Can apple cider vinegar treat seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff?

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is one of the most common home remedies for seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Some people believe that ACV can help to reduce inflammation and redness, and to help promote healing. A lab study showed ACV can inhibit Malassezia. However, there are no human studies and there is limited evidence that it works. Applying ACV topically while your skin is inflammed can also cause burning and worsen inflammation.  

Let’s take a deep dive:

What is apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar is a popular natural remedy that has been around for centuries. It is sourced from fermented apples and can be used as a drink or applied to the skin.

Apple cider vinegar is made by chopping apples, covering them with water and leaving them until the natural sugars ferment to form an alcohol (ethanol). Bacteria then convert this alcohol into apple cider vinegar. ACV contains acetic acid and citric acid which are the primary contributors to its health benefits.

There are many benefits to using apple cider vinegar including that it helps with weight loss, reduces blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels, helps with detoxification and has antimicrobial properties that kill bacteria, fungus and viruses.

ACV has many skin benefits too.

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Skin benefits of apple cider vinegar

ACV contains acetic acid which has antibacterial and antifungal properties, making it great to use on acne or other skin conditions. It can also help with sunburns, bug bites, and other minor irritations.

ACV is also high in citric acid,  an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can help increase cell turnover and improve the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.

As ACV is made from fermented apples, it retains a high amount of pectin, which may help improve our skin barrier.

Is apple cider vinegar antifungal?

Multiple lab studies have shown that apple cider vinegar has antifungal properties against Candida. Mildly diluted (at least 1:1 ratio of ACV to water) apple cider vinegar can kill Candida. ACV also showed antibacterial activity against S.aureus and E. Coli, 2 common bacteria that can cause illness.

A 2019 lab study showed that lemon juice and apple cider vinegar diluted in water (3 parts ACV to 7 parts water) is strong enough to have antifungal activity against Malassezia.

Human studies are lacking. However, anecdotal success stories abound.

Can apple cider vinegar help seborrheic dermatitis?

Apple cider vinegar is one of the most common natural remedies recommended for seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Many people have reported success in using apple cider vinegar to treat their seborrheic dermatitis. However, these claims are not backed by research.

One of the compounds in apple cider vinegar can prevent certain types of fungus from growing in a test tube. However, this does not mean that it will be effective against seborrheic dermatitis on humans. A lab study has shown that diluted ACV (30% dilution) can inhibit Malassezia growth but there are no human studies.

Some people argue that because ACV is acidic, it can help protect the skin barrier. Undiluted ACV has a pH of 2.5. This is a lot more acidic than our skin acid mantle which has a pH of 4.5.-6.5. Applying pure ACV to to your skin will not only irritate and burn, but will also strip your skin off its protective barrier. The integrity of your skin barrier plays a major role in SD.

Theoretically, apple cider vinegar has properties that make it a good treatment for seborrheic dermatitis. However, we should never use the pure undiluted form of ACV on our skin. In fact, it is recommended that we dilute 1 part ACV to 9 parts water (10% dilution) for topical use.

After dilution, ACV loses a lot of its antifungal and antimicrobial properties and is unlikely to improve SD. In short, I don’t recommend using ACV to treat SD.

However, you may still want to give it a go since there are so many ‘success stories’ of ACV use out there. All I can say is if you are planning to apply ACV on your skin, make sure you dilute it and check that the pH matches your skin pH.

Is apple cider vinegar good for dandruff?

Similar to seborrheic dermatitis of the face, there is no evidence that ACV helps improve dandruff but many people have said it worked for them. Many claim that ACV has reduced flaking and improved their scalp itch.

There are claims that ACV may stimulate hair growth but this is yet to be confirmed by research too.

However, ACV may be used as a clarifying hair rinse after your conditioner. Getting rid of product buildup will unclog your hair follicles and improve dandruff. 

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If you’re looking for a natural antifungal hair treatment, henna may be your answer

Further reading: The 8 best scalp oils for seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff

How do you use apple cider vinegar to treat seborrheic dermatitis?

Admittedly I’m not a fan of using ACV for seborrheic dermatitis. However, if you are interested to try it, the safest way is to dilute ACV and apply it on a small area first before applying it to the rest of your affected skin, eyebrows or scalp twice a day. You can also use ACV as a hair rinse after your shampoo and conditioner.

Depending on how sensitive your skin is, start with a 10% dilution (1 part ACV to 9  parts water) and if your skin is tolerating it, increase it to 2 parts ACV to 8 parts water (20% dilution) and then to 3 parts ACV to 7 parts water (30% dilution). This is where I would stop. If 30% diluted ACV doesn’t improve your SD, it probably won’t help it even if it was stronger.

In fact, the less diluted ACV is, the higher the risk that it will irritate your skin, cause a burning sensation and even more inflammation.

Some people use pure apple cider vinegar for spot treatment of SD lesions. If your SD is in the inflammed phase, it will sting so much that you might pee your pants. And if it’s in the flaking stage, pure ACV will probably cause more redness and dry your skin out, causing more flaking. In short, I don’t recommend ever applying pure undiluted ACV on your skin.

If you’re applying ACV to your eyebrows, make sure you don’t let any drip into your eyes. It will irritate your eyes and cause stinging.

As always, for convenience, you can buy ready-diluted ACV products to save you time:

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Drinking apple cider vinegar to treat seborrheic dermatitis

It’s unlikely that drinking apple cider vinegar will help treat seborrheic dermatitis. However, some experts recommend ACV as a treatment for chronic candida infection and small intestine fungal overgrowth (SIFO).

Bear in mind that there is no strong evidence that ACV actually improves your gut microbiome. However, drinking a glass of diluted ACV a day or using it in your food probably doesn’t harm.

If you’re planning to drink ACV, dilute a tablespoonful in water and drink it with your daily routine as part of a healthy diet. ACV tastes terrible on its own so adding something sweet like honey can help mask the taste. BRAGG ACV even comes premixed with honey and lemon juice:

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Never drink ACV pure. ACV will erode your teeth and may even cause burns to your mouth, food tract (esophagus) and stomach if consumed undiluted.

Side effects of using apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a popular natural remedy that has been touted for its many health benefits. Some people use it to treat conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Others use it to lose weight or get rid of acne.

While apple cider vinegar is generally safe, there are some potential side effects to using it. These include dry scalp and a metallic taste in the mouth which is common for people who have taken blood thinners like warfarin.

Diluting apple cider vinegar is compulsory to prevent side effects. If you apply undiluted ACV to your skin, it can cause irritation and burning. If you apply ACV during an SD flare, it will burn like crazy.

Apple cider vinegar vs white vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made from crushed apples, while white vinegar is a type of distilled vinegar that is made from grains or vegetables. Of the two, apple cider vinegar is definitely the more famous one. However, they both contain similar compounds and both have similar acidity with a pH of 2.5.

ACV has a stronger, more pungent smell and taste. However, there is also more research into its health benefits. On the other hand, white vinegar has made a name for itself as the ultimate natural household cleaning product.

I take a deep dive into white vinegar as a treatment for seborrheic dermatitis in a separate article.

To wrap up

Apple cider vinegar is widely used as a natural treatment for seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. However, there is limited evidence that it works. Also, natural does not mean less side effects. ACV can burn, especially when your skin is already inflammed. Using antifungal creams instead of ACV is definitely gentler and much more effective in killing Malassezia.

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