Apple Cider Vinegar and Acne: Does ACV Help Acne?

Apple cider vinegar

Does apple cider vinegar actually help acne? Here’s why we don’t recommend it…

It’s true – apple cider vinegar (ACV) seems like pretty amazing stuff.

No two ways about it.

It’s been used for likely over 5,000 years, by the Babylonians, the ancient Egyptians, and the ancient Greeks.

Columbus even reportedly took barrels of ACV on his ships to prevent scurvy among his sailors![1]

There’s a lot of “folk wisdom” floating around about using ACV as some kind of magical cure-all, from soothing sore throats to eliminating dry skin.

Let’s dive into the science, and along the way, we’ll tackle the only question that really matters to you and me: does apple cider vinegar actually help acne?

What is apple cider vinegar?

Okay, let’s just go over the basics.

ACV is made from fermenting raw apple cider, and is typically sold raw (unpasteurized) to preserve the probiotic benefits and the bacterial and yeast colonies that grow (the “mother”).

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Does ACV actually help acne?

There are plenty of other articles about ACV’s general health effects.

I’m going to skip over that, and just focus on apple cider vinegar and acne.

So does ACV actually help acne?

Well, the scientific literature has a few clues for us.

First, taking apple cider vinegar may lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and HbA1C (glycated hemoglobin).[2]

These are good signs of improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, which can both contribute to healing acne.

No one’s really sure why this happens yet – it could be the pure acetic acid itself, slowing down the release of sugar into your bloodstream when you’re digesting carbohydrates.[3] Or it could be some other phytochemicals in ACV that haven’t been identified yet.[4]

Second, assuming you get unpasteurized ACV, it contains lactic acid bacteria (the “mother”), and if you have a severely compromised gut flora, these bacteria may help to rebalance your gut flora somewhat, which generally reduces inflammation and also redness and swelling of acne, and improves nutrient absorption in the small intestine, which could improve any vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

In this way, ACV might have the same acne benefit as other probiotic-containing, fermented foods. That said, there are a few reasons why I do not recommend taking ACV to try to cure your acne.

Why I don’t recommend taking ACV as an oral supplement

Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic – it’s typically 5% acetic acid by volume.

That’s really great for stripping enamel off your teeth and damaging your throat tissue!

(Case in point: my grandfather stripped off his tooth enamel by eating a lemon with every meal for decades. Drinking an ACV tonic regularly could potentially have a similar effect! Some people recommend swishing your mouth out with baking soda after taking ACV to prevent the enamel destruction, but that just seems ridiculous to me. We’re going for Occam’s Razor, here – simplicity is our goal. We’re trying to cure acne in the simplest, most permanent way, and ACV + baking soda make things too messy for us.)

ACV also tastes horrible taken straight, in this author’s humble opinion!

You might think you can just take ACV pills to avoid the bad taste, but research shows that many “apple cider vinegar pills” may not actually include any ACV.[5] There are no regulations about apple cider vinegar supplements, so there’s no guarantee you’re actually getting any ACV, or that it’s in a potent and beneficial form.

Yes, it’s true – taking ACV may slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream after your eat carbohydrates. It may increase insulin sensitivity. It may promote healthy gut bacteria.

But if you follow the diet recommendations in our book, you’ll be cutting out most of these high-glycemic carbohydrates and supporting a healthy gut anyway. So the supplemental ACV is totally redundant and unnecessary.

Why I don’t recommend putting ACV on your skin

Some people have reported improvement in their skin by applying apple cider vinegar to their acne topically.

This may have to do with the acidity of ACV, helping to restore your skin’s natural acidity and bacterial flora. Then why not use it every morning and night, if it might help your acne?

This is where Sonia and I, at Clear Skin Forever, say the opposite of what most people will tell you.

Basically, we don’t recommend using apple cider vinegar topically as an acne treatment because it’s still a topical treatment. It’s not that different from using a cream like benzoyl peroxide.

Yes, it is “natural,” and yes, it will not bleach your towels like BP, but it’s still just a topical treatment.

The problem with topical treatments for acne, generally speaking, is that they only work as long as you keep using them. When you stop using them, the acne often comes back.

That’s not good enough for us!

Our main goal at Clear Skin Forever is to get you acne-free, permanently, without having to use any topical treatments or take any medications. We want to help you cure the root causes of your acne, with diet and lifestyle changes.

Using ACV, topically or orally, doesn’t fit into that picture.

It’s an example of Western “allopathic” medicine: treating the symptoms instead of the root cause.

And the worst part is that if you’re covering up your symptoms at the same time as you’re working to heal your skin from the inside, you are obscuring essential feedback from your body. It’s these messages from your body that you use to determine the foods that work best with your body, and those that tend to trigger breakouts.

We’re going for holistic cures here. Once you cure the root causes of acne, you’ll have developed a diet and lifestyle that support clear skin.

Do you really want to be blotting ACV on your face with cotton swabs for the rest of your life?

Once you develop a diet and lifestyle that support clear skin naturally and automatically, and you don’t even have to think about acne. No treatments, no remedies, none of that extra, unnecessary stuff.

Life is already complicated enough, don’t you think?

ACV as food

Now, there are some great household and culinary uses for ACV!

Sonia uses ACV to make poached eggs, because it makes them taste better than if she uses white vinegar. The apple cider vinegar helps the eggs hold together in the pot of water during cooking, making for some really beautiful poached eggs.

Apple cider vinegar can also add a wonderful tang to home-made olive oil salad dressings.

We want you to think about ACV as food. Yes, it’s probably good for you in small amounts. So is black pepper. So is turmeric. So are blueberries. So are sweet potatoes & yams. So is grass-fed beef. So add it to nutritious foods to your taste, but don’t pour it down your gullet because it’s “good for you.”

Key Takeaways

There is some evidence that apple cider vinegar may have positive effects on acne breakouts, either applied topically or taken internally.

But using apple cider vinegar for acne, specifically?

We (Devin and Sonia) don’t recommend it.

Why?

Because it doesn’t address the true causes of acne, and can instead hide useful feedback from your body as you’re working toward a total acne cure.

It’s much more effective instead to figure out the root dietary and lifestyle causes of acne, which includes:

  • Figuring out how to relax and de-stress your life
  • Removing the top four acne-causing foods (dairy, vegetable oil, gluten, and sugar)
  • Getting 8+ hours of sleep per night in a dark room
  • Moving your body frequently

This is all the stuff we cover in our book, and it’s these big changes that will make a big difference in your skin.

Taking ACV internally, or applying it your face, is not a big change, and will probably not solve your acne problem.

Our e-book illustrates the much more powerful diet and lifestyle changes you can make to start getting your acne under control, and to gain control over your skin.

We invite you to grab a copy of our e-book and get started now.

Have you tried using ACV for your skin? Share your experience with us in the comments!

About Devin Mooers

Devin MooersHey! Over the past 10 years, I've developed a powerful system for clearing acne with a little-known diet- and lifestyle-based method, and I want to spread the love. That's why I started Clear Skin Forever back in 2011. I studied engineering and product design at Stanford University, and graduated in the top 5% of my class, but afterward, I decided to focus on writing about health, since I found it so fulfilling to help people clear their acne for good. Thanks for reading, and sign up for email updates to stay in the loop with clear skin tips! Also, be sure to check out our book if you haven't yet, all about how to fix acne permanently with diet and lifestyle changes. We've helped thousands of people get clear skin this way!

{ 16 Comments }

  1. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  2. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  3. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  4. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  5. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins (gotmag.org) is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  6. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

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