Apple cider vinegar is a popular health supplement, but can it really be used for hair growth?
In this article, we’ll offer an unbiased look at the possible effects that apple cider vinegar may have on hair growth.
We’ll first introduce the vinegar, its history, and where it currently stands in the world of medicine. We’ll then discuss the most common causes of hair loss, and the one factor that all of them share.
Finally, you’ll learn the potential benefits of apple cider vinegar for hair growth, as well as ways to incorporate the ingredient into your current routine.
An Introduction to Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) has grown increasingly popular within the health community in just the last few years (1). But ACV has been around for centuries, and so too have its benefits.
Vinegar of all kinds has been used by our ancestors to treat wounds, stomachaches, and even croup (2). And believe it or not, vinegar teas were consumed by diabetics as a hypoglycemic agent.
While ACV may not be as powerful as humans once thought, it still certainly has its benefits.
So, if it’s possible for ACV to potentially treat hair loss?
What Causes Hair Loss?
Before we can understand how ACV may help treat hair loss, it’s first important to understand its cause.
Hair loss is a catch-all term for any condition that leads to thinning or loss of hair.
The most common cause of hair loss is Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), also known as male-pattern baldness (5). The cause is still hotly debated among scientists, though the androgen hormone DHT is believed to play a large part.
In short, those with AGA are genetically predisposed to be sensitive to the hormone DHT. As DHT is a common (and necessary) hormone, this can cause issues with normal functions within the body, including hair growth.
For example, when DHT attaches to the follicles of those with AGA, it triggers an inflammatory response that leads to thinning and hairline recession.
But AGA isn’t the only type of alopecia that affects millions of people worldwide. Other forms, such as Alopecia Areata (AA) and Telogen Effluvium (TE), exist.
However, just like AGA, the underlying cause of hair loss from these conditions is also inflammation.
Inflammation is an immune response to an injury or infection (6). This has benefits when it occurs acutely, but when it becomes chronic (i.e. long lasting) is when you can experience effects such as balding.
Inflammation within the follicle specifically can trigger a process known as miniaturization. This occurs when the follicle is so inflamed that the hair strand has difficulty growing.
Eventually, the strand will be unable to reach the scalp. If left untreated, the follicle can even die from lack of blood flow as a result of the chronic inflammation.
There are a variety of treatments that aim to reduce inflammation at the follicle so as to reverse its effects. The most common for AGA include finasteride and minoxidil, and other options such as steroids (for AA) and ketoconazole (for infections) also exist.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Treat Hair Loss?
There isn’t a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to this question. Instead, I’ll just say that apple cider vinegar may be one of many natural treatment options that can contribute to a healthy scalp environment.
The overstated benefits of apple cider vinegar, like many other folk remedies, certainly has some basis in fact. Otherwise, the humans that came before us would not have continued to use the ingredient for so long.
So, is it difficult to separate the facts from the fiction? Yes, but it’s not impossible.
The Four Ways Apple Cider Vinegar May Promote Hair Growth
While there’s no guarantee that ACV will help you to regrow your hair, there is some strong scientific evidence in its favor.
1. It Contains a Powerful Antioxidant
As we age, the cells in our body become damaged and otherwise compromised. This can lead to the signs of aging that we’re most familiar with, such as wrinkles and greying hair.
But what exactly causes these signs, and is there a way to stop them?
While we cannot stop the aging process completely, we can use a special molecule to help slow it down. Those molecules are known as antioxidants.
In short, cellular damage often occurs as the result of free radicals (7). These are molecules with an unpaired electron that go and steal electrons from surrounding molecular structures.
An antioxidant is a molecule that donates an electron to the free radical so as to reduce the damage that the roaming molecule can cause.
Antioxidants are found in many foods, including berries, black and green teas, and olive. They can also be found in apple cider vinegar in the form of citric acid (8).
This means the vinegar may be able to help protect the hair strands from free radicals that would otherwise compromise their cell’s structures.
2. It Protects Against Microbial Growth
Microbes – including bacteria, yeast, and fungus – are everywhere. And believe it or not, not all of them are bad.
However, there are some microbes which can build up on the scalp and, over time, cause problems that may contribute to hair loss.
One such microbe that resides on the human scalp is Malassezia (9). This fungus is responsible for dandruff, the most common scalp condition in the world.
Natural treatments for Malassezia overgrowth include rosemary oil, licorice, and tea tree oil (10). But fermented apple beverages, like apple cider vinegar, may also help to reduce microbial growth.
