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Why an Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse Is the Key to a Happy Scalp

Photo by LStockStudio/Adobe Stock Images

It seems the best beauty products are always right in front of us—or at least sitting in our kitchen cabinet. As long as the ingredients are considered safe for use, you shouldn’t be afraid to try a little DIY with tried-and-true household classics. This especially rings true when you’re after healthy, shiny hair. Perhaps you've tried TikTok’s favorite hair hack: rice water hair treatments. Or maybe you've decided to make your very own banana hair mask. But what about at-home solutions for detoxing your scalp? The solution may come by way of an apple cider vinegar hair rinse. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made from fermented apples—and it should definitely be a part of your hair care routine.

“Apple cider vinegar is one of those gifts from Mother Nature that’s just too good not to utilize for everything, including your hair,” says celebrity hairstylist Michelle Cleveland. But what, specifically, is it great for, aside from making a killer salad dressing? Ultimately apple cider vinegar benefits all go back to one word: balance. From reducing frizz to adding shine and exfoliating the scalp, ACV does (almost) everything. You can think of it as a fresh slate for the scalp.

If the results of an ACV rinse sound familiar, there’s a logical reason. Said rinse has similarities to a clarifying shampoo, but they’re actually different. “An ACV rinse is a liquid formula that is applied after shampooing,” explains HAIRITAGE founder and CEO Mindy McKnight. “It’s typically an acidic formula that dissolves buildup and is used to balance the pH of the scalp. A pH balanced scalp helps keep moisture levels and the health of your hair in check. On the other hand, a clarifying shampoo suds and works like a traditional shampoo to lift buildup. Both products help cleanse the scalp, but in different ways. You may want to use an ACV rinse over a clarifying shampoo if your hair is in a protective style or you need a deeper cleanse.” 

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About the Experts:

Michelle Cleveland is a celebrity hairstylist, an extension artist, and the owner of Hair Addict Salon in New Jersey.
Philip B. is a hair and scalp expert and the founder of PHILIP B. Botanical Hair Care.
Yoram Harth, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Medical Director of MDhair.
Clyde Haygood is a celeb hairstylist and PURA D’OR Partner 
Mindy McKnight is the founder and CEO of HAIRITAGE hair care. 

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar for Hair

It Can Balance & Soothe Your Scalp

Hair, like everything else, has a natural pH range—aka a level of acidity or alkalinity—to maintain in order to remain healthy. When it moves beyond that range, due to your environment, product usage, styling, or any other outside forces, that’s when you’ll notice a difference in the look and feel of your strands.

"The normal pH of the scalp is 5.5, and the hair shaft is 3.5. Alkaline shampoo and conditioner disrupt the hair's ph balance, causing more hair porosity and frizz," says dermatologist Yoram Harth, MD. He explains ACV has a pH of two to three and can rebalance our pH, close the open cuticles, reduce hair porosity, and make our hair stronger and shinier.

According to celeb hairstylist Clyde Haygood, yet another benefit of a clarified scalp and balanced pH is reduced dandruff.

It Removes Buildup

Because ACV is more acidic than most regular shampoos, it helps exfoliate dead skin cells and wash away buildup from hard water and hair products like dry shampoo. You'll notice how easy your shampoo lathers within your hair after using an ACV product. Since taking care of the buildup, your hair care products are able to be more effective.

It Promotes Luscious Locks

ACV’s removal of grease, environmental pollutants, and product buildup gives the scalp and hair follicles a clean slate to grow new hair. “This enhances your hair’s shine and reduces frizz,” McKnight says.

It's Antimicrobial while Healing a Dry & Itchy Scalp 

Your scalp is the host of some bacterial and fungal friends—many of which are harmless—but sometimes they get a little too comfortable, causing not-so-fun side effects like itchiness and dandruff. “ACV can help balance a dry and itchy scalp by helping control the bacteria or fungi that can lead to scalp and hair problems,” explains Cleveland.

It Complements Your Favorite Clarifying Shampoo

ACV can help reduce excess natural oils at the root, making it ideal for individuals with oily hair or fine hair. Better yet, it’s gentler than most clarifying shampoos, so you can use it more than once a week. “It can, and in most cases, should be used literally every time you wash your hair to balance the pH, close the cuticle and restore the surface and shine of hair,” says Philip B., hair and scalp expert and founder of Philip B. Botanical Hair Care. 

It Can Reduce Hair Loss & Repair Breakage

Because ACV has the ability to balance our scalp's pH and effectively clear any inflammation within our hair follicles, overall the ingredient is working to reduce hair loss. ACV is strengthening our strands through use overtime and bringing more balance to our scalp, therefore less stress is put on the area. 

It Can Help Your Dye-Jobs Last Longer 

"Most hair colors are alkaline, opening the hair cuticle and increasing hair porosity. Because ACV is slightly acidic, it can extend the life and vibrancy of hair color. For best results, ACV should be diluted 1 to 8 with water and be applied right after the color is rinsed off, " says Dr. Harth. So if you're taking regular trips to the salon to color your hair, ACV is a must to preserve and get the most out of your color. 

