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Apple Cider Vinegar For Acne: Can It Help and How to Use It?

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

apple cider vinegar for acne

Over the years, apple cider vinegar has become a popular ingredient for many home remedies. It’s believed that apple cider vinegar can play a role in health objectives such as lowering blood sugar[1], controlling appetite or supporting weight loss[2], and even reducing the risk of cancer through antioxidant properties[3]. Some people even swear by soaking your feet in apple cider vinegar to take advantage of its benefits. While there’s still a need for more scientific evidence, it’s possible that it also offers its claimed natural benefits to your skin. 

Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting the juice of cut and squeezed apple pieces. When this juice is fermented, it becomes more acidic. In fact, it contains organic acids like citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid, glycolic acid, and acetic acid, all of which may work against skin imperfections.

It is believed that using apple cider vinegar can kill the bacteria that cause acne, protect the skin barrier from impurities, and improve the appearance of acne scars over time. With these possibilities, there’s no wonder why apple cider vinegar has become a prominent ingredient in do-it-yourself (DIY) recipes for at-home skincare or why its powers have even been harnessed in gummy form. Some people contend that drinking[4] diluted apple cider vinegar can decrease acne by affecting skin tissue colonization, but research supporting this practice is limited.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne

While more research is necessary to fully understand apple cider vinegar’s ability to prevent and treat acne-prone skin, its properties assert the possibility that it can be very helpful in a skincare routine. Based on its components, we know there are potential side effects to its use, but we can also make informed assumptions about its capabilities, such as

1. It Has Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties 

When making apple cider vinegar (ACV) through the fermentation process acetic acid is created, known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. This acid can be influential in killing the bacteria that cause acne. Furthermore, research has found that citric acid and lactic acid also attack pesky bacteria, specifically acne caused by the Propionibacterium bacteria. 

2. It May Help Balance the Skin’s pH

On the pH scale of 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline), ACV typically lies between two and three, while healthy intact skin usually has a pH of 5.5. Skin with issues such as rosacea or eczema tends to have a higher pH, so it would seem that using ACV would help lower skin pH back down to its more acidic level. However, more research is needed to understand the validity of such a claim. 

3. It Acts as a Chemical Exfoliant 

Apple cider vinegar is full of alpha-hydroxy acid compounds like lactic, citric, glycolic, and malic acids, which can be found in our favorite facial peels and other standard treatments. When these alpha-hydroxy acids meet the skin, a chemical exfoliation occurs. This exfoliation can help reduce the appearance of dark spots or acne scars by removing the dark pigment in the scar tissue when dead skin cells are sloughed away. 

How To Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne

Applying apple cider vinegar directly to the skin is not recommended as its high acidity could do more harm than good. To safely use ACV for face care, it needs to be highly diluted before applying it to the skin to protect the skin barrier function and avoid killing the beneficial bacteria. It can be used to create a face wash, exfoliant, and toner. Each person’s skin may require a diluted solution in different ratios, but three uses for apple cider vinegar for acne include

1. Face Wash

Washing your face daily removes dirt, oil, and other impurities from your skin. Using a gentle cleanser with apple cider vinegar can increase acidity and help fight the harmful bacteria that may cause acne. If you are making an apple cider face wash from scratch, you will only want to use one tablespoon of ACV for every 1/4 cup of warm water. Before using the wash on your entire face, consider testing a small area of your skin to determine tolerance.

 2. Toner

Toner aims to cleanse and tighten the skin to help protect it from bacteria and other debris. Because of its components, when used as a toner, apple cider vinegar acts as an astringent. Astringents help dry out oil, minimize pores and cleanse the skin. To create your own apple cider vinegar toner, use one part apple cider vinegar for every three to five parts water, depending on your skin type. 

