Apple cider vinegar: What is it?
You may already be familiar with apple cider vinegar (ACV), as it is commonly used in cooking and cleaning products. However, it is becoming increasingly known for its many discovered natural health benefits.
ACV is made by fermenting the sugars from crushed apples, as helpful bacteria turn them into acetic acid. This is the main active ingredient in vinegar that gives it its sharp aroma and may be responsible for the wide array of health benefits associated with it.
Beyond its versatile uses in the kitchen, many people drink raw apple cider vinegar to aid important processes taking place inside our bodies. But the health benefits of apple cider vinegar inside the body are just the start; it's also used topically for a range of skin, scalp, and hair benefits.
Benefits of apple cider vinegar on the skin
Exfoliating acids and toners are a staple in skincare routines. If you are focused on improving the skin barrier integrity, ACV can be used to help achieve that perfect canvas. As a natural exfoliating acid, ACV contains acetic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA. This is the same family that includes glycolic, lactic, tartaric, mandelic and malic acids, the gold standard ingredients for glowing skin. Incorporating ACV into your daily skincare routine can even help manage conditions such as acne, atopic dermatitis, and body odour.
ACV also has the power to relieve various scalp conditions as well as transform the hair from dull and lifeless to glossy and healthy.
Acne-prone skin is often caused by a combination of hormones, bacteria and excess sebum. Dead skin cells, bacteria, and oil can build up and clog pores and hair follicles, leading to sebum not being able to escape, resulting in acne. The acetic acid in ACV has powerful antibacterial properties and may also help restore the natural pH balance of your skin. Its ability to destroy unwanted bacteria is essential for cleaning out the pores, preventing buildup, and balancing the skin pH to keep moisture in. Scientific evidence states that low doses of alpha hydroxy acids can lead to a significant decrease in the number of acne lesions and therefore acne scars.1
Atopic dermatitis, also known as atopic eczema, is an inflammatory skin condition that affects up to 2.4% of the population worldwide.2 The condition causes patches of skin to become cracked, swollen, dry, and sore. According to testimony on the National Eczema Associations blog, adding 2 cups of ACV to a warm bath can provide a moisture boost and can help soothe cracked and dry skin. The acidic pH of ACV aids in restoring the skin’s natural acidity level, which may therefore help protect the broken skin from any nasty bacterial infection. Any eczema-related swelling could also potentially be reduced by the anti-inflammatory characteristic of the ACV treatment.
If you suffer from body odour, applying ACV to your underarms is a very effective way of neutralising odour-causing bacteria on the skin. The acetic acid in ACV is responsible for killing the bacteria.3
Hair and scalp care
ACV diluted with water is commonly used as a hair rinse. This is because it is known to have a combination of properties that can help in the fight against dandruff and psoriasis, and can also help to revive dull hair. Here are some of the properties:
- Disinfectant: ACV is widely known as an antimicrobial and antifungal agent. Therefore it may help kill the unwanted microorganisms associated with scalp conditions such as dandruff
- Acidic: ACV is mildly acidic, with a low pH of 2 to 3, which can help balance your hair’s pH level and soothe any irritation
- Rich in enzymes: The enzymes in ACV can give your hair a shine boost. They smooth and seal hair cuticles, boosting the protective layer of your hair that contains all-important nutrients and moisture
- Exfoliator and Soother: ACV can help prevent dirt and dead skin cells from accumulating on the scalp, which can help minimise dandruff and flakiness
In terms of nutritional value, ACV contains virtually no carbohydrates, fats, or protein, with neither a substantial calorie nor nutrient output.4
ACV, however, can help suppress the appetite of people suffering from obesity and is a great source of vitamins C and B. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which helps the body absorb iron and maintain healthy tissue. Vitamin B is important for metabolism. ACV also offers a small amount of potassium, which is important for fluid regulation inside our cells.
Studies have been carried out that show the promise of ACV as an alternative therapy. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis have found consumption of ACV significantly decreased cholesterol, glucose, and HbA1C concentrations in the blood, thereby helping control blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.5
Side effects and other concerns
There can be possible adverse effects of using ACV as a remedy if used too frequently, incorrectly, or in large quantities. Make sure you are properly diluting ACV each time you use it, in order to lessen the risk of side effects.
- Tooth decay: The acidity of ACV can weaken tooth enamel over time, potentially leading to tooth decay
- Skin burns: Applying ACV directly onto the skin can cause chemical burns and skin irritation, especially if the vinegar is undiluted
- Gastrointestinal issues: Undiluted ACV can worsen symptoms in people with digestive problems such as stomach ulcers or acid reflux
Although used widely to help combat a number of health issues, there is the concern that very few studies have actually explored the potential side effects of regularly consuming ACV.
Apple cider vinegar is a popular organic home remedy that has been around for centuries in cooking and medicine. It has numerous benefits on the skin when used correctly, including:
- Visibly reducing acne lesions and scarring, thanks to its powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties
- Brightening and evening skin tone as a mild acid by exfoliation and removal of dead skin cells
- Preventing body odour
From a nutritional aspect, ACV contributes some micronutrients that the body needs to help carry out its processes. Since ACV has an acidic pH, the necessary measures, such as diluting in water, must be taken when consuming or applying to avoid potential adverse effects.
- Chlebus E, Serafin M, Chlebus M. Is maintenance treatment in adult acne important? Benefits from maintenance therapy with adapalene, and low doses of alpha and beta hydroxy acids. J Dermatolog Treat. 2019 Sep;30(6):568–71. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29873567/
- Urban K, Chu S, Giesey RL, Mehrmal S, Uppal P, Nedley N, et al. The global, regional, and national burden of atopic dermatitis in 195 countries and territories: An ecological study from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. JAAD International [Internet]. 2021 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Jan 17];2:12–8. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666328720300559
- Bjarnsholt T, Alhede M, Jensen PØ, Nielsen AK, Johansen HK, Homøe P, et al. Antibiofilm properties of acetic acid. Adv Wound Care (New Rochelle) [Internet]. 2015 Jul 1 [cited 2023 Jan 18];4(7):363–72. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4486441/
- Fooddata central [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 18]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/631198/nutrients
- Hadi A, Pourmasoumi M, Najafgholizadeh A, Clark CCT, Esmaillzadeh A. The effect of apple cider vinegar on lipid profiles and glycemic parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2021 Jun 29;21(1):179. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34187442/