Does Aloe Vera for Acne Really Work?

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

If you have fair skin, you are probably very familiar with the soothing power of aloe vera on a nasty sunburn, but does aloe vera help with acne? Well, that’s a bit of a tricky question to answer. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to the possibility of using aloe vera for pimples.

When we consider many of the plant’s natural healing properties, and look back at how it has been used in medicine for centuries, it seems that aloe vera could absolutely help reduce acne. However, acne needs more than just healing to go away completely, and even though it has been a popular remedy for a long time, the current research is inconclusive.

All we know for sure about aloe vera’s role in treating acne is that it can help the skin better absorb other acne-fighting ingredients 💪. Beyond that, aloe vera is still very much a mystery.

Although humans have been using aloe vera for centuries, we still aren’t sure what impact, if any, it has on acne.

How Aloe Vera for Acne Is Supposed To Work

If the Internet hype is to be believed, this type of aloe can help heal acne in the following ways. It can:

  • reduce the inflammation that starts acne🔥;
  • absorb excess oil that could clog pores;
  • kill acne-causing bacteria 🦠;
  • hydrate the skin 💧;
  • heal acne faster so it doesn’t leave a scar; and
  • help the skin to absorb other acne-fighting ingredients better.

If aloe vera really did possess all these qualities, there’s no reason everyone in the world wouldn’t already be using it in their skin care routine. That’s why we’re wary about all the hype surrounding the medicinal uses of this plant.

That being said, we don’t think aloe vera is a hoax either—many of its properties make it a logical acne-fighting ingredient 💪. The problem with using aloe vera for pimples isn’t that it’s completely ineffective; it’s that we just don’t know enough to say anything for sure.

Why Aloe Vera Is Still a Mystery

We’ve been using aloe vera in our medicine since 1550 BC, and that was simply the first time someone wrote it down. We have studied it ourselves, extensively, but we still don’t have many answers, mainly because of how hard it is to study aloe vera.

Aloe vera research faces two unique challenges: first, there are over 400 species of aloe; and second, some of aloe vera’s basic compounds easily break down under the forced conditions of research.

The problem with having over 400 species of aloe to study is that it’s easy for things to get mixed up, especially when one particular type of aloe (aloe vera) is the most well known. Studies done on coral aloe or aloe squarrosa may find certain healing or anti-inflammatory properties, but that does not mean those properties also apply to aloe vera.

Another issue that studying aloe vera might present is the instability of some of its compounds. Aloe vera contains polysaccharides that can easily break down when exposed to heat, acid, or even with the passage of time. Using pure aloe vera 🍃straight from the plant might negate these effects, but it might present problems to researchers.

However, aloe vera has been medically reviewed, so let’s look at its application in terms of acne scars and acne treatment.

How Aloe Vera Affects the Three Main Causes of Acne: Claims vs. Reality

When we say “the three main causes of acne,” we mean excess oil production, inflammation 🔥, and acne-causing bacteria 🦠. If you recall, using aloe vera for pimples can supposedly help with all three of these things. But what’s the truth?

Excess Oil Production

Claim: Aloe vera for acne works because it is naturally astringent, so it can absorb excess oil and reduce clogged pores.

Reality: Aloe vera contains zinc, which is an astringent.

Untreated, excess oil can clog pores, leading to whiteheads and blackheads, and it can encourage the rapid growth of acne-causing bacteria 🦠, which are nourished by the oil our skin produces. If aloe vera is truly astringent, it could be very useful for people with oily skin.

But Can Aloe Vera Really Reduce Excess Oil?

Some sources break down aloe vera into its component parts, and proceed to discuss each component’s unique properties. They then claim that aloe vera has the properties of its components. So, in this case, the reasoning is that because aloe vera contains zinc, and zinc is astringent (though the research on that is also somewhat weak), it means that aloe vera is also an astringent.

This style of reasoning amounts to skewing the data so they fit a specific narrative, because scientifically, components (as part of a composition) just don’t work like that. Let’s explain.

Living substances, for instance, are comprised of minerals, vitamins, hormones, proteins, and more. When examined in isolation, each of these components has individual properties, but when combined, each substance’s properties are affected. For instance, the properties can intensify, be canceled, or the combination can even change to develop entirely new properties.

Therefore, although it is difficult to study aloe vera in the lab 🧪, we cannot rely on simply extrapolating the information we have on the various components it contains.

Inflammation

Claim: Aloe vera for acne works because it protects the skin and reduces inflammation 🔥, which helps prevent acne from forming.

Reality: Reducing inflammation is the best way to prevent acne, but the research is very conflicted on whether aloe vera decreases or increases inflammation.

But Can Aloe Vera Reduce Inflammation Associated with Acne?

Many people support this claim because aloe vera works so well on sunburn, which causes inflammation. And inflammation is associated with acne.