3. Acne Spot Treatment 

If treating a minor blemish or pimple, you may apply ACV as a spot treatment. Placing a small amount of ACV on the spot or blemish may help prevent the pimple from fully forming by killing the acne-causing bacteria before they can multiply. However, due to its high acidity, it is not recommended to use on an open wound or popped pimple. 

Side Effects of Apple Cider Vinegar

There is still much research to be done regarding apple cider vinegar and its potential role in treating and preventing acne. We can only draw conclusions based on its research-backed properties. Just as we can speculate potential benefits based on its components and studies completed thus far, we can also note potential risks or side effects. 

There is always the potential for an adverse reaction, especially for sensitive skin. In fact, if ACV is not diluted correctly, it has the potential to give you superficial chemical burns. As mentioned above, ACV is highly acidic, so it may cause chemical burns or skin irritation if applied to the skin for extended periods. Drinking improperly diluted ACV may cause chemical burns to the esophagus, stomach, and intestines.

Just as you would with any other acids, it’s best to avoid using apple cider vinegar on sensitive skin or open wounds in order to avoid the risk of chemical burn or further damage. For example, one study[5] found that the use of ACV actually had no positive effects on the skin of people affected by atopic dermatitis. Yet it did increase irritation in most participants. 

Furthermore, ACV may not be ideal for all skin types. If you typically have dry skin, products with ACV may dry it out even more. Results may look different for those with excess oil or oily skin. No matter if you use organic apple cider vinegar or other high-quality sources to create your products, your skin type may not react well.

Any severe acne with open wounds or pimples that have been popped may sting significantly with the use of ACV. Of course, if you have severe acne or even mild acne, it is always best to consult a board-certified dermatologist before adding home remedies to your acne treatment.

The Bottom Line

Apple cider vinegar has built quite the fan club over recent years, but does it work when it comes to maintaining healthy skin? Additional research is needed before we can safely put our full trust in its claims regarding our skin barrier function and use apple cider vinegar for pimples. It has the potential to offer many benefits when dealing with acne, as its acidic nature leads us to believe it can kill harmful bacteria while also exfoliating and tightening the skin. However, it’s unclear to what degree diluting ACV with water changes its capabilities for fighting acne and if the skincare benefits outweigh the side effects.

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  1. Yamashita, H. (2015). Biological Function of Acetic Acid–Improvement in Obesity and Glucose Tolerance by Acetic Acid in Type 2 Diabetic Rats. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, [online] 56(sup1), pp.S171–S175. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26176799/ ‌
  2. Tomoo KONDO, Mikiya KISHI, Takashi FUSHIMI, Shinobu UGAJIN & Takayuki KAGA (2009) Vinegar Intake Reduces Body Weight, Body Fat Mass, and Serum Triglyceride Levels in Obese Japanese Subjects, Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 73:8, 1837-1843, DOI: 10.1271/bbb.90231
  3. Liu, Q., Tang, G.-Y., Zhao, C.-N., Gan, R.-Y. and Li, H.-B. (2019). Antioxidant Activities, Phenolic Profiles, and Organic Acid Contents of Fruit Vinegars. Antioxidants, [online] 8(4), p.78. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6523695/ ‌
  4. Yagnik, D., Serafin, V. and J. Shah, A. (2018). Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Scientific Reports, [online] 8(1). Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-18618-x ‌
  5. Luu, L.A., Flowers, R.H., Kellams, A.L., Zeichner, S., Preston, D.C., Zlotoff, B.J. and Wisniewski, J.A. (2019). Apple cider vinegar soaks [0.5%] as a treatment for atopic dermatitis do not improve skin barrier integrity. Pediatric Dermatology, [online] 36(5), pp.634–639. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/pde.13888 ‌
Chelsea Rae Bourgeois

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a background in fitness and athletics. She has worked as a dietitian in the clinical setting for the past seven years, helping a wide variety of patients navigate their health through nutrition. She finds joy in sharing her passions through her freelance writing career with the hopes of helping people embrace their health and live their lives to the fullest.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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