In ancient Greece in approximately 400 BC, the father of modern medicine Hippocrates prescribed apple cider vinegar mixed with honey for many illnesses including colds and coughs. It’s been used for over 5000 years by civilisations as ancient as the Babylonians and Ancient Egyptians.
Apple cider vinegar has antiseptic powers and throughout history it has been used to disinfect and clean soldier’s wounds and thus speed up their return to battle. Apple cider vinegar was used for wound healing during the American civil war and as late as world war one.
Nowadays, the growing popularity of alternative medicine has catapulted apple cider vinegar to elite status. Apple cider vinegar enthusiasts claim it can cure endless conditions ranging from diabetes to acid reflux, to cancer, arthritis, athlete’s foot, warts, halitosis, urinary tract infections, gout, and nettle stings.
Many douse their hair in it to kill off head lice. Apple cider vinegar is so popular that it’s even available in pill form if you can’t stand the acidic taste.
Not surprisingly, apple cider vinegar has been circulating the internet as a miracle cure for acne as well. Hence, in this article we will discuss…
- Whether eating apple cider vinegar can prevent acne from forming.
- Whether topically applying apple cider vinegar to your face can treat acne.
Let’s get started:
Is apple cider vinegar an acne friendly food seasoning?
Apple cider vinegar is basically a fermented apple seasoning. It’s made in two steps. Firstly, crushed apples are exposed to strains of yeast, which ferment the sugars in apples and manufacture alcohol as a by-product. Hence, you have the alcoholic beverage apple cider.
Next, further bacteria is added to the apple cider which consumes the alcohol and the by-product produced from this process is acetic acid, which is the main active component of vinegars.
Apple cider vinegar has an interesting origin story behind it. Thousands of years ago, somebody stored a keg of grape wine for far too long and when they returned to drink it, they instead discovered a sour, non-alcoholic liquid. Hence, the name “vinegar” originates from the French words for “sour wine.”
The problem is that all this bacteria consumes many of the whole apple’s nutrients. One of the classic claims made about apple cider vinegar is that it’s a bona fide nutritional powerhouse. One tablespoon is supposedly bursting with minerals, vitamins, complex carbohydrates, amino acids and healthy fibres like apple pectin.
Upon just basic analysis, that’s clearly not the case. Apple cider vinegar is not “rich in bone strengthening calcium”; it barely contains 1mg, just 0.1% of the RDA of 1000mg.
Vital acne nutrients are especially scarce. It contains no vitamin C, no vitamin A, no vitamin E, and hardly any potassium despite that being a main touted benefit. The quantities of acne minerals like zinc and magnesium are similarly tiny.
So is apple cider vinegar just an acidic seasoning which you can also use for scrubbing floors and cleaning windows?
Absolutely not, because in the real world, apple cider vinegar nevertheless has an unproven but promising link to reduced insulin levels.
This study from 2004 found that eating vinegar improved insulin sensitivity in 34 percent of patients with pre-diabetes and 19 percent of people with type 2 diabetes. That’s excellent news for you and your acne because insulin is the worst hormone behind blocked pores. Improved insulin sensitivity allows lower levels of insulin to do the same job. Blood levels can fall, and your acne benefits because insulin is no longer stimulating your sebaceous glands to pump out more oil.
Similarly, apple cider vinegar has been demonstrated to lower glucose levels. A 2007 study discussed by a WebMD article examined 11 people with type 2 diabetes and found that taking just two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed lowered morning blood glucose levels by between 4 and 6 percent. Scientists believe that apple cider vinegar can inactivate some of the digestive enzymes which break down carbohydrates and sugar, thus prolonging and mellowing the blood glucose increase.
One 2004 study cited by the American Diabetes Foundation analysed vinegar’s effect on both glucose and insulin resistance. The scientists analysed 29 people who were divided into 3 groups: 1) one third of patients who had type 2 diabetes, 2) one third who had pre-diabetes symptoms, and 3) one third with healthy people.
The results showed that taking vinegar before meals massively reduced all patients’ post prandial (post meal) insulin spikes and glucose spikes. Their insulin sensitivity also increased.
It was the prediabetes patients who benefitted the most; their blood glucose concentration was nearly slashed in half. Patients with diabetes patients reduced their blood glucose by 25% and somehow, people with prediabetes symptoms ended up with lower blood sugar than the completely healthy participants.
What this suggests is that apple cider vinegar is great at lowering blood glucose in all circumstances, but it might be especially great if your levels are elevated. High blood glucose causes acne through increased sebum production, formation of blood free radicals called AGEs, and an increase in dead skin cell turnover which blocks your pores. You may have high blood glucose levels if you eat a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar, if you eat very few fruits and vegetables and healthy plant foods, or if you lead an inactive lifestyle.
