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Acne is a common problem affecting nearly 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24. Acne appears when the pores get clogged by oil (sebum), dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

Most people experience acne during their teen years due to fluctuating hormones, but the acne clears up after a few years.

For others —especially those with nodules or cysts —an acne breakout may penetrate the skin deeply and damage the tissues beneath it, leaving behind discolored skin and scars. The scars can look like wide or narrow depressions on the skin (atrophic scars) or raised areas that stand above the surface of the skin (hypertrophic scars).

Some claim that apple cider vinegar (ACV) may help acne scars due to its high acidic content. Apple cider vinegar comes from the fermented juice of apples and can be found easily in supermarkets.

The acids in ACV may help reduce the appearance of scars by removing the damaged, outer layers of the skin and promoting regeneration. This process is often referred to as “chemical peeling.”

Though little research is available, a few small studies have yielded promising results for this at-home remedy.

ACV contains acetic, citric, lactic, and succinic acid. It’s strongly acidic by nature and therefore should be used with caution on the skin.

The acids in ACV can cause burns when applied directly to the skin for long periods of time. For this reason, you should dilute the vinegar with water and only apply the small amounts at a time. Avoid applying it to open wounds or to sensitive skin.

Though more research is needed to confirm these effects, the acids in ACV may reduce the appearance of scars.

For example, a 2014 study showed that succinic acid suppressed inflammation caused by Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that contributes to acne. This may help prevent scarring.

Lactic acid was found to improve the texture, pigmentation, and appearance of skin in one study of seven people with acne scars.

ACV diluted with water is the simplest recipe, but there are several other ingredients you can add to the vinegar for alleged extra benefits.

ACV and water

The simplest recipe is to dilute the apple cider vinegar with water before applying it to your scars.

Follow these steps:

  • clean your face with mild face wash and pat dry
  • mix 1 part ACV with 2 to 3 parts water
  • gently apply the mixture to the scar using a cotton ball
  • let sit for 5 to 20 seconds, or longer if it doesn’t irritate your skin
  • rinse with water and pat dry

You can repeat this process once or twice per day and continue using it until you see results. For some people, this could take a month or more.

There is still a risk of irritating or burning the skin with this recipe, especially if you have sensitive skin. If this is the case, try diluting the vinegar with more water before applying it. You may also find that your skin becomes very dry after use. If this is the case, apply a moisturizer to your skin after it dries.

ACV and tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is known to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and may reduce the amount and overall severity of acne.

One small 2013 study found that applying tea tree oil can enhance skin healing, but research on tea tree oil for acne scars is lacking.

Adding a few drops of tea tree oil to ACV may at the very least help manage acne breakouts and reduce the risk of scarring, but more research is needed.

Don’t use tea tree oil if you’ve had reactions to it in the past, including any redness, hives, or a rash.

ACV and honey

Honey is used for numerous medicinal purposes due to its natural antibacterial properties. A 2012 studyshowed that directly applying honey to the skin can help with wound clearing and cleansing. Add a spoonful or so of honey to your diluted ACV before applying it to your scars.

ACV and lemon juice

Lemon juice is another acid that may help with acne scarring, though no research exists to prove these claims. Lemon juice contains vitamin C, which is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are believed to help fight free radicals in the skin and also to boost collagen levels.

Advocates claim that when applied directly to acne scars, lemon juice reduces discoloration and evens out the skin tone. You can add a few drops to your already diluted ACV and apply it directly to scars.

Like ACV, lemon juice is highly acidic and can lead to dryness, burning, or stinging of the skin. It can also increase your risk of sunburn.

ACV and aloe vera

Aloe vera is another common home remedy used in the wound healing process. It’s often employed to help with burns, including sunburns. According to a 2016 study in rats, applying aloe vera directly to wounds reduced inflammation and decreased scar tissue size.

You can find aloe vera gels at drugstores, or you can grow the plant yourself. The sticky gel is found inside the leaves. Mix it with the diluted ACV and apply directly to the scar.

If you have many scars from your acne, or you find your scars bothersome, it’s important to see a dermatologist before you start any home treatments.

A dermatologist can suggest the best method to reduce the appearance of your scars. They can also confirm that the marks on your skin are actually scars and didn’t arise from another condition.

It’s essential that you also treat the underlying cause of your acne along with the scars. New breakouts can cause more scarring. You should try your best to avoid picking, popping, or squeezing blemishes, as this can lead to more scars.

A dermatologist can prescribe a more targeted and effective treatment for both acne and acne scars, such as:

There is also a variety of in-office procedures that can help reduce the appearance of scars, such as:

Scars that are deep or very raised may require a minor surgery to reduce their appearance.

Keep in mind that these procedures can be expensive, especially if your health insurance doesn’t cover it.

Acne scars can be awfully stubborn, and what works for one person may not work for another. There’s some evidence that apple cider vinegar may help reduce the appearance of acne scars for some individuals.

However, improper use of ACV can cause skin damage and burns, so it should be used with caution. Due to high acidity, ACV should always be diluted before it’s applied to the skin.

Apple cider vinegar isn’t proven to get rid of scars, but it’s less expensive than modern medical treatments, and is generally safe if diluted properly. In other words, it probably won’t hurt to give it a try.

In theory, mixing ACV with other home remedies, like honey, aloe, or lemon juice, may accelerate the healing process, but there’s no research to prove these claims.

If you use apple cider vinegar for more than a month and see no improvement, discontinue use.More severe acne scars will require a more rigorous treatment plan from a dermatologist.Before starting any new treatment, you should discuss the pros and cons with a doctor.