Many people swear by this humble pantry—and medicine cabinet—staple. Here’s what it can do for your skin, according to a dermatologist.

By Maggie Seaver
June 24, 2019
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The versatile wonders of apple cider vinegar have really made the mainstream rounds in recent years. Beyond its manifold and delicious uses in the kitchen, many people drink apple cider vinegar on its own, or diluted with water, to aid digestive health (thanks to good bacteria your gut loves) and even regulate blood sugar (by improving insulin function, studies have found).

But the benefits of apple cider vinegar inside the body are just the start; it’s also used topically for a wide range of skin, scalp, and hair benefits. Seriously, people swear by this stuff to improve skin issues of all kinds, from skin dullness to acne scars and age spots. And it’s not just another new skincare fad: “Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been used as a natural remedy for thousands of years,” says Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of MDhairmixtress.com. “In fact, it’s said that Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used ACV to help disinfect and treat skin wounds more than 2,000 years ago.”

Wondering if you should try using ACV for healthier skin? Here, Dr. Gathers breaks down everything you need to know, from ACV’s healing properties to common misconceptions and mistakes to watch out for.

Common Uses of Apple Cider Vinegar for Skin

“Many claim ACV can help [alleviate] eczema and acne, fade fine lines, and make skin appear brighter and more youthful,” Gathers says. “People use it as a toner for the skin and to help treat acne prone areas.”

But Dr. Gathers does caution that, despite the number of people who’ve fallen in love with it, these claims are purely anecdotal. “There is actually no good scientific study to prove the skin-healing claims of ACV,” she says. “Before jumping to ACV, I’d recommend getting evaluated by your dermatologist first.”

How Exactly Does Apple Cider Vinegar Benefit Skin?

Its composition can have many potential benefits for skin. “ACV has antibacterial and antifungal properties and can help kill bacteria and yeast on the skin related to conditions like acne, eczema, and dandruff,” Gathers explains. ACV’s high acidity level may also help some skin conditions (but note well: Its high acidity makes it necessary to dilute with water). To get a little technical: “Healthy skin lies on the acidic end of the pH spectrum. However, people with eczema can have an elevated skin pH, which can compromise the skin barrier and make it more prone to infections. Since ACV is acidic, it may help restore some of the skin’s natural pH,” Gathers says.

Beyond treating more troublesome skin conditions, ACV is coveted for more general cosmetic virtues too. “It contains citric acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (or AHA) used to exfoliate, brighten, and smooth [your complexion], as well as polyphenolic antioxidants, which might help improve the skin’s appearance,” she says.

How to Know If It’s Safe to Use on Your Skin

Before you jump right in and add an apple cider vinegar toner or soak to your skin care regimen, know this: ACV is not a cure-all, and might not be for everyone. “While it may be helpful for some people’s skin issues, it’s important to know there haven’t been any good studies to support the claims people make about using ACV as a skin treatment.” Gathers says. “Always check with your dermatologist first. ACV is acidic, and there are reported cases of people having severe skin irritation and even burns on the skin using it.”

If you do get the go-ahead from a doctor, here’s how to apply apple cider vinegar gently and safely to your skin, according to Dr. Gathers.

Test It First

Always do a spot test first on a discreet area (think: under your jawline) before swiping it onto your entire face.

ACV Facial Toner

To help clear excess oil or relieve acne-prone skin, try this toner solution. Dilute 1 tablespoon ACV in 2 cups of water. Using a cotton ball or round, swab the mixture gently over your skin, then rinse. “Don’t go all in right away,” Gathers suggests. “Start by using it two to three days a week to see how you react.”

ACV for Eczema

Mix 1 cup ACV into a tub of lukewarm bath water. Soak the affected areas for 15 to 20 minutes then rinse off with cool water. Follow with a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer.

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