But how does apple cider vinegar achieve these improvements when it has no micronutrients?
The answer may lie in apple cider vinegar’s high content of acetic acid which is created during fermentation. Acetic acid may well be what slows down the digestion of complex carbohydrates, and it might have other digestive benefits.
Because it’s an acid, acetic acid is believed (though not proven) to enhance the absorption of many dietary minerals, including important ones for acne like zinc and magnesium. That would make apple cider vinegar excellent for seasoning some acne-friendly meat or salad, for example. It would likely work well in patients with low stomach acid as the acetic acid could function like hydrochloric acid and break down foods more efficiently.
Acetic acid can also kill harmful bacteria like E.coli by binding to its cell membrane and completely destroying the structure. E.coli can lead to leaky gut syndrome if it overgrows in your intestines, an overlooked inflammatory disease behind acne. Apple cider vinegar contains malic acid, which can also kill unhealthy gut bacteria.
Furthermore, the large bacterial content of apple cider vinegar is also believed to enrich your colonies of friendly gut bacteria. Apple cider vinegar, and indeed all vinegar in its undiluted form, contains a slimy gelatinous material called the “mother”. This is produced via acetic acid fermentation and the claim goes that the slime is packed with friendly acetobacteria. However, there’s no evidence that acetobacteria actually colonises your gut in the same healthy way of yoghurt or sauerkraut. The “mother” does contain plenty of lactic acid bacteria, and there’s little doubt that apple cider vinegar contains plenty of bacteria because it multiplies exponentially as it ferments the nutrients.
Unlike with insulin resistance though, there’s very little evidence on whether apple cider vinegar does generally improve your gut flora.
In fact, it’s possible that the power of acetic acid to destroy harmful pathogens (e.coli) can also kill your friendly bacteria once inside your body. Apple cider is also touted as containing prebiotics such as apple pectin which can provide fuel for your healthy gut bacteria, but apple cider vinegar doesn’t contain any apple pectin. The bacteria devours all of it during fermentation. If you want prebiotics you’d be better off eating a whole apple, both for the intact apple pectin and many other prebiotic fibres.
Apple cider vinegar is high in an antioxidant called quercetin. This is one of the best phytonutrients in apples themselves. In this article we discussed how the quercetin in whole apples lowers the activity of immune system mast cells in your gut. This reduces the inflammation in your gut lining which is great for reducing the type of random food allergies which lead to acne.
Quercetin has acne clearing powers and hence, so might apple cider vinegar. But there’s also evidence that the high acid content of apple cider vinegar could inflame the gut. Acetic study is often used by scientists in studies where they want to inflame the gut deliberately to test anti-inflammatory medicines.
Conclusion: the jury is out on apple cider vinegar’s gut healing properties.
Does ACV aid detoxification?
Here’s a quote from an alternative medicine website on the internet: “Aside from all the other body cleansing benefits already listed, drinking diluted raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar is believed to help detoxify and cleanse your liver”.
This is one benefit you should never fall for. Apple cider vinegar does not improve your detoxification of toxins; don’t believe a word of it. How is apple cider vinegar supposed to aid the liver? Nobody ever explains how. There’s no evidence for this whatsoever.
Removal of toxins isn’t as important for acne as you may have heard anyway. You need a healthy detoxification system so that your stores of glutathione, which functions both as a detoxifying agent and an antioxidant, don’t get badly depleted…
…but it’s a myth that toxins are forced out through your skin pores and mix with p.acnes bacteria to cause acne, and it’s a myth that apple cider vinegar can correct that.
Is apple cider vinegar an acne super cure?
Apple cider vinegar’s most likely acne benefit is in lowering blood sugar and insulin levels. That is supported by plenty of evidence.
Therefore it’s a decent seasoning for a salad dressing, or in homemade sauces and marinades. Adding apple cider vinegar to baked goods is healthy and will provide extra lift. Apple cider vinegar also tastes good with fish and can tenderize meat while giving it an apple flavoured tang.
For other conditions behind acne though, it’s hardly useful at all. If you have digestive issues which are causing acne then it’d be far smarter to eat yoghurt or sauerkraut for their bacteria. A whole apple or indeed any other fruit or vegetable will contain more prebiotics in the form of fiber and other plant compounds.
A whole apple will also contain far more acne antioxidants and vitamin C.
The truth to remember about apple cider vinegar is that it’s no miracle cure. It’s just another moderately acne friendly food to add to your diet. On the rest of this website, we’ve analysed many foods with acne clearing powers whether it be sweet potatoes, chocolate, strawberries or broccoli, but none of them are silver bullets against acne.
Your job is to arrange a diet with a wide variety of acne nutrition flooding in. Apple cider vinegar can contribute to that but it’s not going to cure acne singlehandedly.
