As people become more conscious beauty consumers, the skin, nail, makeup, and hair industries have become more health-based than ever before — it's why you’re seeing an uptick in products like blush with skin care benefits or mascaras that just so happen to have fortifying peptides packed inside. It's also why scalp and hair clarification is on the rise, which is the process of removing excess build-up to maintain a healthy scalp and hair.
But what if, despite all these new launches, the best hair clarification product has been sitting in your home this entire time? Yep, apple cider vinegar is not only a great addition to your healthy meals but also an exceptional natural (and cost-effective) alternative to pricier options.
Jill Turnbull, hairstylist and founder of Jill Turnbull Beauty believes that everyone should prioritize clarifying their hair and scalp. As she explains, "The benefits [are] to rejuvenate your scalp by gently cleansing away bacteria, fungal growth, build up, and more, to help balance your skin's pH.” She says that when your scalp is not healthy, you might experience a range of issues including build-up, hair loss, and unbalanced moisture levels (all of which can affect your hair as well). Hair clarification removes excess sebum and product build-up from the scalp and hair, allowing your entire head a chance to breathe, the same way exfoliation removes excess sebum and dead skin on your complexion.
Impressed by these claims, I was eager to find out if I could swap out my usual hair and scalp care products for a humble bottle of ACV, and still see the many benefits of making regular scalp and hair clarification. But first, I needed to know how exactly apple cider vinegar delivers on these promises.
The 411 On ACV
As Holly Dear, expert hairstylist at House Of Dear salon in Dallas explains, "When your hair or scalp is dehydrated it is because your ph is off. Apple Cider Vinegar is a natural ph balancer," meaning that while it works to clarify the hair, it also balances the pH of the scalp, creating a healthy microbiome.
Additionally, apple cider vinegar has exfoliating and shine-enhancing properties. Bridgette Hill, certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis states, "On the scalp, apple cider vinegar's antimicrobial properties and natural alpha-hydroxy acids encourage cellular turnover," much like how your favorite chemical exfoliator increases cell turnover while simultaneously ridding the skin of any build-up. Hill continues, "On the hair fiber, ACV closes the cuticle on the hair shaft, sealing in moisture and adding optimal shine."
But that's not all, folks. Apple cider vinegar also has anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties, critical for those who suffer from scalp issues. Triple board-certified dermatologist and founder of Macrene Actives and founder & Director Dermatology at Laser Surgery Center of New York, Dr. Macrene Alexiades MD PhD explains, "Vinegar is a homemade remedy that kills both fungus and Pseudomonas," a bacteria that can lead to skin rashes and infections. In addition, Dr. Alexiades mentions that apple cider vinegar is excellent for ridding the scalp of pathogens and resetting the microbiome.
Furthermore, the anti-fungal properties of apple cider vinegar can help you finally kick your dandruff to the curb. Board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, Dr. Hadley King adds that, "Yeast named Malasezzia can contribute to seborrheic dermatitis (better known as dandruff), and therefore using an ingredient like apple cider vinegar with anti-yeast properties may be helpful." Dr. King also mentions that apple cider vinegar has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, ideal for those suffering from acne or folliculitis.
If this isn't enough to convince you to spritz your favorite acidic accouterment through your tresses, Dear says that, "apple cider vinegar also contains vitamin B5 and biotin." These ingredients help to moisturize and re-build your hair and your scalp, which effectively strengthens your hair in the long run.
Hill adds that, "the [ACV] rinse can be customized to be stronger or weaker, depending on the water to ACV ratio used when mixing, for those with scalp concerns versus those with no obvious scalp conditions." Plus, when creating your own apple cider vinegar rinse, you're in charge of every single ingredient that goes inside, meaning that you'll likely leave out any harmful components, like phthalates, that traditionally exist in hair products.
But the best benefit? Apple cider vinegar is a cost-effective ingredient (a 32 ounce bottle will typically run you less than $10) that likely already exists in your fridge, meaning that it's a product accessible to all.
ACV In The Wild
Naturally, after learning all these benefits, I decided to give an apple cider vinegar rinse a whirl.
My hair sits between a 2C and 3A curl type, meaning that although I mostly have dense waves, I also have a few springy curls scatter around my hair. For my texture, I decided to mix one part apple cider vinegar to five parts water in a spray bottle to ensure that I'm reaping the benefits of apple cider vinegar, without introducing too strong of an acid to my delicate hair.
After that, I separate my hair into sections and spray the concoction throughout my scalp until my roots look damp. Next, I like to go in and lightly spray the length of my hair with the same amount of mixture as I would use when using a heat-protectant spray into my hair. Once my hair and scalp are fully coated, I like to give myself a scalp massage with my fingertips for a soothing, spa-like moment.
Hill recommends leaving the treatment on the scalp and hair for ten to fifteen minutes before rinsing out, so I did just that. After my time was up, I rinsed the ACV treatment out as Turnbull recommends: "On average, you should spend about three minutes rinsing out the ACV [with water], and for those with thick hair, around five minutes." After rinsing I followed up with a lightweight leave-in conditioner to reintroduce any lost oils.
I am pleased to say that I didn't smell like a salad after using the ACV rinse. As far as the look and feel of my hair since using it twice weekly for four weeks, I am continuously surprised by how smooth and frizz-free my texture looks these days. I also no longer see a hard line of separation between the part of my hair that is oily at the roots and the part of my hair that can become so dry it resembles tumbleweeds. All I really see is balance all throughout. Unfortunately, most clarifying products strip my hair in such a way that I tend to overcompensate the subsequent dryness with products like moisture masks, curl creams, and hair oils. Yet, with an ACV rinse, all I really need for a surge of moisture is a simple leave-in conditioner.
And despite the fact that I do not use shampoo on days where I use an ACV rinse, my hair still feels so clean, thanks to the astringent properties of apple cider vinegar. And I'm not just talking clean-ish — I mean I-can-feel-the-wind-graze-my-scalp clean. My favorite part about trying out an apple cider vinegar rinse, however, is that I no longer experience bits of dandruff in between scalp clarification sessions. Suffice it to say, I'll be purchasing apple cider vinegar for more than just my health drinks from here on out.