Debunking the Myths About Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

One of the most popular miracle cures on the internet is apple cider vinegar for acne, but does it really work? We won’t keep you waiting: no, it doesn’t. The best acne treatment is gentle, and apple cider vinegar is anything but. Right now, there’s no evidence that apple cider vinegar for acne works, and because it is so harsh, it may actually make acne worse. There are some acne home remedies that we recommend trying, like honey for acne, but apple cider vinegar for acne is not a good idea. There are a lot of myths floating around that make apple cider vinegar for acne sound like a good idea, but they are exactly that: myths.

Apple Cider Vinegar for acne
Unlike some DIY remedies, apple cider vinegar for acne has no research that suggests it might actually work.

What is Apple Cider Vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar is exactly what it sounds like: vinegar made from fermented apple juice. Bacteria and yeast are added to pure apple juice, which starts to ferment as the sugars turn into alcohol. Then different bacteria are added that transform that alcohol into acetic acid, which is how it turns into vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has a sharp taste and pungent smell, and is typically used in salad dressings or homemade cleaning supplies. Some sources claim it can also be used to treat acne, but there is little evidence to support that claim.

How Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne is Supposed to Help

In theory, apple cider vinegar can help clear acne for a variety of reasons. Various sources claim it can “detoxify” the skin, kill acne-causing bacteria, lower blood sugar, break up the oils and dead skin cells clogging pores, and “alkalize” the body to rid it of excess acids. All of these sound really good, but some are untrue, others are not yet proven, and some of them don’t even make sense.

Myth #1: Apple Cider Vinegar Detoxifies the Skin

Some claims about apple cider vinegar and acne seem like they could be true because they address real issues that cause or contribute to acne, but this one is more or less nonsense. It is important to nourish your body with healthy food because your liver and kidneys can get overworked if you’re ingesting too many toxins, like alcohol. It’s also true that when we take in too many toxins, our skin is negatively affected because our skin cells stop producing at a healthy rate. However, our bodies don’t need to “detox.” Unless you have a serious liver or kidney condition, all you have to do in order to keep your body from absorbing too many toxins is stop eating or drinking them in such high amounts.

Myth #2: Apple Cider Vinegar is Antibacterial, So It Can Kill Acne-Causing Bacteria

This is one of the more reasonable myths about using apple cider vinegar for acne because bacteria do play a large role in acne formation, and because apple cider vinegar has been proven to kill bacteria. The problem is, it doesn’t kill the right kind of bacteria.

Pimples and cysts are the result of a minor infection of p. acnes bacteria, and research that studies the antibacterial effects of apple cider vinegar have found it is effective in killing foodborne bacteria, like e. coli or salmonella. Since foodborne bacteria don’t contribute to acne, apple cider vinegar’s proven antibacterial properties are not actually of much use. Some sources claim that apple cider vinegar can still kill p. acnes because it contains acids like citric acid or acetic acid, which have been proven to help reduce p. acnes on their own. However, this seems a little presumptuous to us. There may be other ingredients in apple cider vinegar that counteract those acids, or they may not be present in concentrations high enough to make a significant impact.

Myth #3: Apple Cider Vinegar Can Lower Blood Sugar

You may be wondering what this even has to do with acne, but hormones play a large role in acne, and habitually high blood sugar can lead to hormonal imbalances that cause acne. Keeping your blood sugar relatively low might improve your acne slightly, but it will make a much bigger difference if you have something called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This condition is relatively common, affecting one in ten women, but we still don’t understand much about it. It is generally categorized by hormone imbalances that lead to the overproduction of insulin, and acne is a common symptom of these imbalances.

If apple cider vinegar truly lowered blood sugar, it could help reduce acne and other symptoms in people with PCOS or other conditions that involve the overproduction of insulin or insulin resistance, like type 2 diabetes. Theoretically, the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, preventing spikes in blood sugar and the resulting hormone fluctuations. But again, we need to point out that just because a substance contains a certain component does not mean that it expresses all of the properties of that component. A few very small studies have been conducted studying the effects of apple cider vinegar and found that it could help reduce blood sugar, so this may not be a complete myth, but it’s still far from a fact.

Myth #4: You Can Get Rid of Blackheads with Apple Cider Vinegar

One of the most popular ways people have come up with to use apple cider vinegar for acne is an “apple cider vinegar toner,” a diluted solution that can break up the oil and dead skin cells clogging your pores and causing blackheads and whiteheads. Unfortunately, there’s no research that proves that this actually works. In theory, it might work, because of the acids it contains, but like we keep saying, those acids may not have acne-fighting capabilities in apple cider vinegar specifically. If you want the benefits of acetic or citric acid, there are other, better products specifically designed for your skin that include those ingredients. Some people believe this toner is just as effective because it stings and burns, which leads us to our next myth…

Myth #5: That Stinging Sensation Means Apple Cider Vinegar Really Works

This is part of a general myth in the acne community, which is that if a product stings, tingles, or burns, that’s how you know it’s working. In reality, stinging, tingling, and burning sensations are clear signals from your skin saying that it is being damaged. Products that sting and burn may get rid of some of the acne you have currently, but they will also cause future acne because they damage and irritate the skin. When your skin is irritated, it tries to protect itself through inflammation and oil production, both of which cause clogged pores, blackheads, and whiteheads. Harsh products like this may clear your acne for a week or two, but they will bring it right back soon after.

Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne
Your skin looks its best when you treat it gently, and apple cider vinegar is not gentle.

And worsened acne isn’t the only issue. Apple cider vinegar is an excellent example of how ignoring your body’s pain signals can lead to bigger problems. When left on the skin for several hours (AKA, if you don’t rinse off the toner), apple cider vinegar can actually cause chemical burns which require immediate medical treatment.

Myth #6: Apple Cider Vinegar Alkalizes the Body

We’re honestly not sure where this one came from, so we want to clarify things. To “alkalize” the body means to rid it of excess acids using substances from the other end of the pH scale, also known as alkalis or basics. You can tell how acidic or alkaline something is based on its pH. Everything has a pH rating somewhere between 0 and 14, 0 being the most acidic, like battery acid, and 14 being the most alkaline, like lye. Water has a pH of 7 and is considered neutral.

There are many reasons apple cider vinegar cannot alkalize the body, the first being that “alkalizing” the body is not usually necessary. This is similar to the detox problem. Yes, it is possible to take in too many acids and cause some dysfunction, but there’s no evidence that an excess of acids can cause acne, and if you do have too much acid in your body, all you have to do to solve the problem is consume less acid. There’s no need to “alkalize” anything, because you don’t want your body to be too alkaline either.

The second issue is that apple cider vinegar is an acid, and a pretty strong one at that. So even if you did want to alkalize your body, we aren’t sure how apple cider vinegar would help.

Myth #7: Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne is Bad Because It’s Acidic

It’s true that apple cider vinegar for acne is a bad idea, but some articles that acknowledge this still manage to get things confused. Some websites claim apple cider vinegar is bad for acne because it’s acidic, when really, that is one of the only reasons it could actually help acne, if it weren’t so harsh. There is a common misbelief that acidic substances are bad for our skin, and alkaline substances can help prevent acne because they keep our skin from becoming too acidic. But the truth is, our skin is naturally acidic.

When our skin is healthy, it has a pH between 4.5 and 5.5, meaning it is naturally slightly acidic. Because of this, mild acids can typically help acne more than they hurt it. But mild is the key word here. The reason apple cider vinegar for acne is such a bad idea is because it is too acidic. It has a pH around 2, which is much lower than our skin.

Myth #8: Baking Soda and Apple Cider Vinegar Are Great for Acne

This is a hard no. Here’s a general rule of thumb: if a substance can clear out a clogged bath tub drain, you should not apply it to your skin. The acidity of apple cider vinegar combined with the alkaline nature of baking soda creates a harsh, foaming mixture that some sources claim can break down the oils and dead skin cells that clog pores. But it can also break down your actual skin. Although some people may claim that this is a miracle cure for their acne, these people are the exception, and we strongly recommend you do not try this combination.

Myth #9: You Can Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne Scars

This is another myth that may not be 100% false, but certainly isn’t scientifically supported. The idea is that the harsh chemicals in apple cider vinegar can work like an at-home chemical peel, which is designed to strip the skin of its topmost layer, removing some scar tissue and making way for new, healthy skin cells. However, if you want to try a chemical peel for acne scars, we recommend using a real chemical peel rather than apple cider vinegar. Like we mentioned before, it has been known to cause chemical burns, and there’s no proof apple cider vinegar for acne scars even works. Better to try a method of scar treatment with more scientific research backing it up.

Better Acne Solutions

There is no evidence that apple cider vinegar for acne is an effective treatment, so why not try an acne treatment that really works? At Exposed Skin Care, we make it a priority to find a balance between acne-fighting and skin-nourishing ingredients. We understand that the best way to get rid of acne is to prevent it, and the best way to do that is to treat the skin as gently as possible.

So how do we do that? We make sure each and every one of our products contains ingredients to keep the skin healthy and prevent irritation, while other ingredients kill p. acnes or exfoliate the skin. We don’t limit our products to solely lab-made chemicals or only organic natural ingredients. We combine the best ingredients for your skin in affordable products that really work. For instance, our Basic Kit contains our Facial Cleanser, a Clearing Tonic, our signature Acne Treatment Serum, and a Clear Pore Serum. Each of these products contain both soothing and acne-fighting ingredients, and the results speak for themselves. If you’re looking for the best acne treatment on a budget, apple cider vinegar is not the answer. Try Exposed instead.

Debunking the Myths About Apple Cider Vinegar for Acne
Instead of harsh apple cider vinegar, try the Exposed Skin Care system to take care of your acne and your skin.