Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/19/2019
Natural treatments are all the rage, and it doesn’t get much more natural than getting your acne treatment directly from a plant.
The aloe plant is a common houseplant, so how nice would it be to simply harvest a leaf every so often to treat your acne? If only it were that simple.
Adding an acne treatment to your skin care routine is often anything but simple. And there are several reasons for this, not the least of which: you don’t want to apply anything to your face that is going to make a bad situation worse.
Obviously, you’re hoping to end your pimple breakouts and obtain clear skin, so hastily embracing any cleanser, spot treatment, moisturizer, face mask or any other acne treatment could be a mistake.
The good news: there is some evidence that aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties and antibacterial benefits. But, there isn’t clear evidence that it can replace your acne medications.
The aloe vera plant and it’s products such as aloe vera gel have been used around the world and throughout history.
As far back as ancient Egypt, queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra are said to have used it in their beauty regimen.
Prominent historical figures like Alexander the Great are said to have used it to heal the wounds of soldiers, too.
Using the plant as a medicine became mainstream in the United States in the early 1800s, when people began using it as a laxative.
In the early 1930s, they realized it could be effective in skin-care treatment as well.
Aloe vera, a succulent plant, owes its effectiveness to several ingredients or compounds within: vitamins such as C, E, B12 and folic acid; enzymes such as amylase and lipase; minerals such as calcium, selenium and zinc; sugars; anthraquinones or laxatives; fatty acids such as cholesterol; hormones and amino acids.
All of these constituents work together to create potential benefits when applied to the skin or ingested.
While the research behind these benefits varies in quality — and we’ll dive more deeply into those related to acne specifically — aloe is said to: reduce inflammation, modulate the immune system, protect the skin against radiation, increase collagen to speed wound healing, moisturize and provide anti-aging effects, kill viruses and bacteria and even have antitumor benefits.
Unlike many “natural” acne solutions promoted online, aloe vera has been tested for effectiveness in several scientific studies, published in reputable journals.
However, the evidence isn’t very strong.
All of the journal articles we located in our literature search test aloe vera in combination with other ingredients. So, the results of those studies can’t be attributed to aloe alone.
In other words, it isn’t clear if the discovered benefits are benefits of aloe vera, benefits of other compounds tested with aloe, or a result of combining those ingredients in a particular way.
To illustrate, here is a quick review of some of the literature:
The combination therapy was applied over eight weeks on 60 study participants with mild to moderate acne.
At the end of the study period, the researchers concluded this therapy was more effective than tretinoin alone.
A study published in 2018 examined the use of a treatment including aloe vera, tea tree oil and propolis (a compound produced by bees), and compared it with erythromycin, a topical antibiotic.
Just 20 patients received each treatment over periods of 15 days and 30 days.
At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found the treatment containing aloe vera to be more effective than the antibiotic alone in treating acne severity, scarring and lesion count.
However, it’s important to note that topical antibiotics are generally prescribed along with a retinoid.
A 2019 study compared the effects of a “herbal extract” containing aloe vera, mulberry, tea tree oil and other ingredients with benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of mild to moderate acne.
The researchers found greater adherence with the herbal extract over the 12-week period, despite no difference between the treatments in acne outcomes.
In other words, the herbal formula was a suggested alternative to benzoyl peroxide when patients might not stick with a benzoyl peroxide regimen.
Acne sucks. There’s no gentle way of saying it. And when we have it, all we want is for it to be gone, and that usually means we’ll do anything to try and get rid of it.
Aloe vera has been used in medicinal settings for literal millennia, and it’s purported benefits have some supportive science behind them.
Aloe vera contains plenty of vitamins and minerals that are indisputably help with skin health, and there are compelling arguments that it can promote healing from things like burns and other minor injuries.
But when it comes to aloe vera for acne, even though the research seems supportive, it’s very thin, so there’s no real way to definitively say that aloe vera does or doesn’t work.
However, the good news is that based on the research, it doesn’t appear that aloe vera can harm your skin. So, at the very least, you can give it a try, or reach out to your healthcare provider to talk about your options with them.