Apple cider vinegar is often used as a home remedy, reputed to ease ailments ranging from yeast infections to high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. But can it help skin cancer?
While there are plenty of online claims that apple cider vinegar can remove moles or treat skin cancer, there’s no solid research to back them up.
What’s more, most of the studies that have been done on apple cider vinegar and cancer used tissue samples or animals in laboratories, not living humans.
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What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a strong-smelling vinegar that’s made from apples that have been crushed, distilled, and fermented. Most people describe the taste as sour.
The vinegar has high levels of acetic acid, which is thought to provide health benefits. It also contains polyphenols — special antioxidants that are known to lessen the cell damage that’s associated with diseases like cancer.
Some cooking recipes call for apple cider vinegar. It’s also commonly used as a cleaning solution, skin toner, teeth whitener, or alternative health treatment.
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History of Apple Cider Vinegar and Cancer
The notion that apple cider vinegar may have an effect on cancer cells can be traced back to the work of the 1931 Nobel Prize–winning scientist Otto Warburg.
Warburg theorized that cancer cells grow more aggressively in an acidic environment. Specifically, he believed that high levels of acidity and low oxygen in the body caused cancer.
Though his ideas were considered controversial, Warburg believed cancer was essentially a nutritional issue, claiming that 80 percent of cases were avoidable.
Some who subscribe to Warburg’s theories believe apple cider vinegar lowers acidity in the body and makes it more alkaline, thus warding off cancer.
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What Are the Claims About Skin Cancer and Apple Cider Vinegar?
Various internet sites and blogs claim that apple cider vinegar can help treat skin cancers, including basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, melanomas, and precancerous lesions (actinic keratosis). Other sources offer tutorials for removing moles or skin tags.
Most of these sites provide personal, anecdotal accounts from people who say the vinegar “cured” their skin cancer.
Some of the sources encourage patients to drink apple cider vinegar, while others suggest applying it directly to the skin cancer. Many recommend doing both.
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What Does the Research Say About Apple Cider Vinegar and Skin Cancer?
Studies that examine a link between an acidic environment in the body and cancer have shown mixed results.
In one 1996 paper published in Clinical & Experimental Metastasis, scientists found that human melanoma cells may grow and spread more quickly in an acidic environment. But this study was performed on cultured cell samples in a lab.
Other experiments have shown no link between an acidic environment and cancer activity.
Some organizations, such as the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), say foods like apple cider vinegar have little effect on the body’s pH level. In fact, many experts believe it would be “nearly impossible” to alter the cell environment to create less acidity in the body.
According to the American Dietetic Association, “Large, well-designed clinical trials on the effectiveness of the many claims made for the alkaline diet are lacking.”
The inconsistent and insignificant amount of research on the topic has led most health experts to conclude there’s not enough research to show apple cider vinegar can treat skin cancer.
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How Do You Use Apple Cider Vinegar?
Dosing recommendations vary, but most people take up to 1 to 2 tablespoons by mouth a day. You’ll want to add about a cup of water to dilute it.
Apple cider vinegar also comes in capsules, tablets, and gummies, which may be easier for some people to take.
If you’re applying apple cider vinegar to your skin, be careful not to leave it on too long. Make sure you dilute the vinegar in water and test it over a small patch of skin first. Also, rinse the area well after use. Recommendations on how much to use and how long to leave it on vary. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before putting it on your skin.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Be Dangerous?
Using apple cider vinegar on your skin can lead to dangerous burns. In a 2015 paper, dermatologists treated a 14-year-old who applied apple cider vinegar to a mole and was left with skin damage on her face.
The authors wrote: “Common vinegars are weak acids that contain 4 to 8 percent acetic acid, which can erode the skin and cause significant chemical burns, especially when applied under occlusion.” Occlusion means the area is covered and the ACV is prevented from evaporating.
In another report, dermatologists at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, documented the treatment of an 8-year-old child whose mother applied apple cider vinegar to his skin lesion. The next day, the child had a chemical burn.
Another reason to hold off on applying ACV to a mole is that if you do manage to burn it off, your doctor can’t tell if it was cancerous or precancerous. When doctors remove melanoma, they typically cut out the mole plus some tissue underneath to make sure all the cancerous cells are gone.
Ingesting apple cider vinegar isn’t without risk, either. If you consume too much of the vinegar, or don’t dilute it enough, you could experience the following:
- Burning in your throat
- Tooth decay
- Low potassium or blood sugar levels
- An allergic reaction
Other Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar
Though more research is needed, some other uses for apple cider vinegar may include:
- Lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- Weight loss
- Reducing bacteria growth
The Bottom Line
You may have read about the benefits of using apple cider vinegar for skin cancer, but these aren’t proven.
If you think you have a cancerous mole or spot on your skin, see your doctor right away. Never use apple cider vinegar as a replacement for standard medical therapy.