Can you soak your way to better skin?

By Melanie Rud
September 01, 2020
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Move over coconut oil, there’s a new juggernaut ingredient taking over the skincare world. We’re talking about apple cider vinegar, also known as ACV. While certainly not a new ingredient by any means, the kitchen staple has long been touted as a superstar in the wellness space. Proponents claim that ingesting it orally can be beneficial for everything from blood sugar to blood pressure to weight loss. (Though FYI, you should never drink it straight.)  But now it’s also becoming a beauty mainstay, with plenty of purported benefits for both skin and hair

“Apple cider vinegar has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory benefits, which is why it’s commonly-used as a DIY treatment for skin issues such as sunburn, acne, and dandruff,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, board-certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Plus, because apple cider vinegar is acidic (it contains a high amount of citric acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid, as well as acetic acid), it can also be used as a gentle exfoliant, Dr. Zeichner adds. Finally, ACV has astringent (read: oil-minimizing) properties, which is helpful for minimizing the look of pores, says Jennifer Santiago, director of brand communications for Bragg; it’s why it’s often found in DIY toner recipes, Dr. Zeichner points out.

I’m all for a good natural beauty ingredient (particularly one as affordable and easily accessible as ACV), but I was admittedly a bit nervous to try it on my complexion. My skin is ultra-sensitive, so I try to minimize trying anything new—natural or otherwise—whenever possible. That being said, the skin below my chin is much less sensitive, so to try out the topical benefits of apple cider vinegar firsthand, I opted for another popular DIY beauty treatment—an apple cider vinegar bath.

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According to Santiago, those natural antimicrobial properties of ACV make it a good option to use as a soak for those dealing with minor irritations or rashes, or even those looking to reap the exfoliating benefits. Dr. Zeichner agrees, pointing out that an apple cider vinegar bath may be useful if you’re dealing with a sunburn (though hopefully you’re wearing sunscreen and not getting burned in the first place), and/or simply have dry, lackluster skin. (Insert hand raising emoji here—I was dealing with a variety of miscellaneous bug bites and itchy patches, plus perpetually dry elbows and scaly legs.) 

When it comes to creating said bath soak, you really don’t need a ton of the apple cider vinegar. Let’s not forget that the ingredient is very acidic; dilution is important so as to not accidentally end up irritating your skin, rather than soothing it. On that note, Dr. Zeichner does warn that ACV baths aren’t for those who have super sensitive skin, and to be extra cautious if you’re also using lots of exfoliating products. Santiago suggests taking an ACV bath no more than two or three times per week. And, it should go without saying, but for serious skin issues, it’s always best to consult a dermatologist.

The experts we spoke with say you can add anywhere between a half cup to two cups of organic apple cider vinegar to an almost full bath (since you don’t want it to overflow when you get in). To play it safe and because I always like to err on the side of caution, I opted for about a cup. Stir it around to ensure it’s mixed in, then climb in and soak. While you can go with the straight-up ACV and water combo, Santiago recommends adding detoxifying epsom salts to the mix, plus any essential oils of your choosing. I was out of essential oils but did have some lavender-infused epsom salts handy, so tossed in a scoop of those in as well. To be honest, my biggest worry was that the bath would smell vinegar-y, but that wasn’t the case in the least; the scent of the vinegar dissipated quickly. I climbed in and soaked away for about 30 minutes, and did find the bath extra relaxing (though I attribute that to the addition of the epsom salts). Still, when I climbed out my skin did, in fact, look—and feel—softer, and my bug bites were less itchy and much less red, just as the experts promised. My bottom line takeaway? In the world of find-them-in-your-pantry beauty ingredients and DIY bath soak recipes, apple cider vinegar definitely earns its spot at the table.