DIY Vinegar Toners: Next Holy Grail in Skincare?

8778471902_ca180563d6_zThe popularity of homemade toners with a vinegar base has been coming to my attention given how frequently they appear in the posts by other users. In particular, apple-cider vinegar facial toner appears to be the Holy Grail for many people, especially for those who has had problems with acne. This simple home remedy has been celebrated as the solution for blemishes, uneven skin tone, acne, brown spots, dry skin, etc., and many have noted how much their skin condition has improved after religious use of said solution. I have seen explanations about how its acidic properties will balance out the skin’s pH level, “kill off” acne bacteria by sanitizing the skin, fade brown spots, exfoliate, etc. Some of these functions are true, but most are not and the “scientific” basis by which users argue are mainly erroneous and vary widely.

While I understand the rationale behind making your own skincare products – it is organic and you can control the ingredients! – I do not recommend using DIY vinegar toners for the following reasons:

  1. It is hard to control the acidic percentage in these home remedies. As well, just because the acid concentration is labelled X percentage does not necessarily mean that you can dilute it with water and still achieve the concentration you desire, which means that you may end up with a different “formulation” each time you make a new batch
  2. Long-term use of vinegar can be irritating to the skin due to its acetic properties. The skin is, on average, naturally slightly “acidic” (below pH 5.0) (Lambers, Piessens, Bloem, Pronk, & Finkel, 2006) to maintain its resident bacteria flora and to prevent the flourishing of harmful bacteria. Using vinegar, which has a much lower pH level (around 2-3), can disrupt the skin’s pH level and make it difficult for the benefitial bacteria to thrive on the skin as well as irritate the epidermis, especially when it is used as a leave-on product
  3. The “smoother” skin revelation after the use of vinegar is due to the acid corroding away the topmost skin layer. You can achieve the same results using chemical (or physical, if you really prefer) exfoliators with the added benefit of preventing chemical burn, which is possible when you use home-remedied vinegar toners
  4. The benefits of vinegar are better when consumed than when used on the skin. The potential for skin irritation and chemical burn far outweighs the possible benefits of acne reduction and exfoliation
  5. There may be unknown chemicals inside the vinegar that could irritate the skin. Remember that skin irritation does NOT always show up as pain and visible inflammation, which means that in the long term, you could potentially be weakening your skin barriers without even realizing it
  6. Vinegar does not inhibit melatonin-production. Any skin-lightening effects that you see is mostly due to the chemical peeling away the skin layers to reveal the younger, healthier skin underneath (but that is also sensitive to acid)
  7. There is no research substantiating the use of vinegar on skin or the claim that it is more beneficial than other standardized acne treatments (e.g., BHA, benzoyl peroxide) and chemical exfolitators. Any benefits are, so far, anecdotal. If you do use vinegar on your skin, one thing for certain is that it will definitely irritate your skin (which sometimes is unfelt) and make your skin more sensitive to the sun, which puts you more at risk to sun damage

In sum, while it is very tempting to use this simple home remedy to make your skin smoother, clearer and, in some cases, lighter, DIY vinegar toners are just too risky to be used regularly. There are so many other safer, more scientifically-validated alternatives to consider that you really do not need to add one more potential irritatant to your skincare routine. That said, I understand that many people will still swear by this toner given their own experiences with it. It is really up to you to decide for yourself how to care for your skin. Reactions to skincare ingredients are individualized and personal. If you trust your own remedy and feel you could not benefit more from other products, then I wish you good luck. As for little me, I’ll stick to drinking or eating vinegar, thank you very much 🙂

Lambers, H., Piessens, S., Bloem, A., Pronk, H., & Finkel, P. (2006). Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora. International Journal of Cosmetics Science, 28, 359-70.