Many years ago, I used to drink apple cider vinegar (ACV) every morning in a bid to lose weight. I had so many people tell me that this stuff is liquid gold. From warts to disinfectant to common colds, I’ve heard that ACV can fix all of them. This isn’t a new trend either. ACV is also good for your hair. An ACV rinse for 4c natural hair comes highly recommended.
Vinegar for medical use dates all the way back to Hippocrates, back in 400 BC. It was said he would drink it regularly and recommended using vinegar on sores and ulcers.
Since I’m more into hair matters, I thought I’d look more into it and find out how much ACV can actually help your hair. So let’s dig into it.
What is ACV?
First off, what is apple cider vinegar really? The word vinegar means sour wine, it originated from the French phrase “vin aigre”.
You can make vinegar out of almost anything you can make alcohol out of, which is anything with sugar.
Wheat, barley, and fruit (much like, you know, apples) all have enough sugar to feed yeast and ferment.
When it’s fermented, the sugar in the fruit is turned into alcohol, which is then ‘soured’.
This happens after bacteria is added and turns it into acetic acid.
Modern ACV is made from apple juice. They crush up apples and then mix it up with some yeast and bacteria.
This sounds disgusting I know but bear with me. Then starts the first step… waiting. It takes a bit for the yeast to ferment, or to turn sugar into alcohol.
After that is the second step, the bacteria comes in and has a wild party where they drink up all the alcohol.
This makes vinegar a little acidic. This is very important and we will come back to it later.
After that, the completed vinegar is bottled, put on shelves, bought by you, then doused on your hair.
I don’t love the idea of post rager bacteria having a clambake on my head, but hey it’s worth it.
When I was taking apple cider vinegar for weight loss purposes, I was encouraged to take the one that contains “the mother”.
This is the friendly bacteria that is added and gives the ACV a cloudy appearance.
My colleague – who advised me to start ACV – swore that “the mother” has the most health benefits.
I’m not really sure about that, I’m just happy I lost the pounds I was keen to get rid of.
Claims about what ACV can do for your hair
I’ve heard a lot of different claims on this one.
I’ve heard it can thicken your hair, add shine to your hair, balance your hair’s PH level, unclog follicles, remove dead skin, cure itchy scalp, cure dandruff, and a myriad of others.
The biggest claim I’ve heard is that ACV prevents hair loss.
Many other sites are prescribing ACV as the wonder cure for your thinning hair.
The idea is that when you are shedding hair faster than you are growing it could be because of hormones called androgens.
It doesn’t help that many of the claims I’ve seen are paired with a bit of marketing.
They kind of sound like snake oil salesmen rolling up to town with the latest dragon scale oil: “ACV is a wonderful cure-all that fixes absolutely everything BUT you have to buy my book to understand how to use it best with just 24 easy payments of 19.99!”
So how do we separate the chaff from the wheat, the fact from fiction? Science!
What ACV can’t do for your hair
Let’s start with the hair growth part. Hair loss is hard, I know, and many people would do anything to get a permanent solution to this.
ACV is a very appealing natural cure, so it makes sense to jump on that bandwagon.
The problem is, there isn’t enough research to say that that is true.
Much of the evidence ‘proving’ apple cider vinegar to be a hair loss magic cure-all is anecdotal.
Some experts from a hair loss treatment specialist in the United Kingdom, the Belgravia Centre, had this to say about ACV: “No matter what you do with it, ACV will not cure or treat hair loss.”
Now, ACV won’t hurt your hair (at least if you use it as we recommend below), but there is no clear or well-documented evidence that apple cider vinegar will help your hair grow.
It’s important to note as well; ACV isn’t actually ‘packed with vitamins and minerals.’
It can have some – it does have some potassium and a little bit of magnesium and iron.
That just comes from apples though, not the vinegar part.
Some of the better, higher quality ACV can have amino acids and antioxidants, but not so much as to call this a cure-all.
These are all good for your hair, but could easily be obtained in greater quantities from other places.
Benefits of ACV on hair
While I may have been ragging on apple cider vinegar for its many unsubstantiated claims, it does actually have a ton of (proven to be effective) benefits for your hair.
Balance the hair’s pH levels
Remember when I said that apple cider vinegar’s acidity was important?
Well, it is, because it’s PH level is really useful.
You see, pretty recently, scientists discovered something on your hair.
The stratum corneum is something that exists on the outermost layer of our skin and our hair.
It’s a little acidic around 5 on the pH scale. At least that’s where it should be.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of shampoos are alkaline. That’s the opposite of acidic.
Regular shampoo use, therefore, messes with this acid mantle.
Our hair has a delicate pH balance, so bringing in acid can strip our hair of its natural oils.
That means our hair will start to have dullness, dryness, and brittleness.
Worst of all are the shampoos with SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate).
They can have alkalinity reaching as high as 11-12 on the pH scale (it’s a little confusing, but don’t forget that 7 is neutral on the pH scale, anything below is acidic anything above is alkaline). Not so great for our hair.
The acid mantle is really important too. It’s very important to our hair’s appearance; it changes to the shine and feel of our hair.
The cuticle, the outer layer of our hair, is made out of a bunch of overlapping scales.
