I have a truly complicated relationship with my hair, about as nuanced as any rapport with your own body could be. But above all, I want it to look shiny and healthy and clean after a good wash, mostly so that I can skip lathering it up for a week with minimal grease and a lot of texturizing spray and dry shampoo.
One way to do that is to ensure that my hair and scalp are properly “clarified”—as in, there’s no residual buildup from said oil-absorbing products, which I layer on several times each day like my quality of life depends on it. I recognize that this could likely be remedied by washing my hair more often than every four days (at best), but styling my hair post-shampoo is a feat unto itself. It’s a weird length due to both breakage (bleach will do that) and the soul-crushing fact that I keep having to cut the ends off as I attempt to grow it out. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and I now believe that it’s necessary for me to blow-dry and use a curling iron every time I wash my hair. It’s a process.
In an effort to make my hair so clean that I can stretch it several days before I have to wash it again, I took to Google and explored the option of the apple-cider-vinegar wash. Some people swear by the rinse; it’s said to balance pH levels, cut through buildup, and make hair glossy. But there are also a handful of downsides, as it can make hair crazy dry over time, which I don’t want for myself.
Still, I wasn’t ready to give up on vinegar, because in my deep dig for the benefits and drawbacks of its use, I discovered a few vinegar-infused products that were made for this very purpose. The bad news is that they all still smell like vinegar. The good news is that they really, really get the job done, without leaving hair stripped and parched.
I sometimes feel distinctly as if tap water is out to get me, which I am aware may be unreasonable, but I have substantial evidence: Used on my face, it gives me redness and rashes and even breakouts, and used on my hair, I don’t often feel that it’s truly clean. The promise that the acerola cherry vinegar in this formula would “neutralize” hard water appealed to me on principle. As directed, I dispensed the liquid over my entire head and rinsed. This one was possibly the best-smelling of the three I tried, which is important.
The rinse made my hair very, very shiny, and my split ends less obvious. I air-dried, which is the true test of any hair product, and it still managed to make my hair markedly smoother-looking and softer to the touch. I guess this is the “tightening of hair cuticles” it promised. Seemed good and didn’t smell too weird, either! My scalp seemed cleaner and less grease-prone for the next few days, so I would say for all intents and purposes that this one worked.
This one is pretty hard core: It’s meant to be used just once a week to clarify the hair and scalp, so it’s serious stuff—as serious as a vinegar hair rinse can be. It neutralizes pH with apple cider vinegar, uses lemon oil to “alleviate” oily scalp, and has a few other essential oils and extracts. It also smells rather strongly of the vinegar, though it says it will dissipate quickly. I am here to tell you that it did not.
I found this one just a little too drying for me—I think the lemon oil did me in. That said, I have really dry, damaged hair, so it may work better for someone whose hair does not want desperately to fall out of their head. Also, my hair smelled for longer than it should have, though I don’t know if that’s the experience everyone will have. Mine is porous from the damage, so it seems to absorb scent more aggressively than others.
This one works a little bit differently from the others: You spray it on as a final touch after shampooing and towel-drying, and you can also use it between shampoos as a refresher of sorts. (Full disclosure: I have not used it for the latter purpose.)
I really liked this one—it felt soothing to my sometimes-itchy scalp, and it was easier to use than the full-on rinses, as I didn’t need to spend an extra few minutes in the shower. All I had to do was spritz it on my damp hair, which left it soft, shiny, and smelling of vinegar. The scent eventually faded away and left a more pleasant herbal fragrance behind … but it still kind of smelled like vinegar. The real draw for me with this one was that it also helped to detangle, and had that glossier finish regardless of whether I blow-dried or air-dried.
As I had anticipated, I will not be using this again. It wasn’t as drying to my actual hair as I had convinced myself it would be, but it made my scalp feel tight and itchy, which I did not appreciate. It also smelled so strongly, even after my hair dried, that I washed it again after. I wanted to be pleasantly surprised by straight-up apple cider vinegar because it’s less than $5 at every grocery store ever, but I’ll keep its uses limited to salad dressings for now.