water), you could end up with irritation or chemical burns.
As always, call up your derm if you have concerns or personal questions.