We’re all curious to know what goes into our beauty products these days (#cleanbeauty is everywhere), so it’s always appreciated when their ingredients are au natural and recognizable. Apple cider vinegar is one of those familiar, powerhouse ingredients that’s been gaining traction in the world of hair care for its ability to refresh any mane and even promote hair growth quickly. Not to mention, it’s a super affordable and accessible addition to your lineup, as it’s available at most local grocery stores for under $10.
To get the full scoop on how apple cider vinegar (ACV) can work wonders on strands, we spoke with three hair experts: Gregorio Ruggeri, a certified trichologist and creative director of Salon Ruggeri in NYC; celebrity hairstylist Laura Rugetti; and Bridgette Hill, a certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis — a digital platform that offers virtual scalp analysis consultations, treatments and guidance to help improve users’ scalp health (which is, in fact, the foundation to achieving healthy hair). Keep reading to get all the details.
Preview the best apple cider vinegar hair products:
What is apple cider vinegar?
First popular in the U.S. in the late 1700s for medicinal uses, apple cider vinegar is made when the juices from apples are fermented. During this process, bacteria and yeast are introduced into the liquid, causing the sugars from the juice to turn to alcohol, then vinegar. “Diluting the vinegar with water led to additional beneficial discoveries, including providing anti-inflammatory relief and preventing bacteria growth on minor skin irritations and infections,” Hill says. “This caused the ingredient to make its way into skin and hair care regimens, too.”
What are the benefits of apple cider vinegar for your hair and scalp?
“ACV neutralizes and supports the natural biome of the scalp,” Hill says. “Apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties to cleanse and natural alpha hydroxy acids that gently exfoliate to encourage cellular turnover and create an optimal environment for hair to grow. On the hair shaft, ACV closes the cuticle, sealing in moisture and adding optimal shine.”
Because ACV seals the hair’s cuticle, it also helps reduce breakage and frizz, maintain elasticity, and lock in color to prevent fading, Ruggeri explains.
Among its other main benefits? Treating dandruff. Present in both dry and oily hair types, dandruff is a “yeastlike fungus that feeds on oils on the scalps of most adults,” Ruggeri says. “Apple cider vinegar has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that make it effective in killing and preventing dandruff-causing yeast on the scalp,” he adds.
Additionally, both Ruggeri and Hill mention that ACV can support hair growth by removing product buildup, especially from commonly used items like dry shampoo. “ACV unblocks follicles in the scalp so that strands have freedom to thrive,” Ruggeri says. (Note: If you do use dry shampoo, Ruggeri advises spraying it on the mid-lengths of hair, rather than the roots, to prevent clogging the follicle).
What hair types does apple cider vinegar work best for?
According to all of our experts, apple cider vinegar works for nearly every hair type and texture. And because of its smoothing and frizz-fighting properties, Rugetti mentions it’s particularly a favorite of people with thick, curly hair. But if you have super dry, over-processed or exceptionally fine strands, it’s best to avoid, they agree.
“Since ACV is acidic, it can be a bit too strong for anyone who has mechanical damage—say from bleaching, excess sun exposure or over using hot tools—very fine hair that’s naturally brittle or anyone who has difficulty growing their mane,” Ruggeri notes. “If your hair is breaking off, you can put ACV onto the roots, but it should never be applied to the ends.”
And if you’re ever in doubt whether or not ACV might be right for your hair type, both Ruggeri and Hill recommend performing a strand test first before applying the ingredient all over.
How often should I use apple cider vinegar on my hair?
“An individual’s unique scalp condition, hair type and texture will determine how frequently they should use ACV,” Hill says. “It can be used as a pre-shampoo scalp treatment that’s massaged in, processed for 10 to 15 minutes and shampooed out. It can be used as a cleansing agent on non-shampoo days to refresh and balance the scalp or applied up to three times a week to spot treat itchy or oily scalps.” If you shampoo, Hill recommends doing so two times a week and using an ACV rinse another time throughout the week (keep in mind that while ACV pairs well with most shampoos, you should avoid using it with those featuring salicylic acid, as the combo can be too drying). If you have more severe scalp concerns, she suggests using an ACV rinse two to three times a week.
What’s the difference between ACV and a clarifying shampoo?
