Apple cider vinegar for acne – have you heard about it? Tempted to try it? Afraid to cause your skin more acne? Not sure if apple cider vinegar will be a hallowed natural cure or a big ol’ pain in the face?
My friend apple cider vinegar for acne has scientific foundation – phew!
But… scientific foundation doesn’t always mean good for your face, safe for your skin or happily ever after.
If you’re considering using apple cider vinegar for acne, are already using apple cider vinegar for acne or have an ACV toner ready and raring to go – come read with me now…
What Does Apple Cider Vinegar Do to Your Face?
Exactly what kinda skin drink is apple cider vinegar for acne? Will an apple cider vinegar toner have your skin drunk in love or drunk and sleepy? Bottom line: How does apple cider vinegar make your skin feel?
Dear skin savvy, use an apple cider vinegar toner and your skin will be treated to 2 key benefits;
- Acidification of your skin’s pH balance
Let’s start with the first ‘eh – exfoliation. Apple cider vinegar toners are a source of natural acids and many natural acids can help your skin shed quicker. Which might sound crazy. Why would you want to make your skin peel off? It’s pretty and you need it – doh.
Well dear friend, your skin naturally exfoliates itself anyhow in a healthy, average 30-day life-cycle. When you’re young this 30-day life-cycle can even be quicker. As you become super experienced, your skin’s 30-day life-cycle slows. Imagine the epic buildup that would happen if you never washed your car *cough* the rain never washed your car.
Apple cider vinegar is a source of acetic acid and acetic acid can act as what dermatologists call a keratolytic. Super science sounding but super simple – a keratolytic helps dissolve up the skin glue holding together your dead, past-their-sell-by-date skin cells. Apple cider vinegar benefit 1 busted.
Now onto apple cider vinegar benefit no.2 – acidification of your skin’s pH balance. Huh? Trust me, you’ve got this – again super science sounding but in reality and in human speak – super simple. pH balance measures how acid or alkaline something is on a ruler from 0 to 14. Anything under 7 is acidic and your skin is most healthy somewhere between pH 4.2 to 5.
Everyday skincare, life and the environment can push your skin pH from happy and dandy to find-me-a-corner-to-cry-in-now. Cleansers are a key culprit. And when your skin’s pH is too high, skin becomes vulnerable, dry, inflamed and prone to growing acne-causing bacteria.
As apple cider vinegar toner is low pH (more about how low soon), using one can help correct for all those tiny, everyday events which are pushing your skin pH too high.
Is Apple Cider Good for Acne?
In theory and at first look yes, apple cider vinegar is good for acne – but don’t use before you read all of this article!
An ACV toner can help battle acne in 2 ways;
- Stopping dead skin plugs clogging your pores/feeding acne-causing bacteria
- Making your skin pH a hostile place for acne bacteria takeovers
Acne means war and when you know the science behind acne’s game plan you can literally remove the legs from its comfy chair – boom, gone.
First up, acne starts in your skin’s pores… and it needs something to grow on. Your skin offers acne, dead skin glued together with sebum – the natural oil skin makes to self-moisturise – yum. When too much skin and sebum clog together in your pores, they help make acne spots. Using apple cider vinegar for acne helps exfoliate your skin more quickly aka helps stop oily dead skin plugs forming. Boom number 1.
Acne bacteria grow best at pH 6 to 7. Bragg’s apple cider vinegar as an example is pH 2.85. Using apple cider vinegar for acne helps acidify your skin to lower pH levels making acne bacteria struggle to grow. War boom number 2.
Can You Use ACV for Acne?
Apple cider vinegar is a natural product not tested for use on skin – which means if you do use apple cider vinegar for acne you need to be extra careful and extra savvy.
Apple cider vinegar is an acid which on the yay side of our scales is fantastic because your skin’s acidic so using acids to balance and re-acidify is great. However, there is a fine line. Imagine how yummy your favourite chocolate tastes, now image 72% cocoa solids – do you still like? What about 95% cocoa solids – too bitter?
Using apple cider vinegar which is too acidic can be not a nice experience for your skin. You can cause skin irritation, inflammation, sensitivity and worst-case scenario (like 100% worst-case scenario) – acid burns.