The acid mantle is critical for making those scales stay FLAT.
This results in smooth, silky and healthy hair. It also helps keep moisture in, which is important for many of us.
If the acid mantle is disrupted, our scales will get all wonky and rustled, making our hair frizzy, brittle, and dull.
However, we can combat that shampoo’s alkalinity with acid. No no, stop, not LSD. Things that are acidic.
Like our good friend apple cider vinegar.
See, ACV is great for keeping your head’s pH level in check because it’s only mildly acidic.
It’s not going to burn your hair off. It’s just going to push it in the right direction if your hair is a little too alkaline.
Dandruff isn’t cool, and nobody likes it. Apple cider vinegar can (apparently) help with that.
I say apparently because there is a lot less documentation on this use and far fewer studies, but the science is there.
ACV’s particular level of acid content can decrease itching and flaking.
It also calms down the reaction to Malassezia yeast.
It works even better as a treatment when mixed with coconut oil. Coconut oil is incredibly nourishing and moisturizing.
You can use the coconut oil before shampooing, then do an ACV rinse after.
Many people have seen great results from this, but again it’s no prescription.
Either way, I say give it a try and see if it works for you.
Used for cleansing
ACV is also a popular household disinfectant. Because it is, again, mildly acidic, it works to kill bacteria on a cellular level.
It’s not only anti-bacterial but anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant according to some sources.
For these reasons, it may help control bacteria or fungi on your head.
These can lead to all kinds of scalp and hair problems, like itchiness and minor infections.
In this sense, ACV can help with hair loss, BUT ONLY if that hair loss is because of a bacterial infection.
It’s still not going to make your hair grow, but it can kill some head fungus.
ACV rinse for 4C natural hair
There are a lot of ways to get ACV into your hair, but the most popular is an apple cider vinegar rinse.
Making one is really easy. Just mix together around two to four tablespoons of ACV with sixteen ounces of cool water.
Later, in the shower, shampoo and rinse your hair like normal.
After that, tip your head back a bit and pour the whole thing over your scalp and let it run down your hair.
Let it sit for a couple of minutes and then rinse it out.
Also, try not to get it in your eyes – take it from me, ACV is not friendly to your eyes.
Do you do the apple cider vinegar hair rinse before or after conditioner?
If you’re using conditioner (you probably should be if you aren’t), put it in your hair after you rinse with ACV.
You’ve already worked in the good benefits of the ACV, so the conditioning won’t take that away.
Also, in case you didn’t know, apple cider vinegar (or any vinegar) does not smell amazing.
So having a product to chase away that scent might do you good.
It’s also important to get the right ACV. You’ll want raw apple cider vinegar.
Raw or unfiltered apple cider vinegar is just the straight-up by-product of apple fermentation.
It hasn’t been stripped of all those nutrients like potassium, pectin, malic acid, and calcium that live naturally in apples.
The only trade-off is it won’t stay good as long as it’s not pasteurized, but I think it’s a good deal.
Can you leave apple cider vinegar in hair overnight?
Yes… but with some caveats. I’ve been told that if you leave ACV in it will help prevent tangles and that it’ll help prevent an itchy scalp.
I’m not sure how true this is, but I would recommend leaving it in to help fight a bad fungus or to disinfect your hair.
The most important of the caveats is if you plan on leaving it in your hair overnight, please use a diluted mixture (more than usual anyway).
I would recommend starting with half of what you would use in the rinse.
Remember that the rinse only stays in your hair for a couple of minutes, so leaving ACV in your hair overnight will amplify its effects greatly.
It will work differently for everyone’s hair, so start slow and see if it helps your hair.
Can you use the vinegar rinse before coloring hair?
Many people use ACV before a color. They report that it helps the color take better.
This is also due to ACV’s pH power; coming in with slightly acidic hair can aid the coloring process.
It also closes up your cuticles to make your hair less porous.
This means that the color may not take as easily, but it will take in the right color.
Can you use vinegar to seal hair dye?
A lot of people also use ACV after a color to brighten highlights. That’s because apple cider vinegar can lighten the shade of your hair.
It won’t be a drastic change, but it can lighten your hair some.
On the same note be cautious if you are already happy with the brightness of your hair’s color, and maybe avoid leaving it in your hair overnight with a strong mixture.
Using the vinegar hair rinse for hard water
Over 80% of the water in the United States is hard water. This type of water contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfates.
When these minerals come into regular contact with your hair, they can wreak havoc. The first sign of hard water on your hair is dullness and frizz.
Prolonged use of hard water can lead to stunted hair growth, an itchy scalp, dandruff and even thinning hair.
One of the ways you can wash your hair in hard water is by doing an apple cider vinegar rinse.
This involves pouring the ACV mixture on your hair after the cleansing process.
Another alternative would be using shampoos and conditioners specially made for hard water.
In the end, apple cider vinegar is equal parts – useful ingredient and snake oil.
It’s one of those many innocent products that get swept up in the natural remedy craze that tends to either be completely believed in or dismissed entirely.
Don’t let ACV fall down that path. It may not be a miracle cure, but an ACV rinse for 4c natural hair can be pretty great for your mane (and a bunch of other things too).