Exfoliating acids and toners have become a staple of our beauty regimes as the preferred way to slough off dead skin cells, loosen all the acquired crud and keep the skin’s acid mantle – the first line of defence – in good nick. Formulations have become so good now that most skin types can reap their glow-getting rewards.
But as they say, there’s nothing new under the sun; Cleopatra reportedly worked the acid toner thousands of years ago. Her brightener of choice? Vinegar. “It’s likely that the smoothing and softening properties combined with her famous milk bathing were the secrets to her fabled beauty,” says skincare expert and formulator, Jane Scrivner.
As a natural exfoliating acid, it’s making a comeback in the form of the ‘face vinegar or ‘beauty’ vinegar. Vinegar - AKA acetic acid is an AHA, an alpha hydroxy acid, the same family which includes glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic and tartaric acids, the gold standard ingredients for brightening and evening out skin tone (for more read our guide to acid toners ).
"Face vinegar is nothing new in the skincare world, which is why I use and love it," says Jane, whose preferred face vinegar is apple cider vinegar (ACV).
Beauty vinegar: how to use it
“Historically apple cider vinegar was an ancient remedy used for deodorising and cleansing the skin," says Jane. "Today, the best way to use apple cider vinegar is in place of your traditional toner – after cleansing and before you apply your serum, facial oil or moisturiser. This will remove any excess cleanser that might remain on the skin, reconfigure the skin’s pH and provide a light exfoliation for a fresh, clean, balanced complexion.”
French pharmacy brands and botanical skincare companies are leading the charge. Roger & Gallet has revived and reformulated its 19th-century 'vinaigre de toilette' in the form of Aura Mirabilis Beauty Vinegar, £12.75. It has apple fruit vinegar and 17 other botanicals rich in polyphenols and anti-oxidants. There's a slight bi-phase effect thanks to small amounts of plant oils, giving it a cleansing as well as an exfoliating action, while steering well clear of that Sarson’s smell.
Fellow Gallic beauty brand Gallinée, which specialises in pre- and probiotic skin and hair care, launched its Face Vinegar, £23 , in 2018. “I was always fascinated by the use of vinegar during the middle ages, especially by the Four Thieves Vinegar [aka Marseilles vinegar, a medieval concoction infused with herbs to ward off illness] that was supposed to protect from the plague," explains Gallinée founder Marie Drago. "It was probably an early antiseptic. Vinegar is such an interesting ingredient, as it is produced by bacteria. I am always surprised it is not used more widely in beauty.”
Her product is a gentle, soothing alcohol-free and pretty much scent-free toner. It uses hibiscus vinegar for its astringent and brightening properties as well as a cocktail of prebiotics for soothing and calming redness, and helping to strengthen the skin barrier .
How vinegar can benefit your skin
I first came across the notion of a skin vinegar long before I’d even heard of the term when I opened a bottle of Jane Scrivner’s award-winning Skinfoliate resurfacing exfoliator, £26 . The smell of vinegar was unmistakable (Jane uses Aspalls Raw Organic Cyder Vinegar with 'the Mother' to be precise). However, it had enough fragrant botanical extracts such as bilberry, pineapple and lavender to make it pleasant to use. I have to say I have become rather addicted. It always leaves my dry skin clear and keeps breakouts in check.
Incidentally, diluted vinegar, as well as being a dandruff remedy, has traditionally been used on spots as it’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. It’s also protective. “The acidity of apple cider vinegar helps to keep the skin’s acid mantle balanced and healthy with the perfect pH range," explains Jane.
Modern skin vinegar formulations such as Jane Scrivner Skinfoliate, £26 often contain softening agents such as glycerin, making them suitable not just for oily skin, but for most skins, although sensitive and reactive types may wish to exercise caution.
Vinegar is increasingly playing a best-supporting in essences too. Vintner’s Daughter, the luxury botanical brand, has a multi-tasking Active Treatment Essence, £210 containing more than 30 botanicals including apple cider vinegar with live probiotics.
You can make your own face vinegar, but don't overdo it
To make your own face vinegar, you can of course DIY for a fraction of the price by diluting one part apple cider vinegar (choose raw with the mother for its natural probiotics) with three parts water.
“Any skin types can use apple cider vinegar but in different potencies depending on your skin type. More sensitive skins should opt for a diluted solution, a gentler pH version or simply mix their face vinegar with water. If you don’t suffer from sensitivity, then you can use it twice daily in the a.m. and p.m.,” says Jane.
"Follow the directions on each and every product you use. However, if you’re new to using acids I would always start slowly, a couple of times a week, and build your way up to the recommended use. What works for one person could be too harsh or not enough for another, but a general rule is to keep it simple and monitor your own skin response and results.”
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Follow Jane Scrivner on Instagram @janescrivnerskincare and Victoria @victoriawoodhall