The use of apple cider vinegar dates back to ancient times.
Modern research is now only beginning to understand its benefits.
But, do these extend to the scalp?
Can apple cider vinegar treat dandruff?
What about hair loss?
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Can you use apple cider vinegar for hair growth?
If so, what is the best apple cider vinegar to use?
In this article, I’ll answer these questions and more.
Just keep reading.
Quickly, make sure you take the free hair quiz later in this article.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is produced by fermenting apple juice.
Brewers add Saccharomyces yeast species (also called Brewer’s yeast) to the apple juice which consume the sugars in the apple juice. As a byproduct, the yeast produces alcohol and acetic acid.
The contents of the end product depend on how the ACV is processed.
Filtered ACV has just acetic acid and minimal alcohol present. On the other hand, unfiltered ACV (also called “With the Mother”) contains the Brewer’s yeast used to ferment the apple juice.
ACV confers the most benefit when it’s unfiltered. The yeast has some health benefits that may impact hair growth.
Additionally, acetic acid exerts some unique actions that may translate to hair loss prevention and enhanced hair growth.
- Brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces spp.) is used to ferment apple juice into apple cider vinegar.
- This yeast ferments the sugars into acetic acid and alcohol.
- Filtered apple cider vinegar doesn’t contain any of this yeast while unfiltered “With the Mother” apple cider vinegar does.
- Acetic acid and “the mother” yeast may confer some benefits to the body that can impact hair growth.
Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Loss Study
Unfortunately, there is currently no research directly examining the impact of ACV on hair growth.
Despite the many reviews of ACV on the internet, this means that we can’t make any definitive claims about apple cider vinegar and hair loss.
The only information we do have is centered around the benefits of its individual components.
In the section below, I’ll talk about the data we have on ACV and how it could relate to hair loss and growth.
Key Takeaway: There are no studies directly examining ACV for hair growth. We have to look at the individual components and how they might impact hair growth.
4 Ways Apple Cider Vinegar Might Work for Hair Growth
The acetic acid and beneficial yeasts are responsible for most of the health benefits associated with ACV.
Whether or not these can contribute to increased hair growth is a subject of debate.
However, there are some molecular mechanisms that may be connected to hair.
In the sections below, I’ll discuss the four ways ACV might work to enhance hair growth.
1. Acetic Acid Kills Yeast Associated with Hair Loss
Scarring alopecia is a common form of hair loss (1).
It has various causes ranging from microbial infections to autoimmune issues, resulting in two main forms of scarring alopecia:
Neutrophilic and Lymphocytic.
In this section, I’ll focus primarily on the neutrophilic subtype because it is better connected to ACV than lymphocytic scarring alopecias.
Neutrophils are cells of the immune system that respond to infections. When activated, they attack bacterial and yeast invasion by releasing degrading proteins that kill off invaders (2).
Under normal circumstances, the neutrophils destroy the invaders and commit cell suicide, which resolves the inflammation.
However, if the neutrophils are unsuccessful, inflammation can turn chronic and lead to tissue damage.
This is exactly where scarring alopecia occurs.
Chronic inflammation of the hair follicle by bacterial or yeast invasion leads to tissue degradation.
By means of trying to repair the damage, the body upregulates the production of scar tissue which can lead to fibrosis around the hair follicle. This can choke off the blood supply and miniaturize the follicle, causing irreversible hair loss.
How or why these invasions occur is still unknown.
While preventing these invasions entirely is unlikely, the acetic acid in ACV may be able to regulate yeast once you’ve discovered it. This is because yeast and bacteria thrive in alkaline environments. In fact, some microbes secrete highly alkaline ammonia as a way of protecting themselves.
By lowering the pH of the environment, acetic acid may help to regulate yeast and bacteria levels in the skin, scalp, and gut.
One study explored this, showing that acetic acid effectively killed off one yeast species, Malassezia furfur, which is known to cause dandruff (3).
Researchers believe it eradicates yeast by activating a group of proteases called caspases. This leads to the programmed death of yeast cells.
Interestingly, research shows that the presence of this Malassezia yeast on the scalp is associated with increased hair loss (4).
So, using acetic acid-containing ACV may prevent the yeast overgrowth that is associated with hair loss and
Although these results are promising, no other studies have duplicated these findings.
