Aloe and Acne: Does Aloe Really Help Acne?

Aloe Vera and Acne

Aloe won’t cure acne (you need to fix your diet and lifestyle to do that), but it may help heal acne scars.

When I was a kid, I got hooked on cool facts. You know, “300 Stunning Secrets of the Human Body” type facts. “100 Facts About the Universe.” That kind of stuff. I was a total geek.

So this article is about facts.

Aloe? Pretty awesome plant. Here are some surprising facts about it:

  • Aloe has been called “miracle plant,” “wand of heaven” and “plant of life” – whoa!
  • It’s actually not a cactus (but it is a succulent).
  • Aloe has been used in herbal medicine for over 2,000 years.[1]
  • In Egypt, there are 6,000-year-old stone carvings of aloe plants!
  • These same Egyptians called aloe the “plant of immortality,” and buried it alongside dead pharaohs (apparently aloe didn’t actually prevent them from dying!)[2]
  • There are 400+ species of aloe, and the common “Aloe vera” is just one!
  • Aloe vera has 75 biologically active compounds, including glucomannan, a polysaccharide (sugar) with some pretty cool healing properties.

Watch this video where I explain why aloe is so cool:

Read about “Vitamin D and Acne”

What’s so special about aloe?

So while it doesn’t seem like aloe grants immortality, it does have some potent skin-healing properties. But it’s probably not just glucomannan that’s responsible. Researchers think it’s the synergy between aloe’s 75 compounds that give it its potent healing abilities.

Aloe also contains saponin, a compound with anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties.[3] That could be good for acne!

Let’s see what the science says about that, though…

Does aloe actually help acne?

In one 2014 study, researchers grabbed 60 people with mild to moderate acne and split them into two groups:

* Group A was given a topical retinoid cream (like Retin-A)
* Group B was given a topical retinoid cream (like Retin-A), plus topical aloe vera

Guess which group’s acne healed faster?

Group B, of course! Turns out that aloe vera combined with the retinoid cream was “significantly more effective” at reducing acne lesions than the retinoid cream alone.[4]
+1 for aloe!

Hold on a sec, though… that doesn’t mean you should run out and A) buy Retin-A (we definitely do not recommend that), or B) buy aloe and slap it all over your face. Why? The thing is, if you do these things, you’re still treating the surface symptom, not the root cause.

And if you browse around on the blog a little more, you’ll quickly learn that we’re all about treating the root causes of acne. Using topical creams doesn’t do that, so we don’t recommend it.

In short, aloe might help heal existing acne, but it will not prevent new breakouts.[5]

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So what do you recommend using aloe for?

Short answer – healing old acne scars!

Check it out:

One study found that aloe vera helped heal second-degree burns faster.[6]

Another study found that aloe improves collagen formation during wound healing (that’s good for helping existing/recent acne heal without leaving as bad of marks).[7]

Now, that doesn’t mean aloe is a miracle cure-all for acne scars. Scar tissue can be extremely stubborn. That said, the alternatives are things like glycolic acid peels (which strip off the top layer of your skin – ouch!) and laser resurfacing, which are painful. Aloe is a great non-invasive scar treatment to try.

How should I apply it?

In fact, in 2011 I visited Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and started chatting with a Mayan healer about Clear Skin Forever. I said, “Okay, I’ve basically figured out the root causes of acne, but what can I tell people about how to get rid of existing acne scars?”

He basically said this: apply 100% aloe to acne scars, twice a day, for as long as it takes to heal. He told me he had seen complete healing of old, old scars after two years of applying aloe daily.

That doesn’t mean it will take two years for you! Here’s a CSF reader’s experience with aloe:

“I’ve been using it for the last 2.5 weeks. I use it 2-3 times a day. The scars that are fading right away are the newer scars. The older scars are fading away, but taking longer to completely fade. There is one beneath my right eye that is very close to matching my original skin tone. But using this product is MUCH better than the rate at which they faded without using anything. It feels like it is tightening up my skin in a good way a few minutes after I apply it. It has made my skin feel tighter and softer.”

– Mike

I’ve personally used aloe with good results. It seems to make acne scars and marks heal faster than they normally would. While this is not a complete solution to getting rid of acne, it is an awesome treatment to help heal acne scars.

Note: using aloe on your skin is safe,[7] but DO NOT TAKE ALOE INTERNALLY. Besides being the absolute most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted, it causes some nasty GI problems in rats, and also gives them cancer. Human health effects may include diarrhea, electrolyte imbalance, kidney dysfunction, and conventional drug conflicts.[7]
Best to avoid! Just apply it topically and you should be fine.

Which aloe should I buy?

I personally recommend “Aubrey Organics Pure Aloe Vera.”

Here’s a photo and a link to Amazon, where you can read some great reviews of people who have had success with it:

 

aubrey-organics-pure-aloe-vera

Aubrey Organics Pure Aloe Vera

Note: This is an affiliate link, which means we receive compensation if you make a purchase using this link. Visit our disclaimer page for more information.

I’ve also seen it in Whole Foods and several other natural foods stores – it should be pretty easy to find.

Why this one?

Because it doesn’t have weird, fakey gel-ification chemicals. That does mean it’s more liquid than other aloe “gel” products, but in my experience, that’s actually a good thing! It’s easier to spread and lasts longer, and doesn’t cake or flake like thick aloe gel can.

You might notice a minor feeling of “tightness” on your face after the aloe dries. If this happens, just scrunch around your face a bit to loosen the aloe and you’ll be right as rain.

What about using a fresh aloe plant? Isn’t that better?

In some ways, yes! Fresh aloe is definitely more potent, anyway. Pasteurization and storage reduces glucomannan, Vitamin C and antioxidant levels in aloe, so any bottled aloe you buy will be less strong than fresh-off-the-plant stuff.[8]

That said, there’s still going to be significant levels of bioactive compounds left in properly bottled products like the Aubrey Organics aloe. Keeping an aloe plant around and cutting the leaves off can be kind of a hassle. If you want to try, go for it! It does tend to dry on your skin leaving a weird tight feeling, though. The Aubrey Organics aloe only does that a tiny bit, and it’s easy to get rid of, as explained above.

Watch out for possible side effects…

Some people react badly to aloe. Why? Nobody knows. It’s rare, but just watch out for it. It might cause irritation, redness, and sun sensitivity.[9] [10]

Needless to say, stop using it if you get a bad reaction!

Key Takeaways

Sources (click to expand)

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloe_vera ^
  2. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/aloevera ^
  3. http://tamilnadu.com/herbs/kathalai.html ^

  4. “Effect of Aloe vera topical gel combined with tretinoin in treatment of mild and moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, prospective trial.” J Dermatolog Treat. 2014 Apr;25(2):123-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23336746 ^
  5. “Inhibition of Propionibacterium acnes-induced mediators of inflammation by Indian herbs. Phytomedicine. 2003 Jan;10(1):34-8.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12622461 ^

  6. Therapeutic effects of Aloe vera on cutaneous microcirculation and wound healing in second degree burn model in rats. J Med Assoc Thai. 2000 Apr;83(4):417-25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10808702 ^
  7. “Influence of Aloe vera on collagen characteristics in healing dermal wounds in rats.”” Chithra, P.; Sajithlal, G. B.; Chandrakasan, G.
    Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. Apr 1, 1998. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9562243 ^
  8. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/00346651311313553 ^
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17613130 ^
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16690538 ^

{ 16 Comments }

  1. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  2. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  3. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  4. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  5. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins (gotmag.org) is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  6. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

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