the truth about apple cider vinegar for acne

Is apple cider vinegar good for acne? Yes.

Should you use it? No.

Newsflash: just because something works, it doesn’t mean you should use it. Baking soda can exfoliate skin… and leave it a red, flaky, irritated mess.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is the same. For one person who swears ACV cured her acne, there’s another who’s got burnt (literally!) by it. WTH?!

It’s all in the pH. Get that wrong and ACV turns from your skin’s BFF to its worst enemy. Here’s what I mean:

What’s Apple Cider Vinegar And What Does It Do For Skin?

Vinegar is made when alcohol meets bacteria. These little buggers eat the alcohol and poop out the waste product, acetic acid. It’s this acid that gives vinegar its low pH.

Apple cider vinegar is fermented juice from crushed apples. It’s made up mostly of acetic acid, with some vitamins and minerals thrown in for good measure. It does 2 things for your skin:

  • Exfoliation: Acetic acid speeds up the skin’s natural exfoliating process so that dead cells don’t end up in your pores and clog them up.
  • Low skin’s pH: When your skin’s pH is too high (cleansing is a big culprit here!), your skin’s protective barrier breaks down, putting you at risk of dryness and inflammation. ACV lowers the pH, fixing the issue (… or not?).

Related: Why You Should Quit High pH Cleansers Now

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Apple Cider Vinegar For Acne: Does It Treat It?

In theory, apple cider vinegar looks like the perfect acne remedy. Here’s why:

1. Apple Cider Vinegar Keeps Pores Clear & Help Starve Acne Bacteria

Acne happens when your pores get clogged. It goes like this:

When your skin’s not exfoliating properly on its own, dead cells fall into your pores. There, they mix with excess oil, forming a mixture that clogs your pores. This mixture just happens to be P. Acnes’ fave food. The little buggers munch on it, giving you pimple after pimple.

If dead cells didn’t get stuck in the pores, P. Acnes wouldn’t have much to feast on. That’s where apple cider vinegar comes in. ACV is keratolytic, a fancy way of saying it helps dead skin cells shed faster. If they’re off your face, they can’t get stuck in the pores, right?

Related: 10 Reasons Why You Should Exfoliate Your Face For Clearer, Younger-Looking Skin

2. ACV Makes Skin Inhospitable For Acne

P. Acnes doesn’t just need food to grow. It needs a 6/7 pH, too. Apple cider vinegar has a 2/3 pH. That’s much, much lower than P. Acnes likes. By lowering the pH of your skin that much, ACV makes it almost impossible for acne bacteria to grow. Those that are already on your skin will die a slow death. That’s exactly what you want when you’re dealing with acne, right? Yes. BUT…

Is It Safe To Use Apple Cider Vinegar For Acne?

If you’re thinking, “Awesome! I’m gonna get myself some ACV now,” wait. It’s NOT all good news.

The low pH of apple cider vinegar isn’t bad news just for acne. It’s bad news for your skin, too. A pH of 2/3 is too harsh for your skin. It can cause inflammation, irritations and breakouts (the very thing you’re trying to avoid).

In the worst case scenario, ACV even causes burning. Yep, some people get BURNS when they put ACV on their skin. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Gio, don’t vitamin C and glycolic acid need a low pH to work their magic, too?”

Yes, – you’re absolutely right – they do. But they’re usually formulated in the 3.4-3.8 pH range. They rarely go lower than that – for a good reason.

When you use 100%, pure, undiluted ACV, you’re risking a serious case of irritation… or worse. If you must use this stuff (and I DON’T recommend it), at least dilute it to raise the pH to a skin-friendly level. Aim for a pH of 4. It’s high enough for ACV to work and low enough to scare off P. Acnes.

Does Apple Cider Vinegar Work For Acne Scars?

No, apple cider vinegar is NOT a treatment for acne scars. In fact, skincare products can’t really treat scars. There’s a reason why people go to the dermatologists to fix these issues. If splashing apple cider vinegar alone were enough to get rid of pitted or raised scars, no one would have them anymore. What apple cider vinegar can do is prevent scars by treating acne. But it’s not the miracle cure the natural community makes it out be.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Apple Cider Vinegar For Acne (And What To Do Instead)

Let’s say you’re willing to dilute ACV so you can get rid of acne without burning your skin. I still don’t recommend it. There’s a reason why you won’t find acetic acid (the acid in ACV that give its skin-beneficial properties) in skincare products. It just doesn’t work that well.

Better alternatives are:

Where can you find Glycolic acid and Salicylic acid? Here are my fave skincare products:

  • Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00): This exfoliant contains Salicylic Acid to remove blackheads on your nose and Glycolic Acid to brighten the complexion. Available at Cult BeautySephora and SpaceNK
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00): The texture’s a little sticky, but if you can tolerate that, it’s one of the best treatments for whiteheads (and all other types of acne). Available at DermstoreLook Fantastic and Paula’s Choice
  • The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80): A gentle, no-frills Glycolic Acid exfoliant for people on a budget. Available at Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty

Related: Salicylic Acid Vs Glycolic Acid: Which One Should You Choose?

The Bottom Line

There’s some anecdotal evidence that apple cider vinegar helps treat acne by exfoliating skin and making it an inhospitable environment for acne bacteria. But it’s very harsh for the skin and can cause irritations, breakouts and even burning. Why use it when there are safer alternatives?

Have you tried apple cider vinegar for acne? Share your experience in the comments below.