Apple Cider Vinegar for your Skin
Vinegar and Skin Treatments
Apple cider vinegar uses and benefits for the skin
Apple cider vinegar (ACV for short) has been used to treat and heal wounds for at least 2,500 years. Its acidic nature has a biocidal activity as proven by its use as a natural preservative for pickled vegetables, where it keeps microbial contamination to a minimum.
It is these antiseptic properties as a germicide coupled to its acid nature that make it a popular choice in "natural" home-made cosmetics. However, how effective is it? and, how safe is it to apply vinegar -even diluted vinegar- on the skin?
Quack claims and dangerous side-effects
Holistic websites offering "natural" diets and products may promote apple cider vinegar as a: mole remover, topical cure for nail fungus, warts or molluscum contagiosum infections, skin whiteners, or as an acne treatment.
These uses may entail the risk of irritation and even burns to the skin. Visit our Apple Cider Vinegar Side Effects webpage and learn about the risks, especially the burns!
Having said this, there are some proven reliable treatments based on vinegar, as we will see below.
Vinegar is effective to treat Eczema - Atopic Dermatitis
Application of vinegar on the skin (this is known as "Topical" application) has proven to be an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis.
Lee (2016) studied the effect of increased skin acidity on eczema as a treatment for atopic dermatitis (1).
Atopic dermatitis (or AD) is a very common type of eczema that affects over 18 million Americans. Its cause is unknown and may be linked to genetics (it runs in families), immune system triggers (it is more frequent in people with asthma or hay fever).
It is called "atopic" because it is an inborn predisposition toward developing allergic hypersensitivity reactions.
It causes inflammation of the skin, a condition known as "dermatitis": skin swells, itches, and becomes red, cracked, and scaly (also known as eczema).
There is no cure for AD but avoiding harsh soaps and the use of medicated ointments and keeping the skin moisturized helps prevent outbreaks.
Skin alkalinity and Dermatitis
Studies have shown that the skin becomes more alkaline in inflamed skin, as is the case of atopic dermatitis.
Lee reduced the alkalinity by adding an acid (such as vinegar) to return the skin to its normal acidic pH and eliminate the symptoms of AD.
The tests were done on mice and the study proved that those treated with acidic creams presented fewer AD lesions, lower eczema scores. They also lost less water across the skin barrier which improved their skin's hydration.
The effect was the same regardless of the type of acid used (in the study they tested vinegar and hydrochloric acid), so it is not a property of the vinegar, but acids in general.
It Works on Varicose Veins
Atik (2016) studied a group of 120 patients suffering from varicose veins who were instructed to apply apple cider vinegar alongside their usual medical treatment; they were evaluated for pain, cramps, leg fatigue, swelling, itching, pigmentation, and their social appearance anxiety (2).
The symptoms decreased in the subjects using apple cider vinegar, compared to a control group that did not use it. The study concluded that "the external application of apple vinegar on varicosity patients, which is a very easy application, increased the positive effects of conservative treatment."
So, as we have seen, vinegar is an effective treatment for varicose veins and atopic dermatitis. Let's see other dermatologic uses:
A typical use mentioned frequently on the internet is to put a vinegar compress on a sunburn to relieve the pain. But is it safe?
You should avoid getting sunburned in the first place. Protect your skin with a suitable sunscreen with the correct SPF, wear protective clothing (hat, clothes), and if you have the bad luck of getting burned, you should never apply an acid on your sensitive sunburned skin.
A cool compress with ice-cold water will help reduce inflammation (sunburned skin turns red and inflamed), keep hydrated, take a cool shower, avoid harsh irritant soaps, apply a moist lotion (avoid petroleum or oil-based lotions). You could even take an anti-inflammatory drug which will reduce inflammation and pain, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. These medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and like all medications, NSAIDs have side effects and may not be right for everyone. Check if they are suitable for you before taking them (3).
Clinical trials conducted by the University of Birmingham in England have shown that vinegar is effective as an antibacterial on open burn wounds (Halstead, 2015) (4). Of course, this therapeutical application of vinegar should only be done by trained physicians. The University team points out that "people should not self-apply vinegar in the case of a burn however; but should go to hospital as normal. The acetic acid treatment would only be required in serious burns where infection can become a problem" (5).
This is a classic use dating back for centuries, it is mentioned in the famous nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill", in the stanza:
"Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And plastered his head
With vinegar and brown paper."
Vinegar soaked brown paper was a typical home-cure method used in the 1700s and 1800s to draw out bruises on the body (Roberts, 2004) (6).
It is mentioned in Chambers Encyclopaedia (1868) as a relief for the pain and heat caused by sprains (diluted vinegar poultice), as a remedy for a toothache (Cottager's Monthly Visitor - 1849) where the cataplasm is applied to the face and tied with a handkerchief before bedtime (7).
Charles Dickens mentions it in Nicholas Nickleby, where the character Squeers uses it to cure bruising after an attack.
However, there is no scientific proof of its effectiveness in curing bruised skin.
ACV has been proposed as a treatment for psoriasis in a patent application (Albazi, 1996) which uses a formulation based on diluted wite wine vinegar, garlic, and radish plant seeds (8).
But there is no scientific evidence of its effectiveness.
Vinegar and Acne
We have dedicated a page exclusively for this application of vinegar:
Pimples, acne, how to use ACV to treat them.
