As the inaugural post for Pink Alchemie, I wanted to write about something I would never have considered using as a skincare product.
If you’ll indulge me, allow me to start with some background.
I have sensitive skin and rosacea. On a good day, my complexion can resemble a mild sunburn. On a bad day, you don’t want to know. Let’s just say my face could pass for a great spaghetti sauce.
Quick tangent… how horrible is it to be casually walking down a hallway at work, only to be stopped by a co-worker who asks where you took your wonderful January vacation? Somewhere tropical, they assume? Because you look like you took a long, leisurely nap in the sun. Someone get me a margarita before I die of embarrassment.
I’ve been keeping the rosacea under control with some great products (some of which I’ll write about later), but nothing I’ve ever tried could tame it on a continuous basis.
Then about four months ago I got a mysterious rash on my face. Some form of dermatitis, starting up near my hairline but extending down onto my forehead until I had a red, angry, flaky patch about 2 inches in diameter. Ok, forget angry, that rash was pissed off. And that was just the left side. I had a smaller patch on the right side of my forehead and yet smaller patches on either side of my nose. I washed, moisturized, and treated endlessly, and it wouldn’t go away. Finally, in a fit of frustration I decided to see my doctor before my entire face decided to slough off my skull.
The doctor peered carefully at my forehead, making noises like “hmmm” and “mphhh?”. Finally, just as I was about to poke my finger in his eye, he says, “It’s not excema or psoriasis. I’m not sure what it is.” The doctor did not know why my skin was waging war on me. He prescribed a steroid cream I was to apply twice a day, cautioning me not to use too much as it may depigment my skin. Fantastic! I’m already red, let’s add some white, then all I need is a great blue eyeshadow. How patriotic!
Needless to say the steroid cream did nothing to alleviate my mysterious – and at this point growing – rash.
I bought more products – anti-pruritic creams, moisturizers, shampoos – I even washed my face with Head and Shoulders (which interestingly enough, helped the tiniest little bit).
And then I googled.
A common thread that kept appearing over many of the search results was vinegar. Specifically, apple cider vinegar. More specifically, organic apple cider vinegar with “THE MOTHER” – a silty-slimy component that’s usually removed by distillation. But this silty-slimy mother contains trace nutrients extracted from the apples during the fermentation process and is apparently very important.
And this is where the background story ends and the story of my torrid love affair with apple cider vinegar begins.
I’ll admit, I’m usually quite skeptical when someone recommends a home remedy. I’m even more skeptical when said home remedy is purported to do everything from balance the skin to removing skunk odor from a dog to keeping chickens from pecking one another (I am NOT kidding). But I was desperate, you see. Not only did I have these angry red patches on my face, but they were flaking. And I wear a lot of black. You do the math.
So I tried it. Raw, organic apple cider vinegar, diluted 50% in water, applied to my face with a cotton ball twice a day. I would leave it on for about 30 minutes, then rinse it off. And guess what? My rash was gone in about a week.
I continued using the vinegar for another two weeks in case the rash decided it wanted to come back and party. During that time, my skin looked fantastic. The redness from my rosacea subsided to a point where it looked like I was taking antibiotics (for those not suffering from rosacea and don’t understand what antibiotics have to do with it – whenever I’d have to take antibiotics for a sinus infection or other medical malady, the antibiotics always made my skin look great). My skin was smooth – like ridiculous smooth. I wasn’t even breaking out as much.
I decided to do a little more research and it all made perfect sense. I learned about the acid mantle, a fine, slightly acidic layer on the surface of the skin providing protection against bacterial and fungal infections. If that fine acid barrier loses its acidity, the skin is more prone to damage. Once the acid mantle is damaged, it can take up to 14 hours to restore. Think about that – we wash our faces in the morning, usually with a cleanser having a mild alkaline pH, the acid mantle is disrupted a bit from the washing, then by the time it’s restored, it’s time to was our faces again before bed. So when does that all-important mantle get restored? Does it just keep getting more and more damaged? Does the acid mantle disintegrate to the point where it becomes a blinking “ALL YOU CAN EAT” sign inviting assorted creepy crawlies to come and feast on my skin?
For those that use a toner as part of their skincare routine, it would serve a similar function to the vinegar. Facial toners typically have a slightly acidic pH (around 4.0 – 4.5), so they’re helping to keep that acid mantle happy and intact. But I paid $4.25 for a 1 Liter bottle of apple cider vinegar. Can I get a good toner for that price? Not that a product’s price usually deters me – I’ve been known to drop some serious cashola for products I love – but in this case why, when the vinegar is kicking some serious ass?
If you decide you’d like to try the apple cider vinegar on your skin, I have a couple of recommendations:
- Make sure you get apple cider vinegar with “the mother”.
- Get one of those little travel-sized empty shampoo bottles from your local drugstore, then mix of equal parts vinegar and water in the bottle. Make sure you shake the vinegar to mix up the solids in there before you mix it with the water.
- Pat the vinegar/water solution on your skin with a cotton ball after washing and drying your face. Leave it on from 5 minutes to all night long. Notice I said NIGHT. Do not, I repeat DO NOT leave it on all day long if you’re planning to leave the house. You will smell like a hoagie (for those outside of Southeastern Pennsylvania, that’s a sub or a hero sandwich) – and while I’m sure we all appreciate a good sandwich, you don’t really want to smell like one.
- You can also apply it to your face after working out to remove the sweat and refresh your face. Remember to rinse it off before you leave the gym.
Of course, as with any product, not everyone will have the same results. Maybe a regular toner would work better for some. For me, I think I’ve become a apple cider vinegar user for life. I might even consider adding it to some bath water to make the rest of my skin happy, too.
But either way, the bottom line is – listen to THE MOTHER. Change that “ALL YOU CAN EAT” sign to “CLOSED”. Keep your acid mantle happy and your skin protected.