Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/11/2021
Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar — if you believe natural health blogs and social media, these two kitchen staples could ultimately be responsible for saving humanity.
From cancer to weight loss, we’re led to believe they’re effective at all things health. But as you might suspect, the scientific evidence supporting these claims is much less confident.
Many people rinse their hair with apple cider vinegar — commonly called ACV by its friends. But what is the rinse actually capable of doing?
You’re good to question the Internet’s wisdom, because like so many home health remedies, this one isn’t quite as magic as we’re led to believe.
As you’ll see below, there are some potential health benefits of using ACV — real ones, backed by science.
And positive effects on your hair are included.
But before you hail apple cider vinegar as your hair savior, read on to know for sure what you can expect when you add this common salad dressing ingredient to your hair care routine.
Vinegar can be made from a variety of fruits — actually, anything with sugar — and apple cider vinegar just so happens to be made with apples.
As with all vinegars, ACV is created when yeast ferments the sugars and converts them into alcohol. Next, acetobacter, a bacteria, turns the alcohol into acetic acid.
You can actually see the yeast and bacteria in most bottles of ACV; it’s known as the “mother.”
The mother in ACV is probiotic, and many of the reported health benefits of this vinegar are attributed to “her,” though this link has not been substantiated with science.
The nutritional content of ACV is much like that of apple juice, with B-vitamins and antioxidants, but with the additional acetic acid and probiotics.
Apple cider vinegar is not new, despite the rush of popularity it has experienced over the past several years.
As a matter of fact, it may have been used for health reasons as early as 3300 B.C. Hippocrates — yes, the one behind the oath all healthcare professionals take — reportedly used ACV, as well as samurai warriors, Ancient Egyptians, and U.S. Civil War soldiers.
Google “ACV benefits” and you’ll be bombarded with all sorts of claims.
The popularity of apple cider vinegar as a natural health cure-all has exploded over the past several years, as have the many things it’s reported to treat, prevent, or cure.
As with many home remedies, the science backing these reported benefits isn’t nearly as robust as the claims.
Those claims include assisting with: anti-aging, asthma, appetite suppression and weight loss, menstruation regulation, leg cramps, heartburn, high blood pressure, cancer, upset stomach, sore throat, sunburn, dandruff prevention, hair loss, headache, dizziness, nervousness, bacterial growth...and the list goes on.
The actual science of apple cider vinegar benefits is far more conservative. According to the research, apple cider vinegar may:
Lower blood sugar levels
Kill bacteria on food, potentially preventing transmission
Aid in weight loss
Unfortunately, the use of ACV in hair treatments is not something covered in the scientific journals. So what we know about the potential hair benefits associated with ACV is limited and theoretical or anecdotal.
That said, ACV and all vinegars are acidic. On the pH scale — where a lower number is more acidic and a higher number is more alkaline — vinegar is about a 2.
For reference, that’s less acidic than stomach acid (pH 1) and more acidic than orange juice (pH 3). And we do know that the pH level of products put on your hair can affect how it feels and looks.
A notable study looked at 123 shampoos from around the world and found shampooing with those with an alkaline pH (over 7) “may increase the negative electrical charge of the hair fiber surface and, therefore, increase friction between the fibers.”
This can make hair feel rougher, look frizzy, and increase damage and breakage. Interestingly, just 38 percent of the popular brand shampoos they tested had a pH of <5.
In theory, applying ACV, with a pH of roughly 2, could smooth the cuticle of the hair, similar to a conditioner. And if you read blogs and reviews online, you’ll find smoothness is one of the main reported benefits of an ACV rinse.
Similarly, in theory, DIY ACV rinsing may improve scalp health if your scalp problems are caused by a fungus or bacteria, as the acidic nature of vinegar may inhibit the growth of these things. But if your scalp is inflamed because of these issues, applying ACV could be quite painful.
Apple cider vinegar can be caustic and irritating to sensitive skin or inflamed tissues, so if you’re going to attempt an ACV hair rinse, dilute the vinegar with water before applying. Otherwise, ACV is generally safe and the risks are low, so this is a fairly low-cost hair treatment to try, even if the scientific evidence is somewhat lacking.
So, when push comes to shove, what’s the word on apple cider vinegar and hair loss?
People have used ACV as a folk remedy for millennia to help treat everything from certain cancers to weight loss.
But when it comes to hair, the science behind its potential benefits is extremely limited. So long as you’re willing to dilute the vinegar to reduce its potential caustic effects on your hair, you may not much with an ACV rinse.
We wouldn’t trust it as a cure-all to prevent hair loss or promote growth, however.
If you’re looking for time-tested, science-backed, FDA-approved ways to treat hair loss, your best bet is to schedule a consultation with a healthcare professional — at the very least, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
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