- Neutrophilic scarring alopecia is a form of alopecia that is usually the result of a bacterial or yeast infection.
- If the infection is chronic, the consistent presence of neutrophils can lead to tissue damage. To repair the damage, scar tissue is formed which can cause fibrosis.
- In the hair follicle, this fibrosis can choke off the blood supply and lead to follicle miniaturization which can manifest as scarring alopecia. This hair loss is irreversible.
- Acetic acid may regulate yeast production by raising the pH of environments where yeast is present. Yeast do not thrive in an acidic environment.
- One study demonstrated that acetic acid kills Malassezia furfur, a type of Malassezia yeast that is associated with dandruff and hair loss.
- However, these results haven’t been duplicated.
2. Acetic Acid Has Antibacterial Properties
In tandem with acetic acid’s anti-yeast properties is its antimicrobial properties.
In the same way that yeast can cause chronic inflammation, so can some pathogenic bacteria.
Some bacteria in the skin are only pathogenic in moderate to high quantities. Others are beneficial for the skin and influence its condition.
When these pathogenic bacteria overgrow, it incites the immune system. If left unregulated, the chronic inflammation can cause scarring alopecia.
One of the bacteria strains believed to be involved in scarring alopecia is Staphylococcus aureus (1).
In one cell culture study, a 5% acetic acid solution effectively dissolved the S. aureus biofilm in 10 minutes (5). Bacterial biofilms are responsible for protecting the bacteria from harm. By dissolving them, it makes the bacteria more susceptible to stress and reduces their ability to reproduce.
In other words, it not only breaks down bacteria but reduces their negative effects.
However, the direct effect of acetic acid on S. aureus in the hair follicle and how that impacts the progression of scarring alopecia has not been examined.
- Acetic acid has antimicrobial action against S. aureus, a bacteria strain believed to be implicated in scarring alopecia.
- Other studies have demonstrated the antimicrobial activity of acetic acid against other pathogenic bacteria.
- Acetic acid reduces the inflammatory protein expression associated with pathogenic bacteria.
- The direct effects of acetic acid on S. aureus in the hair follicle hasn’t been examined. So, we can’t make any predictions on whether or not it can prevent scarring alopecia.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar Contains Beneficial Probiotics
The gut and skin (and, thus, the scalp) are inextricably connected.
The condition of the gut impacts the skin by a connection called the gut-skin axis.
There are three main factors that influence gut health:
- Bacterial balance, i.e. the microbiome
- Integrity of the gut barrier between the gut and the blood
- Stomach acid production
They all interplay together in complex interactions.
The Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast found in apple cider vinegar can impact both the bacterial balance and integrity of the gut barrier.
By making ACV part of your wellness routine, you may be able to increase the levels of S. cerevisiae in your gut.
The presence of this beneficial yeast in the microbiome (8):
- Protects against the effects of pathogenic bacteria
- Seals the gut barrier to prevent leakage (more on this later.)
- Reduces inflammation
- Produces an enzyme that increases the bioavailability of certain minerals
How do these benefits relate to hair loss?
By sealing the gut barrier, S. cerevisiae prevents microbes and their inflammatory byproducts from leaking out into the blood. This prevents chronic, systemic inflammation (9).
Not surprisingly, this may hold benefits for hair loss.
Alopecia areata patients have higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers (10). While this is simply an observation, returning inflammation to healthy levels may improve the condition of AA.
This theory isn’t too far-fetched considering two case studies on fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) demonstrated hair regrowth in AA (11).
FMT is the transplant of healthy subject fecal matter into a patient with an imbalanced microbiome. It essentially replaces the unhealthy patient’s bacteria with the healthy subject’s bacteria.
This suggests that the microbiome truly does play a role in the development of AA, possibly by modulating inflammation.
Including ACV may also improve hair growth through one other mechanism:
Enhancing the bioavailability of certain minerals.
Minerals found in plant-based foods can, unfortunately, be bound to compounds called anti-nutrients (12). The most commonly known are phytic acid and oxalates.
When these foods are eaten raw, the anti-nutrients can prevent the absorption of minerals like zinc, iron, and magnesium.
While soaking, sprouting, or cooking can often remove these anti-nutrients, so can the presence of S. cerevisiae in the gut.
It produces an enzyme that degrades these anti-nutrients, enhancing the bioavailability of the minerals.
