Aloe Vera for Sunburn: Does it Really Work? - Public Goods

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Aloe Vera for Sunburn: Does it Really Work?

The idea that aloe vera can be used to treat sunburn is nothing new.

bottle of public goods aloe vera gel
Shop at Public Goods: Aloe Vera Gel ($6.00)

It seems like people have been talking about it forever; I know I’ve certainly soothed many a sunburn with the stuff.

And if you’ve ever suffered from severe sunburn, or even from minor sunburn, you’ll know that it is no laughing matter! Not only can a bad sunburn be incredibly painful, it can also cause the skin to blister, cause damage to our DNA, and even lead to conditions as serious as cancer.

So it’s best, if you can, to use sunscreen and avoid getting sunburned whenever possible. But when you do get burned, how about using aloe vera for sunburn?

As far as natural remedies go, it’s been suggested that aloe vera could be the most effective sunburn treatment available. But does it really supply sunburn relief? And how does aloe vera work?

Is Aloe Vera Good for Sunburn?

spiky aloe vera leaves on aloe vera plant

After chatting with multiple dermatologists, it seems that aloe vera does have many benefits when it comes to treating sunburn symptoms.

According to Dr. Adam Mamelak MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Austin Texas who specializes in everything from cosmetic skin solutions to advanced skin cancer removal, aloe vera helps to cool the skin, reduce inflammation, accelerate burn healing, and slow or reduce the peeling process.

Dr. Mamelak confirmed that “not only will (aloe vera) help to make your skin feel better on the surface, but it also helps to aid in the healing.” So it seems that aloe vera for sunburn is a great natural option if you’re looking to soothe your skin after a little too much sun exposure!

But what exactly is it that causes the skin to get burned and blister in the first place? Various studies have shown that it is overexposure to UV light from the sun that causes tissue injury, damage to skin cells, and eventually sunburn, then DNA damage and cancer.

Dr. Mamelak elaborated on this dynamic, stating that harmful UV sun rays can damage the skin by penetrating the outer skin layers and passing into the deeper layers.

“These harmful rays sunburn your skin, damage skin cells, and cause mutations in DNA. Over time, damages in skin cells lead to wrinkles, age spots, blotchy or ruddy complexion, and skin cancer.”

Studies have shown that aloe vera can help to heal some of the immediate effects of this damage, reducing inflammation and helping to re-hydrate the skin to reduce redness and sunburn pain. Nonetheless, there is no evidence to suggest that aloe vera can reverse the more long-term effects of excess sun exposure.

Dr. Anna Guanche MD, board-certified dermatologist and dermatological surgeon of the Bella Skin Institute in California explained that aloe vera contains a compound called aloin, derived from a succulent we all know as aloe vera, which contains anti-inflammatory properties that help to soothe burns. She added that oftentimes aloe vera products also contain vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, D, and E, which can further help to soothe, moisturize and heal the skin.

But she also stressed that the UV damage and resultant mutations of DNA of skin cells does not reverse due to aloe vera.

So it’s clear that although aloe vera does help to heal the immediate effects of sunburn, the long term implications of extreme sun exposure can be very serious. You should always try to prevent sunburn by using a good sunscreen, and trying to cover up when you’re in the sun, especially if you have sensitive skin.

How to Use Aloe Vera for Sunburn

For those times that you do get caught out in the sun a little too long, it’s important that you use aloe vera for burns correctly. The application technique might vary slightly depending on the type of aloe you are using.

Aloe vera comes in many forms. You can use it raw from the plant, in gel form, lotion form, and people have even been known to ingest raw aloe vera gel straight from the plant!

Dr. Guanche suggested that the method of application is the same for all different variations of aloe vera. This method involves applying the gel or lotion to the sunburned area of the skin to help calm down and soothe the area. With the raw plant, however, she added that you will first have to remove the outer thick layer of the plant to reveal the inner core that contains all the nutrients before applying the soothing gel that lies within.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how you can use each form of aloe vera to treat sunburn:

Raw From the Plant

fresh aloe plant leaves

If you can get your hands on an aloe vera plant, you can just break off one of the leaves and you’ll see a light sticky gel on the inside. Apply this gel to the sunburned area of your skin and you should feel instant soothing relief!

To increase the raw gel’s effectiveness even further, founding director of the Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto, Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, suggested placing the plant leaf in the fridge until chilled. This way the lower temperature of the gel will have an extra cooling effect.

Aloe Vera Gel

ut aloe vera leaves, aloe vera gel in container
Credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker / Flickr

If you prefer, you can also purchase some high-quality aloe vera gel, or here’s a guide for making your own gel! Once you’ve got it, just remove a little gel from the bottle and apply to the sunburned area.

Aloe Vera Lotion

hand applying sunscreen lotion to skin

You can also purchase lotions that contain aloe vera. The amount of aloe vera in these lotions can vary, and it’s always best to try and find a lotion with the highest possible aloe vera content. Dr. Skotnicki also warned that commercially available lotions can often contain various chemicals and fragrances that might further agitate sunburned skin, so make sure to check for these before purchasing.

Then, just remove a little lotion from the bottle, and apply to the sunburnt skin for calming results.

Ingesting Aloe Vera

aloe vera gel coming from aloe vera plant

Eating aloe vera straight from the plant may offer several benefits for your health, but it won’t do anything to reduce your sunburn. It’s also important to make sure that the aloe vera you are eating is deemed to be edible.
How Often Should You Apply Aloe Vera to Sunburn?

Dr. Giuseppe Aragona MD, general practitioner and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor recommended initially applying aloe vera for sunburn once every couple of hours. Once your sunburn starts to feel better, you can apply it a couple of times a day.

He also insisted that you use the aloe as soon as you are out of the sun, even if you do not feel burning yet. It should be used after being in the sun, not as a sunscreen.

If you’re looking for a particular type of aloe vera gel to treat your sunburn, Dr. Guanche recommended one that contains additive benefits, such as moisturizing components that may help to accelerate the healing of the burn.

Burn Notice: Are There Any Risks or Side Effects?

So it seems pretty evident that aloe vera is a great natural alternative to traditional after-sun treatments, but there can be some side effects involved.

According to Dr. Aragona, if you have sensitive skin, “you may get redness and rashes” from using aloe vera for sunburn, and he suggested discontinuing use if this is the case. Fortunately Dr. Guanche insisted that allergic reactions to aloe are rare, so it seems like aloe vera is something most of us can safely use to treat sunburn.

As well as using aloe for sunburn, this magical plant has many other health benefits. Remember to take advantage, even when you’re in a bad mood from an annoying sunburn.

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