How to Do an Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse, Step-by-Step

Although the effects are gentle, ACV on its own is too harsh to apply directly to hair, so make sure you dilute it before applying onto the scalp. Not diluting it could irritate the scalp or even lead to mild burns, says Philip B. 

The Simplest Routine to Follow:

1. Shampoo and condition hair normally.

2. Mix three tablespoons of five percent ACV with 1 3/4 cups of water. Dr. Harth notes if you have oily hair or struggle with dandruff, you can use four tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. 

3. Separate your hair into sections, then apply the mixture to your scalp, section by section, by lightly massaging it in.

4. Leave it in for up to five minutes. It shouldn’t burn if properly diluted, but if it does, rinse it out immediately.

5. Rinse it out thoroughly with cool water to help seal your hair’s cuticle.

6. Use once a week to help soothe dry scalp symptoms, or use once a month as maintenance for healthy hair. “ACV is great for in-between washes, whether your hair is loose or in a protective style,” McKnight says.

Who Should Use Apple Cider Vinegar?

If you’re looking for added shine, smoothing properties, or itch relief, you’re on the right track. “Any hair type suffering from frizzy hair and dehydration [can benefit from ACV], as these characteristics are the result of the hair cuticle being left open from either chemical or product damage,” Cleveland says. 

Additionally, “Anyone who has fine, limp, lifeless hair that tends to get oily can benefit immensely from ACV,” says Haygood. He adds that removing buildup with ACV will give even the finest strands a boost of shine, volume, and lift. 

Those with dry hair and dry scalps can also do an ACV rinse, although if hair feels worse with use (think: straw-like, porous strands), discontinue and consider a hydrating hair mask instead. Dr. Harth says individuals with dry hair types should never use ACV on their hair more than once a week. 

Also, some hair and skin types may not be suitable for ACV at all. ACV contains acetic acid, which is very strong. If you have sensitive or easily irritated skin, ACV might not be ideal for your routine. However, if you do decide to try an ACV hair rinse, you should do so with a very small amount that is very diluted. 

Personal sensitivities aside, ACV is considered safe for all hair types and textures, even color treated, according to McKnight. “It works especially well for anyone who uses a lot of products, like dry shampoo and hairspray. It’s used to help clarify the scalp from product and oil buildup, and to rebalance the pH on your scalp for stronger and healthier-looking hair.” But don’t get scrub-happy, she strongly advises. Using in addition to other scalp exfoliants can cause irritation on any hair type.  

3 Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Products We Love

1. R+CO Acid Wash Apple Cider Vinegar Cleansing Rinse

R+CO Acid Wash Apple Cider Vinegar Cleansing Rinse
Courtesy of R+CO

While we love a good DIY, using a pre-mixed hair treatment is simply easier—plus they have added benefits you won’t get with just ACV and water. Case in point: In addition to the star ingredient, this rinse contains aloe vera and tamanu seed oil (which is full of nourishing fatty acids) to prevent dryness, and it’s also safe to use on color-treated hair.

2. DPHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub

DPHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub
Courtesy of DPHUE

 Double down on detoxing with this scalp scrub made with Himalayan sea salt and (of course) apple cider vinegar. The mix of chemical and physical exfoliants reduces dandruff, dead skin, and product buildup, but it won’t mess with your scalp’s pH. 

3. OUAI Detox Shampoo

OUAI Detox Shampoo
Courtesy of OUAI

No time to add an extra product to your routine? An ACV-infused shampoo acts as a two-in-one. You don’t need to use it every time you shampoo, but try swapping in this clarifying formula once a week, or anytime you want a clean scalp slate. Even better, it has added keratin for strength, and is free of sulfates, phthalates, and parabens.

4. PURA D’DOR Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo and Conditioner

PURA D’DOR Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo and Conditioner
Courtesy of PURA D’DOR

Haygood calls this duo “the perfect combination for people with oily hair,” and we must say we love how easily the apple cider vinegar clarifies and cleanses hair to remove residue, buildup, and dirt. It also helps exfoliate the scalp, while locking in moisture to the hair follicles, resulting in healthier, shinier, and stronger hair that appears thicker and more voluminous.

5. HAIRITAGE Apple A Day Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo Hair Rinse & Scalp Scrub

HAIRITAGE Apple A Day Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo Hair Rinse & Scalp Scrub
Courtesy of HAIRITAGE

An Apple a Day ACV Hair Rinse is a gentle tonic that leaves hair soft and shiny, gently cleanses the scalp, and conditions hair without stripping away natural oils. We’re fans of the way it makes hair smooth with less frizz, thanks to closing the cuticle.

Eager to try new hair care and more personal care faves? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your own IPSY beauty subscription. Already an IPSY member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

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Article Last Updated August 2, 2023 12:00 AM