Any time our skin is damaged, it triggers the inflammation 🔥 response to help protect it from further damage. This causes minor swelling in the skin, and in acne formation, the pores constrict, trapping oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria inside 🦠. Sunburn also triggers the anti-inflammatory response in the skin, so this reasoning is not completely off. This claim that aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties has also been medically reviewed, but, at best, the data are inconclusive.

Aloe vera can reduce the inflammation of a sunburn, but researchers still can’t say for sure if it can also reduce inflammation related to acne.

Some studies that look at the effectiveness of aloe vera for acne have found this to be true. Just like with sunburn, aloe vera reduces inflammation, opens up pores, and prevents acne from forming in the first place. One study even found that aloe vera was just as effective at bringing down swelling as hydrocortisone cream.

However, many other studies have found that aloe vera has no effect on inflammation, and some have even found that aloe vera may make inflammation worse.

Bacteria

Claim: Aloe vera for pimples works because it has antibacterial properties that allow it to kill acne-causing bacteria 🦠.

Reality: While aloe vera does have antibacterial properties, it has not been shown to be effective on acne-causing bacteria specifically.

But Can Aloe Vera Kill P. Acnes?

This is a trap that many home remedies fall into: if something is antibacterial, then it kills all kinds of bacteria…right? Sadly, this is not the case. Although aloe vera has proven very effective in killing certain kinds of bacteria, it has proven much less effective with acne-causing bacteria, also known as P. acnes 🦠.

Although P. acnes do cause acne, they aren’t objectively terrible bacteria. In fact, they’re a healthy part of the skin’s natural bacterial biome, meaning some of them always live on the surface of our skin. In small numbers and with limited inflammation 🔥, they typically don’t cause a problem. The issues start when the skin becomes inflamed, which causes a spike in oil production. Then, the bacteria reproduce much more quickly, due to the increased nourishment available to them.

If aloe vera truly killed P. acnes bacteria, it would be very helpful in treating and preventing pimples or even cystic acne, which is typically much more difficult to treat. However, the matter has been medically reviewed, and there is no evidence that the plant can kill P. acnes on its own.

What About Aloe Vera’s Healing Properties?

Although this succulent is not guaranteed to address any of the three main causes of acne, you may be able to use it on acne scars. In keeping with aloe vera’s general theme of uncertainty, the research on its wound-healing properties is more positive, but still not conclusive. The majority of studies seem to agree that it can speed the wound-healing process along, and aloe vera is even a recommended component of wound dressings. So, how does this help to reduce acne scars?

Acne Is Technically a Wound

Technically, pimples or cysts, or any kind of acne that you’ve picked at, is a type of wound. To return to normal, your skin has to heal the acne the same way it would any other wound, and when healing takes a long time, scars often result 👎.

Aloe Vera Can Prevent Acne Scars by Helping Acne Heal Faster

Acne scars can be raised, indented, or hyperpigmented (dark spots), and once they’ve formed, aloe vera will not be of any help. Instead, it helps prevent scars entirely by helping the healing process move along more quickly. This prevents a buildup of melanin, the substance which gives our skin pigment, but which also encourages wound healing.

The longer a wound takes to heal 🩹, the more melanin is deposited and the more likely it is that a dark spot will appear. Similarly, longer healing times encourage the growth of more scar tissue, which could increase the likelihood of raised scarring as well. Aloe vera’s wound healing properties could help prevent this scarring.

Aloe Vera and Its Paradox of Absorption

When you apply aloe vera to sunburn ☀️, you have probably noticed that it doesn’t actually absorb very well. It just sits on your skin until it dries. Because of this, researchers worry that even if the plant does have acne-fighting properties, it may not be sufficiently absorbed into the skin to make much of a difference. Knowing this, it may seem odd that the one way this aloe can almost definitely help acne is through its ability to help other substances work better.

Aloe Vera Gel Can Enhance the Absorption of Other Substances

Research seems to suggest that aloe vera gel’s superpower is to help other substances be more effective 👍. When it is combined with another ingredient, the aloe isn’t absorbed into the skin very well, but the other ingredient is absorbed even more efficiently than it normally would be. This is an unusual trait, and because of it, you can use it as a supplement to other acne treatment products. 

The Best Acne Treatment

The best acne treatment is a consistent skin care routine that cleanses, treats, and moisturizes, like the Ultimate Kit available here at Exposed Skin Care. You can apply aloe vera gel from a bottle, or directly from the plant before using the acne-fighting products 💪 included in the kit, but several of our products in the Ultimate Kit already include aloe vera extract, like our Clearing Tonic and Microderm Scrub. Despite the uncertainties of using aloe vera to treat acne, the research agrees that aloe vera can fight acne when combined with standard acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tea tree oil.

Although researchers still aren’t sure how useful aloe vera can be in the treatment of acne, they have found that it could make more established acne treatments even more effective.
Although researchers still aren’t sure how useful aloe vera can be in the treatment of acne, they have found that it could make more established acne treatments even more effective.