I Turned 2 Pantry Staples Into My Shampoo & Conditioner

February 20, 2018

Two ingredients you'll always find in my pantry: apple cider vinegar and coconut oil. The former, I use in vinaigrettes, soups, even cocktails. The latter, for sautés and granola. About a year or so ago, I started using both for, of all things, my hair.

Before we talk about my hair care, though, we should talk about my hair. It’s brown and thick and curly. But not as curly as, say, my mom’s cavatappi corkscrews. I recently realized, it’s not my mom’s—it’s my dad’s—when I found a photo of him playing frisbee in the early ’70s, flared jeans and shoulder-length, sort-of curly hair. My hair. By the time I met him decades later, he was almost bald.

Mine stayed somewhere between bob and halfway down my back for most of my life. When I was I was 20, I cut it all off, stuffed it in a manila envelope, sent it to Locks of Love. I remember, before I drove to the post office, holding the ponytails in my hand and thinking, So soft! Was my hair really this soft? But the grass is always greener.

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It stayed short for awhile. Then it got long again. Then it got short again. At that time, it was winter—windy, cold, dry—and my scalp fluffed in fury, like a peacock puffing its feathers. I tried, literally and figuratively, to brush it off. But it’s hard to say dandruff is, Just snow! when you live in North Carolina and it never snows. So I said it was, Just all-purpose flour! and Googled remedies. That’s when I stumbled upon two beauty products. And they were already in my kitchen.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Why I tried it. Also affectionately known as ACV, apple cider vinegar is a workhorse—in the kitchen and beyond. Rewind back to 400 B.C. and Hippocrates championed its cleansing, healing properties. Like you, I’m off-the-bat suspicious of cure-all products. In Apple Cider Vinegar: Miracle Health System, written by the same people behind the Bragg brand, the authors explain how ACV can do away with dandruff: “The high acidity (organic malic acid) plus the powerful enzymes (the 'mother’s' life chemicals) in ACV kill the bottle bacillus, a germ responsible for many scalp and hair conditions.”

How I used it. Bragg recommends massaging ACV into your scalp pre-shampoo or using as a rinse-post shampoo. I decided to use it in lieu of shampoo entirely. I added ACV to a spray bottle, diluted with water and stored in the shower. Registered Dietician Stephanie Clarke recommends 1:8 parts ACV:water. I sprayed this on my hair, let that soak while I soaped my bod, then rinsed. Easy.

What happened. A miracle! No, just kidding. But it did help. After settling into my new routine, my healthy, happy scalp returned in a couple weeks. In the year since, I’ve stopped using ACV as frequently. Because I love eating pickles, but I don’t love smelling like ’em. Conclusion: ACV did fix my problem. But it also made my shower smell like a fermentation crock.

Coconut Oil

Why I tried it. Like ACV, coconut oil has been having a moment for awhile—here and abroad. I met one person who used it as mouthwash, another who used it as moisturizer, another who used it as leave-in conditioner for his dog ("He loves it!"). Until a few years ago, this was all new to me. Though, in other countries like India, massaging coconut oil into your scalp is common. I checked in with Marissa Lippert, the nutritionist and chef behind Nourish in New York City, and she echoed its practicality: “Coconut oil is very nourishing and moisturizing. Makes total sense to use as a natural conditioner.”

How I used it. I massaged a small, blackberry-sized amount into my hair and scalp post-shower—or before bed—on a frequent basis, figure every other day. (Lesson learned the hard way: Put a towel on your pillow to avoid any oil getting on your pillowcase!) Some sources recommend washing post-oiling, but if I didn’t use too much, this wasn’t necessary.

What happened. Combined with the ACV—good old oil and vinegar!—my initial dandruff issue came and went. Now that it’s winter again (why does this always happen?), my scalp has been getting dry again. Whenever it does, I do more frequent coconut oil treatments at home—it can look a little greasy for going out—and everything falls back into place.

Have you tried either of these ingredients as health products? Did they work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Cindy L. February 21, 2018
I've also used olive oil. Works like a charm and less mess than coconut oil
hamid February 21, 2018
Great post! i totally agree that these items can help make our hair beautiful and shinning. I have read so much about these items being used as hair treatments. I have tried from https://buymebuy.com to using honey and it works perfectly. It made my hair soft and manageable.