Treatment for infected ulcerations
Acetic Acid 0.25% concentration soaks (made from vinegar-water) are used to treat infected ulcerations.
The treatment consists of soaking the affected areas twice a day for 10 minutes, drying gently, and then applying a medicated cream as indicated by a dermatologist.
It reduces the level of microorganisms and helps to abate odor and to remove crust and debris (9).
The formulation for preparing 1 Quart of this soak is:
- 3 Tbsp white vinegar + 1 Quart luke-warm water.
We must warn you that acetic acid is not approved by the FDA for topical wound irrigation (10).
Vinegar (acetic acid or ethanoic acid) is found in many personal care products and cosmetics. Some shampoos, hair rinses, hair conditioners, and skincare products contain vinegar.
Skin is acidic (its pH ranges from 4 to 6.5). This acid mantle forms a protective barrier against the microbes present in the environment. The acidity decreases from 4 on the skin's outermost layer to almost neutral pH in its deepest layers. Acidic skin is softer and thinner than alkaline skin, so the use of a dilute weak acid like vinegar to promote this effect (as mentioned above in atopic dermatitis) makes sense.
Below we mention some patent applications and the formulations described in them:
Formula F Cream
This cream is one of apple cider vinegar uses for skin and is mentioned in a patent by Diane Bunker (2004) (11). The inventor credits it to Paavo Airola's book "Swedish Beauty Secrets".
The Formula F Cream is a moisturizer and softener for the skin:
- 1 ⁄ 2 cup sesame oil
- 1 ⁄ 4 cup avocado oil
- 1 ⁄ 4 cup almond oil
- 2 fresh egg yolks
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
A patent application by Pohlad and Gregg (2015) describes a formulation for an ACV Hair Rinse and mentions apple Cider vinegar as the "backbone" of the hair rinse product. The supposed beneficial properties as claimed in the patent are (12):
- It contains not only acetic acid, but also citric, malic, formic, and lactic acids.
- ACV closes the hair cuticle, flattening its scales and hardening the outer layer, a smooth cuticle reflects light better making hair look shinier.
- Closed cuticle scales retain water in the hair shaft resulting in stronger hair
- It shrinks hair diameter which makes it smoother and softer.
- It removes oils and dirt allowing them to bond to water making it easier to rinse them out of the hair.
- ACV has more vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytosterols than other vinegars
Described by Xuan, (2015) its formula is the following (parts by weight) (13):
- 22-28 parts of edible white vinegar
- 20-30 parts of tea oil
- 10-14 parts of beeswax
- 10-30 parts of beer
- 10-17 parts of soybean saponin
- 3-5 parts of an aloe extract
Vinegar has been proven effective in treating some skin health issues such as atopic dermatitis, varicose veins, and as an antiseptic for severe burns.
It is used in some skincare cosmetics, hair rinses, and shampoos.
Other uses are discouraged (treating sunburns, or topical application on the skin) because vinegar can provoke burns if applied on sensitive skins.
Visit our webpage where we discuss its Side Effects:
The risks and adverse effects of ACV.
References and Further Reading
(1) Noo Ri Lee et al., (2016). Application of Topical Acids Improves Atopic Dermatitis in Murine Model by Enhancement of Skin Barrier Functions Regardless of the Origin of Acids, Ann Dermatol. 2016 Dec; 28(6): 690-696. 2016 Nov 23. doi: 10.5021/ad.2016.28.6.690
(2) Derya Atik, Cem Atik, and Celalettin Karatepe, (2016). The Effect of External Apple Vinegar Application on Varicosity Symptoms, Pain, and Social Appearance Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2016: 6473678. 2016 Jan 3. doi: 10.1155/2016/6473678
(3) Skin Cancer Foundation. 5 ways to treat a sunburn, accessed 09.26.2018
(4) Halstead FD et al. (2015). The Antibacterial Activity of Acetic Acid against Biofilm-Producing Pathogens of Relevance to Burns Patients., PLoS One. 2015 Sep 9;10(9):e0136190. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136190. eCollection 2015
(5) Birmingham University. Vinegar shown to be effective against burn wound infections. Accessed 09.26.2018
(6) C. Roberts, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, Colchester: Granta, 2nd edn., 2004), ISBN 1-86207-765-7, pp. 137-40
(7) Historyhouse.co.uk, Vinegar and Brown Paper, accessed 09.26.2018
(8) Rakhi Albazi Hermiz Albazi, (1996). Topical treatment of psoriasis, Patent application US6153197
(9) forefrontdermatology.com Acetic Acid soak handout. Accessed 09.26.2018
(10) www.pdr.net, Drug summary: Acetic Acid, accessed 09.26.2018
(11) Diane Bunker, (2004), Patent application, US20070031363A1
(12) Donna Pohlad, Virginia Gregg (2015), Patent application, US9693948B1
(13) Xuan Zhanming, (2015). Powerful anti-dandruff shampoo (Chinese), Europäisches Patentamt ACN105434281
About this Article
Apple cider vinegar: cosmetic uses, A. Whittall
©2018 Fit-and-Well.com, 11 Oct. 2018. Updated. 16 Oct. 2020. https://www.fit-and-well.com/health/apple-cider-vinegar-uses-for-skin.html
Subject: Fit-and-Well.com. Apple cider vinegar for the skin. ACV and its cosmetic uses, risks, and benefits.