When it comes to treating acne with aloe vera, there needs to be a clear understanding of the differences between causes and effects. It’s also worth dividing acne into non-inflammatory and inflammatory types.
Non-inflammatory forms of acne can be caused by a build-up of dead skin cells, by overactive oil glands, by hormones, and in some cases, even by genetics.
Aloe vera may feel extremely good and cooling on the skin, but it’s not about to rewrite your DNA, regulate your hormones, or calm your skin’s oil production. So it’s not going to be effective as a treatment for these non-inflammatory forms of acne.
When it comes to inflammatory acne (usually identified by red, inflamed pimples), you may get a better result with aloe vera – but again, be aware of the differences between causes and effects.
Even inflammatory acne has blocked pores at the heart of its outbreaks. Aloe vera is not a particularly effective pore unblocker, so it won’t necessarily treat the causes of your inflammatory acne.
What aloe vera does deliver though is a highly effective surface anti-inflammatory. That’s why, for instance, people use it on the likes of sunburns, to soothe the heat out of the burn.
If applied to inflammatory acne, what aloe vera will do is reduce the inflammation and the swelling of the pimples. That will also reduce the tenderness and the pain of the acne.
For this reason, at least, aloe vera has been useful in acne treatments.
It also helps if the more cause-treating acne medications you take leave your skin feeling dry and irritated. Exactly as it does to a sunburn, the aloe can cool and relax your irritated skin, and give you some relief from the effects of the medication.
There’s also some initial evidence that aloe vera can actively boost the effectiveness of prescribed acne medication.
A study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment in April 2014 contrasted the results of people treated with topical tretinoin + aloe vera gel with those treated with topical tretinoin + a placebo. Those in the aloe group were found to have less redness and fewer pimples than those treated with tretinoin alone.
In addition to all of this, it’s known that aloe vera has antibacterial, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Acne can be caused in part by a bacterium called propionibacteria acnes, so there is some speculation that as well as treating the inflammation and reducing the redness and swelling of pimples, aloe vera might have some effect in treating one of the causes of acne. This remains speculation though, and the evidence as yet remains thin.
That means the question of whether aloe vera is good for acne depends on how good you expect it to be. It won’t cure or resolve non-inflammatory acne, but it will reduce the heat, swelling, and irritation of inflammatory acne pimples.
And the evidence seems to suggest it will help the skin when you’re taking prescribed anti-acne medications. Therefore it has a positive effect in some uses, but not as some miracle acne cure in and of itself.
Is Aloe Vera good for acne scars?
The evidence on the effectiveness of aloe vera on acne scars is a little contradictory, so it needs careful sifting if we’re to answer this question.
On the one hand, it’s worth acknowledging what aloe vera is and what it brings to the skin. It is made up of mostly water, with amino acids, vitamins, lipids, enzymes, and polysaccharides dissolved in the liquid.
As such, it’s extraordinarily good as a topical anti-inflammatory, though if you use it too often, there’s a chance it will actually dry out your skin, because some of the enzymes in the aloe act as an exfoliant, so there’s a risk of over-stripping the skin over time.
How does any of this help acne scars – or does it not?
It…does not, as such.
If you have depressed or pitted acne scars, nothing in aloe vera is going to help to fill or smooth those scars. Really speaking, the options available to you, if you want to deal with those scars, are treatments like dermal fillers, laser treatments, subcision, or dermabrasion.
That’s because the scars are caused by a loss of skin tissue. Aloe vera’s a great relief to burned skin, but it doesn’t replace lost skin tissue.
But, where aloe vera can help with acne scars is in reducing the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation you sometimes get after pimples have healed. That hyperpigmentation usually shows itself as dark marks on the skin.
That’s the difference – the hyperpigmentation is not the same as the depressed or pitted scars of acne, but it’s often mistakenly thought of in the same light because it’s something left behind after an acne outbreak.
Applying aloe vera to hyperpigmentation can soothe it and help it to fade away, thanks to a compound in aloe vera known as aloin. Aloin is a natural depigmentation agent, so it can help to lighten dark areas of skin at any time, not just in the wake of an acne outbreak.
The useful thing about that is that you can use it preemptively as well as post-acne – there’s a likelihood that skin that has absorbed aloin may stop post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from developing after an acne flare.
There is some talk about aloe vera helping to heal acne scars over time by virtue of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s worth remembering that as yet, most of the talk about this is in ‘alternative’ health circles, which is to say it’s significantly unproven.
The fact that aloe vera may help increase growth factors for fibroblasts (the cells that make collagen) is interesting, and may eventually generate treatments applicable to acne scars, but as yet, much more work needs to be done by scientists before this can be interpreted as evidence that aloe vera helps the likes of pitted acne scars.
All in all, then, while not necessarily helping with actual acne scars, aloe vera has some proven record in helping eliminate post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which in the case of inflammatory acne can both look and feel like it’s helping with the ‘scars’ of such eruptions by removing the redness and discoloration that sometimes follow in its wake.