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Aloe vera is kind of the Superman of the botanical world. It’s full of vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory compounds that provide healing relief from irritation — the only thing it can’t do is shoot lasers from its eyes. But is it safe for your face?
The short answer: Absotutely (to quote Leslie Knope). But you need to use it the right way. Here’s why aloe vera deserves a prominent spot in your medicine cabinet.
- It can help combat acne. Studies have shown that people with mild to moderate acne can benefit from using oral aloe vera products to treat their irritated skin. Just be sure to talk with your doctor before using it — especially if you’re combining it with prescription products like isotretinoin, which is used to treat cystic acne.
- It can help fade dark spots and acne scars. Even if your acne isn’t a problem at the moment, those pesky scars can stick around for years. Aloe vera gel helps stimulate the production of collagen in the skin, which reduces the appearance of scarring.
- It soothes sunburns. Aloe vera gel is known for its cooling, soothing properties, and it feels amazing on your skin when you’re suffering from a sunburn. It’s not clear whether it actually helps the sunburn heal faster (some studies say it doesn’t) but it does lessen the discomfort and help with redness and peeling.
- It moisturizes dry skin. The plant contains a high number of mucopolysaccharides (try saying that five times fast), a type of molecule chain with hydrating properties that’s a common ingredient in many moisturizers.
- It can treat cold sores. The antiviral effects of aloe vera makes it a useful topical treatment to help with cold sores. Be careful, though — you can still pass on oral herpes to others if you have an active breakout (and aloe vera sadly can’t make it less contagious).
- It provides relief from psoriasis and eczema. Psoriasis and eczema can feel like an awful combination of a burn and a super itchy rash. Thankfully, aloe vera has been shown to both moisturize and soothe these trouble spots on your skin.
- It reduces puffiness and dark circles. Remember the collagen-producing effects of aloe vera? Those don’t just help with acne scars. They also reduce overall inflammation in the face and help with the production of new skin — which makes you look radiant and glowy AF.
- It’s a natural exfoliant. The salicylic acid in the plant helps get rid of dead skin cells and bad bacteria on your face. It’s lightly exfoliating and won’t rub your skin raw.
- It may slow signs of aging. Science is still inconclusive on this one, but some studies of aloe vera have shown promising effects in its ability to increase skin elasticity over time. No wonder it’s a popular ingredient in many anti-wrinkle creams.
- It’s good for most people with sensitive skin. In its pure form, aloe vera gel is 100 percent natural, so it’s a great go-to product for many people who struggle with using chemicals on their skin. Just be sure to test a small amount on your wrist or inner part of your arm before putting it on your face, to make sure you aren’t allergic to the plant itself.
Before you run out to purchase and grow your own aloe plant, know that you have multiple options here. Store-bought varieties can be as effective as gel harvested from an aloe plant.
Many drugstore and higher-end skin care products contain aloe vera gel in their ingredient list, but usually not a lot of it. Look for products that specifically list aloe vera as a primary ingredient (aka one the first few listed).
Bottled aloe can be purchased at the drugstore, but it sometimes contains additives to make it last longer at room temperature.
The FDA does not currently regulate the safety of aloe vera products, and according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, not enough is known about the plant’s effects to definitively deem it useful for skin treatments.
The NCCIH does say the plant is likely safe when used topically.
To DIY your skin care product and get straight to the source, you can grow your own aloe at home. The gel comes from inside of the plant leaf, so cut it open with a clean knife and separate the gel from the prickly stalk.
Store the gel in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, and use it on your skin as needed.
PSA: Do not eat the plant! Not much is known about the potential effects of aloe vera when ingested, and the info out there doesn’t look good. In 2015, aloe vera was added to California’s Proposition 65 legislation, which calls out ingredients that may cause cancer if consumed. In other words, trust the experts and just don’t eat it. It’s better to stay safe.
If you’ve never used aloe vera before, caution is key. Start by applying a small amount of the plant to your skin, somewhere other than your face (like your arm or thigh).
Wait at least 24 hours to test for an allergic reaction. If you don’t notice anything amiss, you can begin using it in larger quantities.
There are lots of home recipes out there for all-natural aloe vera face masks. Depending on your specific skin conditions, you may want to tailor these ingredients to whatever works best for your face.
To avoid clogging your pores, don’t leave the gel on for hours (especially when you’re first experimenting with it). Start by using it for only 5 or 10 minutes at a time, and work up from there.
If you have a specific skin problem you’re looking to treat, it’s best to rely on the advice of your dermatologist or primary care doctor before you stock up on a bunch of new products. Ask them about aloe vera gel if you’re curious.
Sadly, there’s not enough scientific evidence to formally designate it as a cure for most conditions — but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a cult favorite product that tons of people swear by.
Do your research (and proceed with healthy caution) as you try it out for yourself.