While similar in function, clarifying shampoos and ACV rinses have a few key differences. “Clarifying shampoos are alkaline detergents and surfactants that remove residual product or oils, but that can also strip the scalp of healthy oils if used too often and leave the cuticle open, making the hair more prone to dryness and color fading,” Hill explains. “ACV, on the other hand, closes the cuticle to retain moisture while performing exfoliant tasks, such as introducing antimicrobial properties to reduce unwanted bacteria.”
How do I use apple cider vinegar on my hair?
While there are plenty of great ACV products on the market (more on that below), if you’re on a budget, creating your own DIY rinse can be a more cost-effective option. You can customize your ACV-to-water ratio to modify the intensity of the mixture, depending on your hair type and the seriousness of your scalp concerns, however below is a great starting point for creating and applying an ACV rinse:
- Mix 1 parts ACV with two parts distilled water (avoid using tap water, Ruggeri says, as this can be very acidic).
- Place the mixture in a clean bottle with a nozzle.
- Shampoo and condition your hair (using a deep, nourishing conditioner, Rugetti advises), then rinse.
- Blot your hair dry in the shower, then lightly apply the ACV mixture and gently work it through the hair shaft with your hands.
- Place your hair in a ponytail or secure it in a clip atop your head and let the product settle in for a few minutes.
- Use luke warm to cold water to close the outer layer of the hair and lock in moisture.
You can also add lavender herbs to your mixture, which “encourage follicular growth and balance sebum production on both dry and oily scalps,” Hill says. To create this herbal concoction, she suggests the following steps for the best results:
- Steep lavender herbs for 30 days.
- Fill a glass jar almost to the top with them.
- Add apple cider vinegar, covering the herbs.
- Cover the jar with a piece of cloth or wax paper (note that metal and vinegar don’t mix well).
- Place the jar in a cabinet for four to six weeks.
- Strain and pour the mixture into a clean jar. It can be kept for six to eight months in a cabinet in the kitchen.
- Mix three parts water with one part herbal ACV for any hair rinses, and follow the above steps for cleansing hair.
Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse
Co-founded by celebrity colorist Justin Anderson (who has worked with everyone from Margot Robbie to Gwyneth Paltrow), dpHue has earned a cult following for its fortifying, color-enhancing hair care products. Ruggeri and Rugetti love the brand’s ACV Rinse that removes impurities from hair without stripping it of its natural oils thanks to the inclusion of fatty acids and lavender extract that soften, strengthen and add shine. (Note: The brand suggests using this one in place of shampoo, but Ruggeri mentions it can also be paired with your favorite shampoo for a deeper clean—unless you simply want to use it for a quick refresh in between washes.)
Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub
Another popular ACV product from the dpHue line, this pre-rinse scrub gently exfoliates to detoxify and invigorate the skin. “There are a lot of salt scrubs with larger granules that can actually scratch the surface of the scalp, which can in turn damage the follicle and cause it to die off,” Ruggeri explains. “The fine Himalayan salt granules in this product strike just the right balance to promote healthy skin and hair.” It also includes aloe vera for a cooling, soothing effect.
Acid Wash Apple Cider Vinegar Cleansing Rinse
This R+Co rinse features the star ingredient to cleanse and purify, plus glycerin and tamanu seed oil for locking in moisture and fortifying strands. “I recommend this one especially for blondes,” Rugetti says. “I find it really cleanses the hair and makes lighter tones brighter when there’s buildup.”
Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
The maker of one of the most popular and affordable dandruff shampoos on the market also offers this ACV rinse for those struggling with flakes. It removes excess oil and buildup without being overly drying.
Strengthen and Restore Shampoo
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If you do prefer a lather, try SheaMoisture’s Strengthen and Restore shampoo. It’s formulated with softening Jamaican black castor oil and shea butter, making it a particularly great option for curly, wavy or coarse hair types. The addition of peppermint oil gives the scalp a super fresh feeling, too.
Although this option is technically a clarifying shampoo, it is infused with ACV to prevent over-stripping the scalp of necessary oils. Additionally, it’s boosted with keratin to make your hair stronger and smoother.
Apple Cider Vinegar Clarify & Shine Scalp Serum
Renpure’s deep-cleaning ACV rinse offers all the purifying and shine-enhancing benefits you crave, as well as extra-smoothing perks thanks to the inclusion of argan oil and coconut. What’s more, it contains bacteria-fighting tea tree oil to ward off dandruff and ginger root extract to prevent free radical damage.
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