How To Use Apple Cider Vinegar For Acne

Some people think that apple cider vinegar is a "cure-all" that can help clear up acne. Since it is acidic, it might make sense to think that it has astringent properties that can help treat oily skin and even open up pores that have become clogged.
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apple cider vinegar for acne treatment
Apple cider vinegar is a popular natural treatment for acne because it has AHAs that kill bacteria and help remove dead skin.

There are many things you can do at home to make your skin look better (praise Mother Nature’s dermatology skills, am I right?). A little extra glow with turmeric? Check. Avocado for a moisture boost? Yes, thank you. What about using apple cider vinegar to treat acne? Some people swear by it, even though it sounds weird and smells bad.

Sejal Shah, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says that just because apple cider vinegar is not a scientifically proven acne treatment doesn’t mean it won’t work. It has a lot of things that dermatologists often suggest for acne (more on that below). “There haven’t been any specific scientific studies on apple cider vinegar for acne, but the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar can kill bacteria and get rid of skin growths like warts and calluses.” In other words, it might help get rid of your bumps where they start.

Ellen Marmur, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and the founder of MMSkincare, agrees with this and thinks apple cider vinegar might help with certain types of breakouts. “I don’t think apple cider vinegar can actually cure acne, but I do think it can help whiteheads dry out.”

What are the skin benefits of apple cider vinegar?

For some types of skin, making an apple cider vinegar toner as a home acne remedy may help remove dead skin and keep acne at bay. For some people, though, it might not work, and if it’s not diluted, it could cause irritation. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar is best for skin care and many other health-boosting uses both inside and outside the body, like putting it on your hair and scalp.

This is because unfiltered apple cider vinegar has something called the “mother,” which is made up of bacteria and enzymes that give the vinegar many of its health benefits. Even though there haven’t been any studies on apple cider vinegar and acne, it does have a lot of properties that have been studied and may be why it’s said to help with breakouts:

It may help balance the skin’s pH

If you’ve ever tasted or smelled apple cider vinegar, you know right away that it’s acidic—like, very acidic. On a scale from 0 (acid) to 14 (alkaline), the pH of apple cider vinegar is between 2 and 3. With an ideal pH level of 5.5, healthy skin with a strong and intact barrier is also slightly acidic. Skin with a damaged barrier, like that of people with eczema or rosacea, is usually more alkaline and has a higher pH level.

So, it makes sense that putting apple cider vinegar on your skin could help restore its natural, slightly acidic pH levels, but some dermatologists and research studies don’t support this. “It has been said that the lower pH of ACV may help rebalance the skin’s pH and improve skin barrier function in conditions like atopic dermatitis, where the pH is more alkaline,” says holistic board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. “But [some] studies don’t back that up.”

It acts as a chemical exfoliant

Apple cider vinegar is also a good chemical exfoliant that works well. It’s naturally full of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which help get rid of dead skin. Some of these acids are the same ones used in our favorite toners and facial peels. Barr says that apple cider vinegar has “alpha-hydroxy acids” like lactic, citric, and malic acids.

When put on the skin, these acids “slough off the top layers of skin, making the skin look smoother and more hydrated.” We know that using chemical exfoliants regularly over time can also help even out and smooth the skin tone, which could make acne scars less noticeable. Barr says that this may be true anecdotally and in theory, but there isn’t good scientific evidence to back up ACV’s ability to fade acne scars right now.

It has antifungal and antibacterial properties

Even without exfoliation, these natural AHAs are still useful. For example, acetic acid “has antifungal and antibacterial properties that may help kill the acne-causing bacteria,” says Barr.

Research has also shown that both citric acid and lactic acid can kill the bacteria on the skin called Cutibacterium acnes, which used to be called Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes. This type of bacteria has been linked to the development of acne.

Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help With Acne?

Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills and founder of Ava MD, says that apple cider vinegar has been used for a long time to clean and treat skin problems. If you like to make your own beauty products and get acne often, it might be worth a shot. “When ACV is fermented, a key compound called acetic acid is made, which is well known for being antibacterial and antifungal,” says Dr. Shamban. “ACV works well because of this acid and because it has a lot of malic acid in it.” Malic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid, which means it helps remove dead skin.

She says that the antibacterial, antifungal, and exfoliating properties of apple cider vinegar can help fight acne. She says, “Bacteria, sebum, dead skin cells, and other things that gather on the surface of the skin clog your pores, which leads to acne vulgaris.” “One of the most important things you can do to treat and manage acne is to try to reduce the number of bacteria on your skin or stop them from growing.”

Also, apple cider vinegar, which has an acidic pH of 2 to 3, can help restore the pH balance of the skin, which is another way to fight acne. The best pH for skin is 5.5, but things in the environment can throw it off, making it less acidic.

Dr. Shamban says, “The pH of skin is acidic, which is thought to help protect it from bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.” Your skin has an acid mantle, which is a thin layer that keeps viruses and bacteria from getting in through the top. Cosmetics and other things with a higher pH than the acid mantle can change the acid mantle’s pH and, by extension, its ability to protect the body.

How to Use It

We’ve already said that apple cider vinegar is very strong and can cause chemical burns. Because of this, it should always be mixed with water before being put on the skin. In general, one part apple cider vinegar to four parts water is a good ratio. Consider adding it to your skincare routine in the following ways:

It can be used as a toner. “We live in a world full of beauty products,” says Sophia Roe, a natural beauty expert, holistic chef, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. “Many people use more than one cleanser, mask, etc. This can weaken the skin’s natural defenses over time. ” Once that happens, you leave your skin vulnerable 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 help fight acne,” she says. Ginger King, CEO of Grace Kingdom Beauty and a cosmetic chemist, agrees. “Because it is acidic, it has been used as a toner,” she says. However, it is best to dilute it, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Try it as a spot treatment: Valerie Grandury, founder of Odacité, says, “Apple cider vinegar is great at killing the bacteria that cause acne, and it also helps reduce the look of pimples and scars.” She says to use it as an overnight spot treatment by mixing a little bit with a powder mask like Odacité Synergie Immediate Skin Perfecting Mask ($64) until it forms a poultice, then putting it on the blemish and leaving it on overnight.

Make your own facial cleanser. You shouldn’t put apple cider vinegar directly on your skin, but mixing ACV with water makes a simple and effective facial cleanser that you can make yourself. 
Use it as a skin scrub: ACV is great for gently removing dead skin because it contains malic acid. To get the most benefits, take a bath with a cup of apple cider vinegar and warm water. It only takes 15 minutes to get soft skin.

Who shouldn’t use it?

Those who already have dry skin may find that an apple cider vinegar toner is too drying. If you put apple cider vinegar on an open wound like a pimple or pustule that has come to a head (or been popped), it might also hurt. If you have very sensitive skin or a lot of acne, your skin barrier is usually broken, so it’s best to talk to a dermatologist before using any DIY mixtures on your face, whether they contain ACV or not. “Putting ACV directly on the skin can be very bad, especially for people with very sensitive skin,” says Barr. “If it is put on the skin at full strength, it could cause redness, irritation, and severe chemical burns.”

In Conclusion

In short, research has shown that the acidic compounds in apple cider vinegar, which include powerful alpha-hydroxy acids, work to both remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and kill the bacteria that cause acne. Some of the other claimed benefits of apple cider vinegar, like its ability to fade acne scars and restore balance to skin with a damaged barrier, are less clear. But you’ll hear a lot of first-person stories about how great it is. Just think about how you’re going to use it.


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