For when regular shampoo alone just doesn’t seem to cut it.

By Hana Hong
August 18, 2020
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If you’re a fellow hair product junkie or have ever gone a couple days without washing your hair (basically all of us), I’m sure you’re familiar with how gross product and oil buildup feels. After several rounds of dry shampoo, hairspray, and styling creams, your scalp can be left with a lingering layer of product that no amount of rinsing time seems to eliminate. This is especially true if you live in a place with soft water, which can give hair a slippery feel.

Now, the good news—you can probably find a good (and affordable!) fix in your kitchen cabinet: apple cider vinegar. An apple cider vinegar-based rinse is touted by trichologists and hairstylists everywhere for helping restore life to your hair in a matter of minutes. The DIY ingredient is a great replacement for fancy clarifying shampoos—easier on your wallet and oftentimes more effective. 

You’ll probably notice the funky acidic scent immediately upon opening the bottle, but you don’t have to worry about walking around smelling like salad dressing. Yes, your shower will smell faintly of vinegar after a rinse, but the odor disappears when rinsed down the drain, and you won’t notice anything on your hair after it dries.

However, you do have to be cautious about application. Since the concentration of pure ACV is so strong, you can’t simply pour a bottle of ACV onto your head. Not only will that end up stripping your hair, the acidic nature could irritate and burn your scalp. According to Gretchen Friese, a BosleyMD hairstylist and certified trichologist, you should always dilute a half tablespoon of ACV to every 8 ounces of water, increasing it over time based on your scalp’s reaction.

“Everyone should experiment to find a dilution that works best for them as dry hair needs less ACV and oily hair needs more,” says Friese. “A plastic squeeze bottle or spray bottle are both great applicators. I recommend shampooing first and then saturating the hair with ACV.” Once you massage the solution into the scalp, let it sit for three to five minutes before rinsing and conditioning as normal. The frequency of application will depend on your hair type (remember, dry hair likes less and oily hair more) but don’t overdo it as it can cause brassiness and damage in high doses.  

That being said, trichologists and stylists agree that those with a hypersensitive scalp or any type of skin abrasions or disorders should avoid using apple cider vinegar as it has the potential to further irritate skin that may already be vulnerable.

“If you have any open wounds such as blister cuts or scabs, I would not recommend using it until it’s healed or otherwise consulted by your doctor,” adds Anita Sun, hairstylist at Eliut Salon. “You should also try not to use it right before or right after a chemical treatment, such as a coloring or keratin job, because the pH can affect the treatment you’re having done.” 

Now that we’ve covered the logistics, here are some benefits of apple cider vinegar for your hair and scalp.

1

According to Friese, ACV smooths and seals the hair cuticle, making it ideal for reaching high shine levels. The enzymes from the fermented apple close and smooth the hair cuticle, the protective layer that locks in vital lipids, proteins, and moisture. Doing this will restore condition and shine, plus even prevent color pigment loss if your hair is color-treated.

2

The biggest symptom of second-day hair is straggly, limp, and lifeless strands. That’s because excess grease can weigh down hair on your scalp, destroying any appearance of volume. In addition to clearing out grease, grime, and product buildup that has clumped up in your hair over time, ACV removes the weight of those excess oils, helping to boost volume as a result.

3

In addition to its many beneficial properties, ACV is also an anti-inflammatory, meaning it can prevent bacteria growth on the scalp (it’s even used as a natural household cleanser!). This should come as a huge relief for dandruff sufferers or people with an itchy scalp. “Along with antimicrobial properties that can effectively relieve inflammation, apple cider vinegar helps balance your pH and exfoliate scalp skin, which can minimize dandruff and reduce itchiness,” says Gina Rivera, founder of Phenix Salons and creator of Colours by Gina.

4

Although ACV isn’t a cure-all for treating hair loss, its acidity is linked as a potential solution for hair thinning by keeping a balanced pH level. Hair has an ideal pH level of between four and five, but many commercial shampoos may disrupt this. If this is the cause of your hair loss, adding a shot of ACV to your hair routine can restore its levels, unclog pores, and stimulate hair regrowth.

If you’re new to apple cider vinegar and a bit intimidated about diving into raw application, a great way to ease into the process is through hair products with ACV already infused into its formulas. Luckily, the promise of commercial-level shine and volume is more than a little enticing, so the market is chock-full of them. Shop our favorites below.

1

$30, amazon.com

This shampoo and conditioner set is the number-one best-selling shampoo on Amazon for a reason. WOW has over 27,000 positive reviews on Amazon and has sold over 17,000 bottles of its miracle shampoo and conditioner in one day. Reviewers rave about its hero abilities to remove all traces of buildup in one use. Since its formula is extracted from natural apple cider vinegar sourced from the Himalayas, you can be assured you're using the freshest formula. 

2

$7, amazon.com

Infused with a farm-fresh inspired blend of apple cider vinegar, we’re all about this Aveeno rinse that clarifies your tresses to enhance your hair's natural shine. We’re also super into Aveeno’s shampoo duo ($14; amazon.com) from the same collection, which has just the right dosage of ACV to be gentle enough for everyday use. 

3

$30, sephora.com

This lightweight primer spray is a serious multitasking winner: It seals the hair cuticle, prevents breakage, detangles, and provides heat and UV protection. In addition to apple cider vinegar, aloe vera adds an extra side of moisturizer and addresses existing damage.

4

$19, target.com

This pick isn’t topical, but Goli Beauty’s ACV gummies have over 35,000 positive reviews on Amazon for its many benefits, among them being its crazy-good effects on hair. (I’ve tried it!) Hair experts recommend pairing your apple cider vinegar hair rinse with a shot of ACV, but these gummies let you reap all the benefits without the downside of drinking it.