This is important for hair growth because minerals are essential for cellular processes. Research suggests a strong link between female pattern hair loss and iron deficiency, however, its role in male pattern hair loss is unclear (13).
Zinc is also an important mineral for hair loss (14). Animal and cell culture studies suggest it is important for stimulating hair growth by regulating cell division and prolonging the growing phase.
But, human studies show mixed results. Some suggest that zinc supplementation improves hair growth while others indicate no link between zinc levels and hair loss.
Magnesium is also suspected to play a role in the regulation of hair growth (15). While there isn’t any data examining its connection to hair growth, magnesium does play a role in over 300 cellular enzymatic reactions (16).
One enzyme, adenosine triphosphate synthase (ATP synthase) is known to play a role in cellular proliferation (17). The proliferation of hair follicle cells is the key driver of hair growth. It is believed minoxidil upregulates this enzyme, leading to hair growth.
Interestingly, magnesium is a cofactor in the activity of ATP synthase, suggesting it may play a role in hair growth (18).
Regardless of whether or not they are critical for hair growth, these minerals are essential for optimal health. By including S. cerevisiae-rich ACV in your diet, you may be able to increase the levels of these crucial minerals in your body.
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast found in ACV, provides a host of benefits to the body. It improves gut health by sealing the gut barrier, balancing the microbiome, and preventing systemic inflammation.
- AA patients have high levels of pro-inflammatory proteins in their blood. Lowering inflammation, as in S. cerevisiae’s ability to downregulate inflammation, may benefit AA.
- This idea is not far-fetched considering FMT demonstrated hair regrowth in two AA cases.
- S. cerevisiae produces an enzyme that digests anti-nutrients. This increases the bioavailability of magnesium, iron, and zinc which may be essential for hair growth.
- Including ACV provides S. cerevisiae which could possibly benefit hair growth.
4. Acetic Acid Lowers Blood Glucose: Apple Cider Vinegar and Male Pattern Baldness
One of apple cider vinegar’s most renowned benefits is its ability to regulate blood sugar.
This prevents glucose levels from getting too high in the blood, which can contribute to inflammation (22). In turn, insulin production is reduced.
Preventing inflammation also ensures cells stay sensitive to insulin (23). In the case of insulin resistance, insulin is instead rebounded back into the blood instead of cells. Relieving inflammation can restore insulin sensitivity.
This is beneficial for those who are suffering from male-hormone (androgen) related hair loss, known as androgenetic alopecia (AGA).
Considering these mechanisms, acetic acid may downregulate androgen production by balancing glucose and insulin levels. But, this hasn’t been directly explored.
However, one study on women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) may provide some perspective.
PCOS is a disease in women characterized by increased androgen levels and activity as well as blood sugar dysregulation. Hair loss, acne, and menstrual irregularities are symptoms of PCOS.
Researchers set out to explore the effects of a blood-sugar-regulating drug, metformin, on PCOS symptoms (26). It’s prescribed to treat diabetes.
It works similarly to ACV by increasing muscular glucose uptake.
At the end of the study, researchers observed that metformin significantly decreased hair loss in the women with PCOS.
Even more promising is a study directly examining the effects of ACV supplementation on women with PCOS (27).
Four of seven participants had restored ovulatory function within forty days of using 15 grams of ACV daily. Researchers attribute this to restored insulin sensitivity.
While this study didn’t examine hair loss, it does suggest that ACV improves insulin sensitivity to restore hormone-related function. This could hold benefits for AGA sufferers.
Keep in mind, though, that ACV has never been directly examined for treating AGA.
- One of ACV’s well-known benefits is glucose regulation.
- Glucose and insulin levels seem to be closely related to androgen production, which is an implication in AGA. Not surprisingly, AGA is associated with insulin resistance.
- ACV may downregulate androgen production by regulating blood sugar and insulin levels, in theory.
- In women with PCOS, metformin, a diabetes drug which works similarly to ACV, decreased hair loss.
- ACV restores ovulatory function in women with PCOS. Researchers believe this is due to restored insulin sensitivity. This suggests ACV positively impacts a highly hormone-dependent process, ovulation. Whether or not this is due to downregulated androgen production as a result of blood sugar balance remains unclear.
- While these studies are promising, ACV has never been examined directly for AGA treatment.
Apple Cider Vinegar for Dandruff
Apple cider vinegar has never been researched as a dandruff treatment.
