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Does apple cider vinegar work for acne?

Maybe! Research is limited, so it might be best to stick to better-researched, tried and true topicals instead.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
apple vinegar glass container
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Apple cider vinegar is a popular remedy in traditional medicine. It’s believed to help reduce blood sugar, aid weight loss, and fight bacteria. That might be why many believe it works to treat acne. Unfortunately, there’s limited research to support its use in skincare, and the jury’s out on whether it’s worth the potential side effects. 

Here we’ll explain the existing research behind using apple cider vinegar for acne, highlighting several possible benefits and potential side effects of its use. We’ll also suggest some great natural alternatives to apple cider vinegar that have more proven track records for treating and preventing acne.  

What does apple cider vinegar do for the skin?

Apple cider vinegar is made from crushed apples in a two-step fermentation process. In the first step, yeast digests the sugar in the apples, breaking it down into alcohol. Then, bacteria break down the alcohol into acetic acid. The end product is a highly acidic alcohol-free vinegar with a sweet yet sour taste. 

Consuming apple cider vinegar is purported to aid weight loss and lower blood sugar.¹ Topical acids, including apple cider vinegar, may improve atopic dermatitis (eczema) by boosting skin barrier function.² However, studies have shown varying results, and apple cider vinegar has even been reported to cause chemical burns in some people.³  

How to use apple cider vinegar for acne

Some people like to use apple cider vinegar as a toner or face wash since it’s an acid that has some antibacterial effects. Although it has bacteria-killing properties,⁴ researchers are unsure if it can take on acne-causing bacteria. Apple cider vinegar may act as a mild exfoliant with similar properties to other alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAS). Still, some people find the odor unpleasant, and others may experience skin irritation and burning when they apply it topically. 

If you plan to use apple cider vinegar as a toner in your skincare routine, here are some tips to follow: 

  • Dilute it to create a solution of one part vinegar to four parts water. Start with a skin patch test, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin.

  • Begin by using it 2-3 times per week. Evaluate your skin as you go, and use your best judgment. Decrease or increase use depending on how your skin feels.

  • Use it as a toner immediately after nighttime cleansing. Wait a few minutes before applying your Curology prescription formula or another treatment cream. And don’t forget to moisturize!

Health benefits of apple cider vinegar

There’s no real evidence to support the use of apple cider vinegar to treat acne vulgaris, nor is there any to support the use of apple cider vinegar for acne scars. That doesn’t mean it may not have other health benefits, however. In fact, apple cider vinegar is the star ingredient in fire cider, a folk remedy used to boost immunity and aid digestion. But just like its efficacy in treating acne, more research is needed to authenticate its use as an immune booster. 

Nonetheless, here are some research-backed benefits of consuming apple cider vinegar—just keep in mind research is limited, and this info is not a substitute for medical advice: 

  • May help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. A systematic review of nine studies found that apple cider vinegar consumption significantly reduced blood sugar levels and total cholesterol.⁵ 

  • May contribute to weight loss. In a study of 39 overweight individuals, the group consuming apple cider vinegar experienced significant reductions in weight, body mass index, hip circumference, and visceral fat compared to dieting alone.⁶

  • May have antimicrobial effects. Apple cider vinegar has been shown to have antimicrobial effects on bacteria, fungi, and viruses including Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida albicansin laboratory tests.⁷ 

The potential downsides of apple cider vinegar

It might sound like a dream to drink some apple cider vinegar and watch the pounds melt off—but it’s not quite that simple. There’s limited research to back most of these claims, and apple cider vinegar is not without its share of side effects, including indigestion, nausea, allergies, and skin irritation. 

Here’s what you need to know about apple cider vinegar’s side effects: 

  • May cause skin inflammation and negatively impact the skin barrier. Apple cider vinegar is a strong acid that can irritate and inflame the skin. Some research indicates it may increase transepidermal water loss (TEWL).⁸  

  • May cause skin burning. Acetic acid is the primary acid of apple cider vinegar. It has been shown to cause chemical burning on the skin following application in some people.⁹ 

  • Can erode the enamel of your teeth. Undiluted apple cider vinegar is very acidic, and drinking it can cause tooth decay by eroding the enamel of your teeth.¹⁰ In addition, it has been found to cause burning and damage to the esophagus in rare cases.¹¹

Apple cider vinegar alternatives

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Apple cider vinegar is not all bad—or all good. The research is limited, and studies are sometimes conflicting. Generally, if you’re looking for natural, DIY acne-busting remedies, there are better alternatives. Here are a few of our favorite home remedies: 

  • Coffee. Coffee has many benefits for the skin, and it’s versatile—it can be used as a scrub or extract in creams, serums, and toners. The caffeine in coffee may help alleviate help reduce inflammation¹² and scavenge for free radicals.¹³ It also contains chlorogenic acid, which has antibacterial properties and may help tackle acne.¹⁴ While not specifically an acne-busting go-to, coffee scrubs physically exfoliate the skin to remove dead cells and reveal healthy skin. 

