Is apple cider vinegar the secret to clearer skin?

Apple cider vinegar has long been hailed for its potential health benefits – and now it’s being lauded as a wonder tonic for skin, too.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a modern pantry staple and traditional medicine ingredient – and is now being embraced in natural skincare.

While many of the health claims around ACV are debated, experts say the skin benefits of this wonder ingredient are more straightforward.

Here’s everything you need to know about apple cider vinegar and your skin:

1. It’s a natural alternative to chemical exfoliants

Dermatologist Dr Cara McDonald says apple cider vinegar is comparable to liquid exfoliants and acids on the market, in its ability to promote clearer, brighter skin.

“Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid and malic acid, which have some similar properties to alpha-hydroxyacids (AHAs), many of which are also derived from plants,” she says.

“Acids, in the right concentration, will exfoliate the outer layers of the skin, improving skin texture and congestion, and also have some antibacterial and anti-pigmentation effects.”

2. It can also be used as a toner

Like fellow astringent witch hazel, a watered-down version of ACV can be used as a natural toner.

“I really enjoy using apple cider vinegar as a skincare ingredient,” says Shahrzad Kahrobai, founder of eco-beauty blog The Spot Beauty.

“It’s a great multitasking beauty staple that benefits many skin types and concerns. I love using it a gentle exfoliant or toner – applied to a cotton pad and swept across the face and neck area to help decongest pores, minimise blackheads as well as excess oil.”

3. It shouldn’t be used excessively on skin

Because of apple cider vinegar’s potency in pure form, Dr McDonald doesn’t recommend daily use.

“Much like other acids used on the skin, you can have too much of a good thing,” she says.

Most dermatologists and aestheticians suggest using a chemical exfoliant once or twice a week, and ACV should be treated no differently.

“Too little and the products will be ineffective, whereas too much can be irritating or even harmful,” Dr McDonald says.

Do note that topical use of ACV has been linked to chemical burns.

4. ‘Natural’ doesn’t always mean better for your skin

While ACV falls under the natural skincare category, that doesn’t mean it is definitely safe for your skin.

“Consumers have been incorrectly led to believe that ‘natural’ skincare is better for both them and the environment,” Dr McDonald says.

But she says it’s a mistake to believe “natural” or “organic” products are safer and will never cause allergy or reactions.

“Some of the most severe allergic and irritant reactions are caused by plant-based ingredients,” she says.

When shopping for natural, organic apple cider vinegar, look for a product containing “the mother”, which forms in raw organic vinegar ferments.

5. It can’t work miracles alone

While there’s a place for natural skincare, Dr McDonald says it is important to consult a dermal clinician if you’re battling major skin concerns.

These skin issues tend to require medication, clinical-strength products and more targeted treatments.

“If you want to optimise your skin, see a highly trained dermal clinician who can target your skincare to your personal wants and needs,” Dr McDonald says.

“I always suggest starting with the basics and building up your skincare routine with one new product at a time.

“This way, if you have any problems or reactions, it’s easy to pinpoint the culprit.”

Written by Charlotte Brundrett.