Although, it may theoretically benefit this common condition.
Earlier I mentioned how the acetic acid in ACV kills Malassezia furfur in cell culture studies. By reducing levels of this dandruff-associated yeast, applying ACV to the scalp may help relieve dandruff (3).
However, these assumptions are purely theoretical because of the lack of research.
Key Takeaway: Acetic acid in ACV has been shown to kill Malassezia furfur cell culture studies, which is associated with dandruff. By killing this yeast, it may help relieve dandruff. However, there are no studies to support this claim.
Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse
ACV is commonly used as a hair rinse and there might be some merit to it.
ACV, like most acids, is positively charged or cationic.
Hair becomes frizzy when it is negatively charged, causing the production of static electricity. Negatively-charged hair is also more hydrophilic or water-loving, depleting the protective and nourishing lipid layer that coats the hair.
Conversely, the use of positively charged solutions, like ACV, balances the electrical charge of the hair.
This restores the lipid barrier and reduces static, resulting in nourished, shiny, and sleek hair.
However, you don’t want to disrupt the pH balance of your hair shaft too much.
The hair shaft exists at a pH of 3.67, according to researchers (28).
Unlike pure vinegar, ACV has other nutrients within it that buffer the pH. So, the exact pH of ACV is hard to determine.
To be safe, it’s best to dilute 2 to 3 tablespoons of ACV in 8 ounces of water to ensure you’re not disrupting the delicate pH balance.
Key Takeaway: ACV is negatively charged which can rebalance the electrical charge of the hair shaft. This reduces frizz and restores the protective lipid barrier of the hair shaft. It’s best to use a diluted ACV as not to disrupt the delicate pH balance too much.
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Hair Growth
We’ve discussed a few ways ACV may benefit hair growth when used internally and topically.
In the treatment of PCOS-related hair loss, 15 grams of apple cider vinegar per day was consumed (27). Make sure you dilute this with water to reduce the pH and avoid adverse effects.
But, when it comes to topical use for hair growth, we don’t have a lot of data to draw from.
When being used to dissolve Staphylococcus aureus biofilms, researchers used a 5% acetic acid concentration for 10 minutes with success (5).
Most ACV products are standardized to a concentration of 5% acetic acid concentration, making it fairly easy to measure. All you have to do is apply it directly and leave it to sit for 10 minutes.
However, keep in mind that the safety or adverse reaction profile has never been tested in humans. So, proceed with caution and consult your doctor.
- When being used internally in women with PCOS, 15g of apple cider vinegar was consumed. This resulted in decreased hair loss.
- Topical use for hair growth isn’t documented in the literature. One topical use related to hair loss used acetic acid at a 5% concentration.
- Luckily, most ACV products are standardized to 5% acetic acid, so application is pretty straightforward. However, the study using 5% was a cell culture study. From this, we can’t draw safety or side effects.
- Proceed with caution and consult your doctor when using ACV.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Cause Hair Loss?: Apple Cider Vinegar Side Effects
ACV is probably relatively safe and likely doesn’t cause hair loss.
However, the exact safety profile of its topical or dietary use hasn’t been evaluated.
Your best bet with topical use is to do a patch test. Test different dilutions to see if you have a reaction. If you experience irritation or sensitivity, ACV probably isn’t the way to go.
As for dietary use, you should always consult your doctor before adding any dietary supplements to your wellness regimen.
Key Takeaway: Do a patch test with various dilutions to gauge your sensitivity to topical ACV. For dietary use, always consult your doctor.
The Best Apple Cider Vinegar to Use
To make the most of all the benefits of ACV, you’ll want an organic, unfiltered “With the Mother” ACV.
This will ensure you get the probiotics along with the acetic acid benefits.
You’ll also avoid any pesticide residues that can linger from conventionally-grown apples.
Key Takeaway: The best ACV is organic, unfiltered “With the Mother” ACV.
Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help Hair Growth?
When we look at all the data, we can’t make any claims about ACV for hair health.
Although the possible mechanisms seem promising, there are no studies directly examining the dietary or topical use of apple cider vinegar for hair growth.
Thankfully, using ACV is relatively safe. However, always do a patch test when using it topically and consult your doctor before including it in your diet.
What do you think about apple cider vinegar for hair growth? Are you planning on using it? Let me know in the comments below.