In the hopes of learning more, I reached out to hair scientists, cosmetic schools and other beauty bloggers. New York University’s Langone Health turned down my request to speak with researchers about the effect alcohol can have on hair, and Bernstein Medical never answered. Five cosmetology schools and seven beauty bloggers ignored my emails as well. Even a request on Help A Reporter Out, a tool that connects journalists with sources, didn’t dig up any leads. Apparently it’s a hard request to take seriously, so I was left to my own research.
An interview with hair loss expert Samuel Lam on the blog Naturally Curly was the first negative sign I found. Lam said that he couldn’t “seriously answer the question of whether vodka does anything special for hair,” but he acknowledged that home remedies “have been touted to work but have not panned out.”
A study examining the safety of putting ethanol on your skin was published in 2008 by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). It appears dumping vodka on your head wasn’t common enough to be included in the study, and it analyzed high-alcohol hand sanitizers to determine the topical effects of alcohol instead. Alcohol, the study states, has antimicrobial effects because it denatures protein. It’s also the most rapid bactericidal and fungicidal ingredient in hand disinfection. Adding to the good news, the study states that alcohol-based products “cause less skin irritation than hand washing.”
This was all promising, except for the fact that hand sanitizer has between 60 and 90 percent alcohol. Vodka is only 40 percent, and I was weakening its bacteria-killing potential even further by mixing it with a cup of New York water that’s so questionable it comes out of the shower head a somewhat milky white color. Vodka isn’t even strong enough to kill bacteria in drinks, a study in late 2017 found. A 2002 hygiene study by the Centers for Disease Control stated that alcohol’s ability to clean relies on concentration and contact time, adding that “applying small volumes” is “not more effective than washing” with soap and water.
Per Charan’s recommendation, however, the rinse isn’t for killing off bacteria. It’s for getting rid of any product build up on your hair and scalp, so it might not matter if the bacteria just gets a little drunk instead of dying off. There aren’t any government-funded studies about alcohol removing excess product build up, though, so I had to rely on my own experience for that.
The more days in a row I rinsed with vodka, the greasier my hair seemed to get. It was a subtle, but noticeable, difference. My hair, which is painfully straight and can be fluffy, also lost any frizz and fell flatter on my head than normal. Vodka surprisingly didn’t dry my scalp out or cause dandruff or itchiness, but it also didn’t really do anything positive. The effects, in my experience, were minimal.
So should you rinse your hair with vodka? It’s probably not worth the questions you’ll get about the bottle by your tub.