Apple Cider Vinegar for Clearing Acne

The cons outweigh any pros

Apple cider vinegar is a popular "cure-all" that some people believe can help clear acne. Because it is acidic, it may seem reasonable to suggest that it has astringent properties that can help treat oily skin and even unblock clogged pores.

As compelling as these arguments may seem, this cheap and natural remedy may actually cause more harm than good when used for this purpose.

Apple cider vinegar with apples

Skin Inflammation and Injury

Healthy skin requires an ideal balance between acidity and alkalinity. This is measured by your skin's pH balance which should ideally be between 4.5 and 5.5 (meaning slightly acidic).

While it is clear that apple cider vinegar can help strip away excess skin oils, it has a pH of between 2.0 and 3.0, making it far more acidic than your skin can reasonably tolerate.

When exposed to this level of acidity, your body responds with inflammation to prevent infection and begin the process of wound healing. This can lead to redness and swelling of already-damaged skin.

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid. This differs from the salicylic acid or glycolic acid found in acne-fighting medications, which are heavily diluted and tend to have more favorable pH levels (between 3.0 and 4.0).

Even when diluted, apple cider vinegar has been known to cause acid burns on sensitive skin.

Reduced Skin Barrier Function

Washing your skin with a gentle cleanser is a central part of controlling acne outbreaks. Stripping the skin of oils, which apple cider vinegar does, is not.

As much as skin oils (sebum) contribute to the development of acne, they also help maintain the barrier function of the skin by preventing bacteria and other microorganisms from penetrating the outer layer (stratum corneum).

By stripping away these protective oils completely, you compromise the skin barrier, which may allow bacteria entry to the lower layers of skin, leading to infection, inflammation, and a worsening of your acne.

Some contend that drinking apple cider vinegar can fight acne by decreasing bacterial colonization in tissue, but this is not proven. A 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology reported that increased skin surface acidity promotes acne outbreaks and increases the risk of recurrence.

Tooth and Digestive Damage

Drinking vinegar can erode the enamel of your teeth, increasing the risk of cavities, tooth breakage or discoloration, and gum sensitivity.

Consuming undiluted vinegar can also cause corrosive damage to the esophagus, stomach, and intestine, leading to coughing, reflux, indigestion, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and dark stools (a sign of gastrointestinal bleeding).

How to Properly Treat Acne

If you're considering apple cider vinegar to treat your acne, it is likely because other treatments have failed you or you cannot afford more costly acne medications.

As cheap and available as remedies like this may be, don't ignore the standard treatments recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, some of which are free or low-cost. These include:

If these interventions don't help, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. While doing so may cost you a little, the long-term benefits to your skin (and your pocketbook) will almost always be well worth it.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Luu LA, Flowers RH, Kellams AL, et al. Apple cider vinegar soaks [0.5%] as a treatment for atopic dermatitis do not improve skin barrier integrity. Pediatr Dermatol. 2019;36(5):634-9. doi:10.1111/pde.13888

  3. National Library of Medicine PubChem. Salicylic acid. 2020.

  4. Bunick CG, Lott JP, Warren CB, Galan A, Bolognia J, King BA. Chemical burn from topical apple cider vinegar. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012 Oct;67(4):e143-4. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2011.11.934

  5. Yagnik D, Serafin V, J Shah A. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):1732. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18618-x

  6. Zheng LW, Di-Ze L, Lu JZ, et al. Effects of vinegar on tooth bleaching and dental hard tissues in vitro. Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban (China). 2014 Nov;45(6):933-6.

  7. Chang J, Han SE, Paik SS, Kim YJ. Corrosive esophageal injury due to a commercial vinegar beverage in an adolescent. Clin Endosc. 2019. doi:10.5946/ce.2019.066

  8. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne clinical guideline. 2020.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.