  • Green tea. Drinking a cup of green tea or applying it topically can improve skin health—and treat acne. Green tea may reduce excess oil (sebum) to help treat and prevent acne.¹⁵

  • Honey. This sticky treat is excellent for your health, whether you’re eating it or applying a honey mask. Honey is a potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial. 

Acne is common across all age groups—it can affect anyone regardless of age or skin type. The good news is that it’s one of the most researched skin conditions. That means we know a lot about how to treat pimples and prevent breakouts. Topical treatments include over-the-counter skincare products that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinol or prescription-strength retinoids, such as tretinoin. Tretinoin works double-duty to prevent and treat acne blemishes and reduce the appearance of aging.¹⁶  

High-quality ingredients for your skincare

Curology Custom Formula - The benefits of using beta-hydroxy acid in your skincare routine

When it comes to at-home acne treatments, there is no evidence that apple cider vinegar can treat or help prevent acne. To find a medically tested acne treatment that works for you, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist or licensed dermatology provider. That’s where Curology can help.

Founded by board-certified dermatologists in 2014, Curology’s full-service skincare and licensed dermatology providers can help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine by providing a personalized treatment plan and custom prescription formula with ingredients clinically proven to treat acne. Plus, they’ll answer your questions and guide you throughout the entire skincare journey. In addition to your custom formula, you’ll get access to our other dermatologist-designed products, such as our cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen.

Ready to get started? Sign up now to start your Curology skincare journey!*

FAQs

What does apple cider vinegar do for the skin?

Apple cider vinegar is made from crushed apples in a two-step fermentation process. In the first step, yeast digests the sugar in the apples, breaking it down into alcohol. Then, bacteria break down the alcohol into acetic acid. The end product is a highly acidic alcohol-free vinegar with a sweet yet sour taste.

How to use apple cider vinegar for acne?

Some people like to use apple cider vinegar as a toner or face wash since it’s an acid that has some antibacterial effects. Although it has bacteria-killing properties, researchers are unsure if it can take on acne-causing bacteria. Apple cider vinegar may act as a mild exfoliant with similar properties to other alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAS). Still, some people find the odor unpleasant, and others may experience skin irritation and burning when they apply it topically. 

Potential downsides of apple cider vinegar?

It might sound like a dream to drink some apple cider vinegar and watch the pounds melt off—but it’s not quite that simple. There’s limited research to back most of these claims, and apple cider vinegar is not without its share of side effects, including indigestion, nausea, allergies, and skin irritation. 

Here’s what you need to know about apple cider vinegar’s side effects: 

  • May cause skin inflammation and negatively impact the skin barrier.

  • May cause skin burning.

  • Can erode the enamel of your teeth.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Johnston, C.S. and Gaas, C.A. Vinegar: Medicinal uses and antiglycemic effect. Medscape General Medicine. (2006).

  2. Lee, N.R., et al. Application of topical acids improves atopic dermatitis in murine model by enhancement of skin barrier functions regardless of the origin of acids. Annals of Dermatology. (December 2016).

  3. Bunick, C.G., et al. Chemical burn from topical apple cider vinegar. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2012 October 1).

  4. Gopal J, et al. Authenticating apple cider vinegar's home remedy claims: antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties and cytotoxicity aspect. Nat Prod Res. (March 2019).

  5. Hadi, A., et al. The effect of apple cider vinegar on lipid profiles and glycemic parameters: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. (2021).

  6. Khezri, S.S., et al. Beneficial effects fo apple cider vinegar on weight management, visceral adiposity index, and lipid profile in overweight or obese subjects receiving restricted calorie diet: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Functional Foods. (April 2018).

  7. Yagnik, D., et al. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida albicans: downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Scientific Reports. (2018 January 29).

  8. Luu, L.A., et al. Apple cider vinegar soaks (0.5%) as a treatment for atopic dermatitis do not improve skin barrier integrity. Pediatric Dermatology. (2019 July 22). 

  9. Bunick, C.G., et al. Chemical burn from topical apple cider vinegar. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  10. Zheng, L., et al. Effects of vinegar on tooth bleaching and dental hard tissues in vitro. Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. (November 2014).

  11. Chang, J., et al. Corrosive esophageal injury due to a commercial vinegar beverage in an adolescent.Clinical Endoscopy. (2019 August 13).

  12. Yorulmaz, A. Coffee and skin: What do we know about it?Turkey Clinic Journal of Dermatology. (2019).

  13. Herman, A. and Herman A.P. Caffeine’s mechanisms of action and its cosmetic use. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. (2013).

  14. Luo, J., et al. Anti-acne vulgaris effects fo chlorogenic acid by anti-inflammatory activity and lipogenesis inhibition. Experimental Dermatology. (June 2021).

  15. Saric, S., et al. Green tea and other tea polyphenols: Effects on sebum production and acne vulgaris. Antioxidants. (March 2017).

  16. Leyden, J., et al. Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy, (September, 2017).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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