Apple cider vinegar also has some dodgy side effects when drunk in excess. This seasoning is strongly acidic and the main acetic acid is very potent. Some women have reported long term damage to the throat and oesophageal burns. Drinking undiluted apple cider vinegar straight from the bottle can wear away at your tooth enamel over the course of many years and lead to cavities. Long term usage at excess levels could even lower bone density and potassium levels.
If you want to use apple cider vinegar in your diet for lowering blood glucose and insulin then only use moderate quantities. If you drink it straight from the bottle, then you have to dilute it with water.
Apple cider vinegar also tastes pretty vile unless it’s strongly diluted. If you’re looking to add acne friendly flavour to salad then extra virgin olive oil is a dramatically superior choice as it contains tons of acne clearing antioxidants, one of which called oleuropein has very strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Apple cider vinegar as an acne topical treatment
- “I got clear within a week, my pores shrank, and my overactive oil glands shrank too.”
- “My skin looks so much better, I can’t believe it. My skin has a healthy pink glow!”
- “I tried it last night and my 8-9 pimples are already gone”.
- “I was amazed at how well apple cider vinegar worked on my acne”.
Likewise, there are plenty of mechanisms which make sense. Despite many in the alternative medicine community preaching about the horrors of all things acidic, human skin actually thrives in acidity. You need acidity to keep acne at bay and to keep harmful pathogens and bacteria out.
Hence why topical apple cider vinegar may help to restore the natural PH balance of your skin. Many harmful species of bacteria behind skin problems like acne, possible including the dreaded p.acnes itself, thrive when your PH gets out of whack.
Apple cider vinegar’s acid content also has decent keratolytic properties. It can break open the bonds between dead skin cells and unblock your pores. It’s also possible that the healthy bacterial strains in apple cider vinegar could inundate your pores, give p.acnes a pummelling, and generally improve the wider bacterial flora of your skin.
There’s little doubt that apple cider vinegar works wonders with acne for some when topically applied. In fact, there’s a subsection of the acne community that defends ACV passionately…
…but again, apple cider vinegar may have side effects especially when applied in the long term. Some stories include:
- One acne patient who used apple cider vinegar as a hopeful cure and developed a huge patch of raw, burnt skin.
- A mother who applied cotton balls soaked in apple cider vinegar to her eight year old child’s leg to control a viral infection, only to give him painful burns.
- One guy with acne who tried it during the summer and “bleached the heck out of his skin”. Apparently his skin went deathly pale while everyone else was walking around with a tan.
Again, acetic acid is very strong stuff. It can work well for unblocking pores in the short term, but I what I cannot recommend is leaving apple cider vinegar on your face overnight like many recommend. 7-9 hours of exposure is destined to cause some facial irritation. You can easily make your acne look worse, not better.
Those stories were all long term, so if you want to use apple cider vinegar, I’d recommend leaving it for no more than 30 minutes, since you can easily enjoy the benefits of unblocked pores and dead p.acnes bacteria in that time anyway. Furthermore, apple cider vinegar smells nasty and you too will smell nasty if you keep it on your face for hours.
Again, you should dilute the apple cider vinegar in water if you do use it in the short term. Some suggest a ratio of AVC to water of between 1:1 and 2:1. It’s also hyped up as a general toner and enhancer for your skin, but there’s no evidence of that whatsoever. It definitely won’t moisturise your skin like grapeseed oil. If it does work it will be best for targeting areas of especially infected and rampant acne.
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most overrated acne cures ever.
It has two decent acne powers: it can reduce insulin and blood glucose when eaten with salads or meats, and it can possibly unblock pores and kill p.acnes bacteria. It may rebalance your gut flora (and prevent digestive issues related to acne) but alternatively, it could decimate it.
Maybe you have had excellent results with apple cider vinegar; many acne patients have. It’s possible that others will too but there are so many options for both acne-friendly foods and topical acne treatments and apple cider vinegar fails pretty miserably next to them.
You can add oregano, the fifth best source of antioxidants ever, to your meat. You can eat sweet potatoes instead of bread, you can try grapeseed oil with its vitamin E, or tea tree oil, which has a well-established ability to reduce acne thanks to its terpineol 4-ol compound.
If I had to issue one recommendation for both a dietary and a topical treatment, they would be as follows. Number one, I would urge you to slash your intake of dietary sugar below 50 grams a day. Number two, I’d advise you to apply raw honey to any red and angry acne you may have, since almost all products derived from the bee kingdom (see royal jelly also) are bacteria destroying juggernauts.
The most you may want to use apple cider vinegar is as a relatively healthy seasoning for salads or meat. In summary, apple cider vinegar is mostly pointless for acne unless you’re a real nut for experimentation.
Thanks for reading!