Thanks to the ‘net, we’re all experts. Stained your carpet? A quick Google search will proffer the remedy. Have a suspicious looking lump emerging under your armpit? Cue WebMD. Searching for an acne cure? Hello, apple cider vinegar. See also: toothpaste, nappy cream and tea tree oil.
“If you’re struggling with acne, the best thing to use is apple cider vinegar,” says unqualified lady on Mumsnet thread. “Also, it makes it easier for the skin to absorb other things (I think).” Hmmm. When it comes to our health, should we really be entrusting it to strangers on the internet?
While there’s plenty of helpful advice available at the end of our fingertips, there’s also a lot of misinformation, too. What works for one person, may not work for another, and getting it wrong can create more problems than it solves.
Even so, there is some truth to this at-home acne remedy. A link between apple cider vinegar and its ability to kill some bad bacteria has been established. But as for its ability to neutralise the P. acnes bacteria specifically responsible for acne, the jury’s still out.
“Vinegar has been popular for centuries as a way of fighting illness,” says Dr Ismat Nasiruddin, dermatologist at Pulse Light Clinic. “Apple cider vinegar is mainly apple juice which has yeast added to ferment it into alcohol and bacteria. The ‘mother’, which is the yeast and bacteria component, is what confers any benefits.”
When ingested, it can be useful, but there’s little proof to support applying it topically. “There is evidence it can be beneficial for the gut, promoting healthy bacteria, but not much evidence to support any other claims (i.e claims around wider antibacterial benefits for the skin or lowering sugar or weight loss and heart health),” explains Dr Ismat.
“It’s not wise to take it neat, it’s better diluted it in water to reduce the damaging effects of the acid on teeth enamel and the irritating effect on the upper gut. Too much apple cider vinegar can also interfere with blood potassium levels,” she warns.
Overall, “it won’t do any real harm otherwise, and may confer some gut boosting health benefits,” crucially though, “it’s effects wouldn’t be enough to actually treat acne,” she says.
In fact, while they may (or may not) offer minimal acne clearing benefits, touting unproven ingredients as salvation for congested skin may create a more damaging side effect: disappointment.
“I worry that many people with acne, who are already stressed and low because of the condition, feel they are somehow responsible and have to work extra hard at their diet and skin care,” says Dr Ismat. “Acne is hereditary and or hormonal and needs to be properly treated.”
So, what should we turn to, if we find ourselves in a pinch at home, with a spot brewing or a particularly bad flare-up of acne? “A lot of excellent skin treatments are quite natural (salicylic acid is from the plant that we make aspirin with, and retinoids are a vitamin A derivative),” explains Dr Ismat. “The mistake with home remedies is thinking they are ‘safe’. Whilst a tiny dot of toothpaste on a large spot overnight is not a bad emergency measure and a dab of tea tree oil can be OK occasionally too, both can be very drying and irritating and cause unpleasant skin reactions if too much is used. Similarly nappy creams like Sudocrem which contains zinc can be healing if applied occasionally to inflamed skin.”
That said, “in terms of cost, we are fortunate that excellent skin care is available at very reasonable prices now. Brands like The Inkey List, The Ordinary, Garden Of Wisdom and Nip and Fab all produce excellent retinoid and salicylic acid containing treatments as do many own-brand pharmacies like Superdrug and Boots,” says Dr Ismat. “These are excellent for addressing the increased sebum production and pore blockage found in acne. They also have excellent niacinamide (also know as vitamin B3) containing products which help soothe inflamed skin and are also good for acne. La Roche Posay is excellent for good moisturisers and sun care, which are still really important for skin struggling with acne (especially for those using retinoids who need to ensure they use a good SPF), which doesn’t clog pores.”
If you really must raid your kitchen, “ingredients such as pure honey (which has antiseptic and astringent properties), yoghurt (which is moisturising), lemon (which is acidic and astringent), avocado (which is moisturising), turmeric (which is antiseptic and coarse, so provides a physical exfoliant) and oats (which is exfoliating and moisturising) can all be used on the skin – but in my opinion you get more benefit eating these than applying them to the skin,” cautions Dr Ismat. Instead, “I prefer a specially made skin-friendly product, formulated for the skin, which will be less irritating and still harnesses the active ingredients of the products,” she says.