by Julie Christensen
Aloe vera, the desert plant known for its medicinal qualities, goes by several names, including medicine plant, burn plant and lily of the desert. Regardless of what you call it, this little plant packs extraordinary healing power. The plant, native to the Mediterranean and Africa, has been cultivated for over 6,000 years for medicinal and cosmetic uses. Cleopatra is said to have used it as part of her beauty regimen and the ancient Egyptians even included it among the gifts given to deceased pharaohs in their tombs.
Only recently, though, have researchers discovered aloe vera’s benefits for treating acne. According to the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, aloe vera effectively treats mild to moderate acne.
Treating Acne with Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is one of the most emollient natural substances known to man. Although many acne products dry the skin out, aloe vera moisturizes skin without oil, which can plug skin pores and exacerbate acne symptoms. The gel makes an effective moisturizer and acne treatment on its own or in conjunction with commercial acne products. It can be used to help soothe skin irritated by the acne prescription medicine Accutane, which can cause severe dryness of the skin, eyes, lips and nasal passages.
Aloe vera gel contains lipids and amino acids, known to repair damage and encourage new skin cell growth. Salicylates, the compound used to make aspirin, relieve pain, redness and inflammation. Finally, aloe vera gel contains antiseptic and antimicrobial compounds, which can kill bacteria that may cause acne.
Walk through the cosmetic aisle of the drugstore and you’ll find hundreds of products containing aloe, as well as bottled aloe vera gel. These products can be used to treat acne, but your best bet is to keep a plant on hand and use fresh aloe vera gel. Aloe vera gel, like most natural products, may lose potency through processing. Many commercial aloe vera gel products contain preservatives and other chemicals that might counteract potential benefits.
Growing and Using Aloe Vera
To get the most from aloe vera gel, grow your own plants. Most nurseries and even many garden centers sell potted aloe plants. Aloe veras are heat-loving plants that don’t tolerate frost. Fortunately, they grow just fine as houseplants. Give aloe vera plants light, well-draining soil on the sandy side, and place them in a sunny window. Outdoors, the plants benefit from full sun. Go easy on the moisture, though. Aloe vera plants are adapted to dry conditions and may rot if given too much water.
Once the plants stand 6 to 8 inches high, you can cut leaves to obtain aloe vera gel. Use a knife or clean scissors to cut a 4 inch piece of leaf. Slice the leaf open and squeeze the aloe vera gel into your hand. Apply it as you would lotion or mix it with your favorite moisturizer.
Aloe for Other Skin Conditions
The most common use for aloe vera gel is for treating burns. Just how well does aloe work for treating burns? According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that aloe vera gel is effective for treating mild to moderate burns, but can actually inhibit healing of severe burns or surgical wounds.
The Mayo Clinic found that aloe vera gel is effective for treating a host of skin conditions, including dandruff, psoriasis, eczema, genital herpes and dry skin. Moms often swear by aloe vera gel for treating diaper rash.
If you’ve never used aloe vera gel before, test it by applying a small bit to the inside of your wrist before you use it liberally. Some people are allergic to aloe vera gel and develop a rash.
Like most natural solutions, aloe vera gel may take some time to be effective in treating acne. Allow at least 3 to 4 weeks to see symptom improvement. If your acne doesn’t improve, talk with a dermatologist about other options.
Want to learn more about aloe vera for acne?
Aloe Vera from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Aloe Vera: A Short Review from the National Institutes of Health
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.