My advice: never ever apply concentrated apple cider vinegar on your face or on your acne. Dilute to a skin-safe or skin similar pH.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 19 February 2018
Pro-tip: Skin acids are most effective and most sensitive when at the same/slightly lower pH as something called their pKa. Acetic acid has a pKa of 4.75 (meaning it’s actually a very weak acid) and 4.75 would be the maximum pH to balance your apple cider vinegar toner to. A pH of 4 could be a great aim. Use a pH testing strip like this to balance yours.
Very important p.s. after diluting an apple cider vinegar toner you’ll need to make sure it’s preserved (i.e. add in a preservative) or use it the very same day.
How long does it take for apple cider vinegar to work on acne? As your skin cells average life-cycle is 30 days, you should start seeing results in 1 to 2 months.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Make You Break Out?
Jeez ‘eh. The very skincare you’re using to help rid acne. Can apple cider vinegar actually make you break out instead? Well dear friend, there are 2 reasons why apple cider vinegar could cause you an acne break out. 1 is very bad and the other is a temporary side effect of exfoliating acids like the ones found in apple cider vinegar.
Using apple cider vinegar for acne might make you break out because;
- The pH of your apple cider vinegar toner’s too low and you’re causing your skin irritation/inflammation
- You’re experiencing purging, aka a speedup of exfoliation and your pores have temporarily become clogged
The first reason apple cider vinegar might break you out is bad and if you suspect it – stop using an ACV toner now. Acne is an inflammatory skin condition and any kind of skincare able to irritate your skin will make inflammation worse. The end result – acne spots and breakouts.
The second reason – a side effect which will pass. As your skin’s introduced to exfoliating acids you go through a really quick dead skin cell shedding speed up. Imagine getting back into the gym after a month of feasts – the first weeks you’re going to see huge improvements, afterwards they slow down. As your skin’s exfoliating rate speeds up you can temporarily cause more dead skin cells to shed from inside your pores aka feed spot-causing bacteria. If you have purging you should be seeing symptoms improve within 1 to 2 months.
Psst – don’t forget diet is huge in the cause of acne – if you’re considering using ACV for acne you’ll also want to grab a copy of my free, 1-page acne diet cheat sheet – here’s the link you need to get yours.
Is ACV for Face Safe?
Once you’ve gotten the pH of your apple cider vinegar sorted a homemade apple cider vinegar toner is relatively safe to use. However, if you’re using apple cider vinegar for acne, you might want to pause your plans for these 2 reasons;
- Apple cider vinegar/acetic acid is not the best kind for oily, acne-prone skin
- Other acids are much better at helping reduce pigmentation/acne scarring/acne hyperpigmentation
…And if you’re planning to use something for acne, why not use the best ‘eh. Because you’re worth it.
Apple cider vinegar toners are active on your skin because of acetic acid and acetic acid is a type of acid called an alpha-hydroxy acid or AHA for short. AHAs are water babies – they love water and they dissolve best in water. However, acne happens in oil-filled pores. Hmmm. So for an exfoliating acid to work best for acne you need an oil baby – an ingredient which loves oil and dissolves best in oil – bring on the beta-hydroxy acids or BHAs for short – salicylic acid is the ultimate best for acne – products like this one are fantastic as they’re formulated to an effective pH (same as the pKa) and are in concentrations which work.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Remove Acne Scars?
Newsflash, there’s one extra benefit of using apple cider vinegar for acne we didn’t speak about before – removing acne scars. Those dark uneven marks which spread over spaces acne spots once were aka what dermatologists call hyper-pigmentation. With time most fade but apple cider vinegar could help them fade faster.
When you see dark acne scars what you’re actually seeing are concentrated areas of skin tan. Crazy ‘eh. Acne scars are made from the same ingredient your skin uses to tan – a brown pigment called melanin.
Exfoliating acids, like apple cider vinegar toner, can affect how much melanin your skin makes. Using apple cider vinegar which is active because it contains acetic acid can work – but again – acetic acid is not best.
Of a study comparing glycolic, lactic, citric and acetic acids once daily for 6 weeks, glycolic and lactic acids show the best reduction in melanin expression. Aka read this study’s conclusion as acne scars can fade faster with either skin-friendly glycolic or lactic acid.
Oh and p.s. exfoliating skin acids can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight so they’re best used in your PM skincare routine.
Which do you choose? Will you be using homemade apple cider vinegar for acne or will you pick salicylic, glycolic or lactic? Come chat with me in the comments below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.