People associate apple cider vinegar with many health benefits, including getting rid of dandruff. However, does it work?
Many individuals choose natural remedies instead of over-the-counter medication to treat numerous health problems, including congestion, nausea, and acne.
Apple cider vinegar is the main component in a variety of natural remedies due to its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
Apple cider vinegar may help relieve scalp conditions, including flaking, persistent itching, and dandruff.
In this article, we examine the evidence for using apple cider vinegar to treat dandruff. We also look at how to use apple cider vinegar and any risks and side effects.
Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apple juice.
Apple cider vinegar is said to help relieve dandruff symptoms by rebalancing the scalp’s natural pH levels. People also think it prevents the growth of fungi that contribute to dry, itchy skin.
Support for using apple cider vinegar for the skin mostly comes from personal anecdotes. No high quality research studies support these claims.
However, a few studies provide evidence that apple cider vinegar may offer the following benefits that could help reduce dandruff symptoms:
Balancing the scalp’s pH levels
The ideal pH of the scalp is approximately 5.5, which is slightly acidic.
Water has a neutral pH of 7.0 while substances that have pH values higher than 7.0 are alkaline.
Many commercial shampoos, including those that manufacturers describe as anti-dandruff products, have pH levels higher than 5.5.
Alkaline shampoos and soaps can irritate the skin and scalp, causing redness, itching, and flaking.
Other factors that can affect the scalp’s pH include:
- excess sebum
- air pollution
- antibacterial products
- excess sun exposure
- laundry detergent
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid. As a weak acidic solution, apple cider vinegar may help lower the pH level of the scalp, which could reduce dandruff symptoms.
A small 2019 study appearing in Pediatric Dermatology investigated the effects of apple cider vinegar on skin pH and skin water loss in people with atopic dermatitis and a control group.
For 2 weeks, the 11 participants in each group soaked one forearm in diluted apple cider vinegar, containing 0.5% acetic acid, and the other in water for 10 minutes. The researchers recorded the skin pH and skin water loss at 0, 15, 30, and 60 minutes after the soak.
The results indicated that the apple cider vinegar soak increased skin water loss in both groups and decreased skin pH. Skin pH remained lowered for 15 minutes in those with atopic dermatitis and 60 minutes among controls.
The study concluded that although apple cider vinegar can decrease skin pH levels immediately after treatment, the effects are only temporary.
Also, most of those with atopic dermatitis experienced mild to moderate skin irritation on the arm they exposed to the apple cider vinegar.
Inhibiting the growth of fungi and bacteria
A lot of scientific research focuses on the human microbiome, which is the collective genetic material of microbes that inhabit the human body.
In a 2018 study, researchers compared the scalp microbiome of 140 adults with and without dandruff.
The individuals with dandruff had significantly higher quantities of Staphylococcus epidermidis bacterium and uncultured Malassezia fungal species compared with those without dandruff.
A 2019 study suggested that undiluted apple cider vinegar has potent antimicrobial activity. However, the researchers found that apple cider vinegar has less antifungal activity at lower concentrations.
The findings suggest that while apple cider vinegar can limit the growth of certain bacteria and fungi, diluted solutions may be less effective for the scalp.
Washing the scalp with a solution of diluted apple cider vinegar may help reduce dandruff.
- Dilute 1–3 tablespoons (tbsp) of apple cider vinegar with warm water.
- After shampooing the hair, pour the apple cider vinegar wash over the head.
- Use the fingers to massage the mixture into the scalp.
- Let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes before rinsing it out.
Apple cider vinegar has a pungent scent that some people may find off-putting. Mixing a few drops of essential oil into the scalp treatment may help mask the smell.
The patch test
People should perform a patch test if they have never applied apple cider vinegar to their skin.
To perform a patch test:
- Apply a few drops of diluted or fully concentrated apple cider vinegar to the back of the hand.
- Monitor the patch of skin for signs of irritation, such as redness, itching, or burning.
- Check again during the day, as skin reactions can occur within a few minutes or several hours after application.
People who experience no signs of irritation after a patch test can try applying the apple cider vinegar wash to their scalp.
Start with a low concentration of apple cider vinegar. This might be 1–2 tbsp per 8 fluid ounces (0.24 liters) of water once or twice a week. People can gradually increase the amount up to 5 tbsp of apple cider vinegar.
Anyone who experiences signs of scalp irritation or worsening dandruff should discontinue use.
The National Eczema Association warn that consuming large amounts of apple cider vinegar might damage the soft tissues lining the mouth, teeth, throat, and stomach due to its high acidity.
The acetic acid in undiluted apple cider vinegar may cause irritation and chemical burns if left on the skin too long.
In a 2012 case study, doctors treated an 8-year-old child with a history of Crohn’s disease who developed chemical burns after their mother applied cotton balls soaked in apple cider vinegar to multiple lesions on a leg.
The cotton balls were soaked in undiluted apple cider vinegar and left on the skin for about 8 hours. The next day, the largest lesion turned dark violet and developed white, pus-filled bumps.
In another study, doctors treated a 14-year-old for chemical burns that developed after the teen used undiluted apple cider vinegar to remove unwanted moles from their nose.
Due to its low pH and antimicrobial properties, apple cider vinegar may help reduce itching, flaking, and other dandruff symptoms.
However, researchers have yet to confirm the efficacy of apple cider vinegar as a dandruff treatment in high quality research studies.
People who want to give this potential natural dandruff remedy a try can start by applying a dilute apple cider vinegar wash to their scalp once or twice a week.
In some people, however, the wash may lead to skin irritation or worsening dandruff symptoms. If this happens, people can either decrease the amount of apple cider vinegar in the wash or discontinue use altogether.