Fermented beverages such as ACV contain a multitude of microorganisms (11).
There are other components of ACV – including malic acid – that are also believed to contribute to its antimicrobial properties (12).
By using ACV, then, you may be able to treat current infections while also reducing your future risk. This can provide a healthier scalp environment for hair growth.
3. It Increases Blood Flow to the Scalp
There are a variety of hair loss conditions, and even if the cause varies for each one, there is often a similarity between them all – poor blood circulation.
Blood is delivered to the follicles via blood vessels that connect to the dermal papilla. Once the blood is received, the oxygen and nutrients from the blood are then delivered to the rest of the follicle.
As you can likely imagine, blood plays an important part in the hair growth process.
The reason that most hair loss sufferers – no matter the exact cause – will suffer from poor blood circulation is due to inflammation.
When the follicle is threatened (or thought to be threatened, as is the case with alopecia areata), it will respond by inflaming. This is a natural way for the body to protect itself, but if left untreated it can cause long-term problems.
The most common problem is poor blood circulation and, eventually, the cessation of blood flow.
So, where does apple cider vinegar come in?
Two components of ACV – citric acid and malic acid – have been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokine activity (13). This can help to reduce inflammation at the follicles, which will then restore proper blood flow and ensure adequate delivery of oxygen and nutrients.
In the case of long-term inflammation which triggered miniaturization, the use of ACV may also help to slowly reverse its effects.
This will often initially look like the growth of short, thin hairs. But over time, if the follicles continue to receive a proper blood supply, the strands should thicken and grow longer.
4. It Maintains the pH Balance of Hair
The pH scale is a scale that measures the acidity, alkalinity, or neutrality of a substance or environment.
The pH balance of the scalp and hair is quite acidic – 5.5 and 3.67, respectively (14). And this means that substances on the alkaline side of the scale – including shampoos and other hair care products – can cause problems.
The most common of these is friction.
Friction occurs when the electrical charge of a hair strand is net negative. This can lead to thinning of the hair strand, breakage, and splitting.
Apple cider vinegar is a substance that falls on the acidic side of the scale. This means that, when applied to the scalp, it can help to maintain the pH balance so as to protect from damage or premature loss.
This is also why apple cider vinegar is good for those with typically frizzy hair, as the substance reduces friction and ‘tames’ the strands.
How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Healthy Hair and Scalp
If you intend to add ACV to your hair care routine, you’ll want to do so effectively.
Because apple cider vinegar is potent, you will want to ensure it’s properly diluted.
The easiest way to begin using ACV is to combine it in a one-to-one ratio with water. You can then pour it over your head in the shower and massage it in using your fingertips.
The massage will help to deliver the vinegar to all areas of the scalp – even those that are hard to reach. But massage has another benefit, too, and that’s promoting blood flow (15).
You can also add apple cider vinegar to your diet.
Some people drink ACV directly, but I’d recommend against that for the sake of your teeth (16).
You can, however, safely add it to dressings, soups, salads, and many other foods. You can also pour a little bit in your tea so that it’s diluted enough to not have such a detrimental effect on the enamel.
Is the taste of ACV too strong for you? You can add a bit of honey or agave nectar to it, as well, before you mix it into your food.
Side Effects and Considerations
Before you begin to use any kind of natural treatment, even apple cider vinegar, it’s best to speak with your doctor about potential risks.
The most common side effects of those who use ACV include localized irritation and redness. This can often be resolved by further diluting the solution.
But as ACV can also have effects on blood pressure and blood glucose levels, it’s best to talk with your doctor before you begin supplementing orally.
Apple cider vinegar supplementation may also exacerbate certain medical conditions, including acid reflux, gastritis, and interstitial cystitis. If you’re currently on any prescription medications, or if you suffer from a chronic medical condition, you should clear the use of ACV or other supplements with your doctor first.
Do not use apple cider vinegar if you are allergic to apples.
There are many natural ‘remedies’ on the market that claim to cure all ills. Unfortunately, the same can be said for apple cider vinegar as, it too, has its own die-hard fans.
The truth is, apple cider vinegar is not a miracle cure. But there is scientific evidence to suggest it may be helpful in promoting a healthy scalp and, indirectly encouraging the growth of hair.
That’s not to say that ACV should be the only approach you take to hair loss treatment, though. In fact, you can easily combine it with more traditional methods (such as finasteride and minoxidil), or other alternative techniques (including massage).