Aloe vera gel is the natural healing accelerator for cuts, scrapes, and minor burns. But is it also a great treatment for pimples caused by acne?
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- Aloe stimulates healing of broken skin. It is extremely useful for cuts, scrapes, and minor burns.
- Aloe is not especially useful on unbroken skin. It does not penetrate pores.
- Used by itself, aloe is not useful for fighting most aspects of acne. Neem soap is much more helpful.
- Aloe vera gels, however, can reduce inflammation caused by dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, and treatments with benzoyl peroxide or tretinoin topical.
- Some people who have Asian skin types report that aloe vera gel helps prevent skin discoloration after acne heals. It is necessary to use aloe vera gel on the skin while the acne is healing to prevent discoloration. Aloe will not help once the pigmentation changes have occurred.
- Aloe vera gel may have little effect on acne, but not a whole lot can go wrong with the use aloe vera gel—unless it is swallowed.
What’s Special About Aloe Vera for the Skin?
Nearly 2,000 laboratory studies of aloe vera confirm that it has real and substantial healing powers for skin cells. Complex chemicals called glycoproteins in aloe vera activate genes that increase the number of keratinocytes in the skin. In theory, this helps the skin regenerate its outermost layer much more quickly to close the skin over wounds.
Another compound in aloe known as aloesin both increases the activity of keratinocytes and stimulates the production of collagen. Were this to happen in real human skin, extra collagen in and beneath the skin would help fill in scars and wrinkles. And other compounds in aloe fight inflammation and certain forms of infection—when aloe is tested on skin cells in the test tube in the lab.
The actions of aloe on the skin itself in real people, not test tubes filled with skin cells, are a little different. These aloe chemicals have to be applied to the lower layers of skin to have an effect. That means they work well when they are applied to broken skin, but they do not have as great an effect when applied to unbroken skin. In fact, there is little evidence that aloe applied directly to the skin has much benefit for acne, at all.
Scientific Studies of Aloe Vera for Acne
Indian scientists tested a variety of traditional herbal skin treatments as remedies for acne. They found that aloe vera did almost nothing to stop the inflammation and irritation caused by acne bacteria. British scientists have even found that using enough aloe to stimulate growth of the skin to open acne causes inflammation and irritation of its own, making acne worse. And no study has ever found any benefit of aloe used by itself in treating whiteheads and blackheads.
If Aloe Vera Does Not Work for Acne, What Does?
The Indian scientists who tested aloe vera also tested other traditional Ayurvedic and Unani herbal remedies for acne. They found that neem, turmeric, and an herb known as manjistha (or common madder) stopped the release of free radicals of oxygen that trigger inflammation in the skin.
Turmeric and manjistha formulas are available from practitioners of Ayurveda but are hard to find. Neem soaps and creams are available over the Internet and in many whole foods and natural products stores. If your primary interest is controlling inflammation, neem soap is a good place to start.
What Is Aloe Vera Good For?
Aloe vera is not useful for controlling acne itself, but it is helpful for reducing the side effects of acne treatment, and in many other skin conditions.
- Aloe vera gel reduces inflammation and irritation after dermabrasion and microdermabrasion of acne scars.
- Users of benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin topical report that aloe vera gel reduces skin irritation caused by these acne treatments. If you use aloe vera gel to reduce benzoyl peroxide or tretinoin side effects, use it at a different time of day so it does not interfere with the action of your acne medications.
- Aloe vera gel may reduce the formation of brown spots after acne heals by reducing inflammation (which triggers production of pigment). Users who report the greatest benefits of aloe vera gel for this purpose are those who have Asian skin types, but aloe vera gel is not a proven remedy for preventing discoloration on Asian skin.
- Aloe vera liposomes applied to the skin can help fill in indented acne scars. They are not useful for protruding acne scars or for treating pink skin over cysts or ingrown hairs.
- Aloe vera soothes the itching and burning caused by impetigo, an acne-like infection caused by staph and/or strep bacteria.
- Aloe vera gels are helpful in treating antibiotic-resistant Pseudomonas infections of the skin, which are most often acquired from time in or on whirl pools, hot tubs, water slides, and public showers. Pseudomonas infections can also be caught from dirty wetsuits.
- Aloe vera gel following washing hands with warm soapy water helps kill E. coli that can cause food poisoning. The aloe gel is not sufficient without washing hands first.
- Aloe vera juice, drunk as a beverage (in moderation, it is also a laxative), can help smooth out wrinkles.
- Aloe vera gel applied to diabetic skin wounds helps thicken the skin and close the wound.
Can Anything Go Wrong When You Use Aloe?
Aloe vera liposomes sometimes cause irritation of the skin similar to the kind of irritation caused by retinoids or vitamin A. They make the skin grow so rapidly that dead skin cells are pushed off the surface of the skin in peeling patches of skin or skin flakes, and the skin just beneath can become irritated and red. The solution is not to apply even more aloe vera to the skin—it is to apply less.
The main problem with aloe vera gel occurs when it is swallowed. Aloe is a potent laxative. It can cause diarrhea and cramping, especially in people who have Crohn’s disease. The kind of laxative action induced by aloe is increased muscle movement, so it is not recommended for people who have problems with unusually hard stools, hemorrhoids, or megacolon, a condition of impacted feces blocking the colon. Aloe vera juice does not contain significant amounts of the aloin compound that acts as a laxative.
An occasional problem with aloe vera gel or juice is lowering blood sugars. Diabetics who control their blood sugar levels with insulin or medication may be at risk for hypoglycemia if they take aloe vera gel or juice by mouth.
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