Is aloe good for sunburn?

How to use aloe in after-sun care.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Jul 06, 2019 · 5 min read

Person holding aloe
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Whether you’re dealing with acne or healing from a nice sunburn, you’re probably familiar with aloe vera skincare the good and the bad.

Used as a topical since ancient times, aloe vera’s benefits for skin include anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, which soothe certain skin problems. It has been shown to contain salicylic acid, so applying aloe vera to acne may help treat breakouts. On the other hand, for every good thing I have to say about aloe, there’s a childhood memory of applying an allegedly “cooling” aloe gel to a sunburn, only for the pain to intensify due to alcohol in the base.

Because aloe vera (a.k.a. aloe barbadensis leaf juice) is a super popular ingredient, you’ll find it in tons of products but which ones are right for you?

In this article, we’ll go over aloe vera uses for the face, how to use fresh aloe vera, and how to use aloe to treat sunburn fast without the sting.

Aloe vera: w h o i s s h e

Aloe vera juice is extracted from the leaves of the aloe barbadensis plant. You’ve probably come across aloe as a friendly houseplant or as fat, juicy succulent leaves at your local grocery store. If you have a knack for keeping fresh plants green, you can use raw aloe directly on the skin, as our ancestors did. More on this later!

How to treat sunburn fast

Bravo to anyone who gets through the entire summer without ever getting a sunburn, but for most of us, those UV rays are going to get the best of us every once in a while. If you get a sunburn, don’t panic! Unless you have severe sunburn, it’s treatable at home. Just follow these steps:

1. Do your best vampire impression

Stay indoors or seek shade as much as practical. If you need to spend time outside, remember to apply (and reapply!) SPF to your face and body.

2. Take a cold shower

The best thing you can do immediately after you’re sunburned is to take a long, cool shower or bath. Letting cool water run over a burned part of your body for about 20 minutes will help. You can also apply cool compresses to the affected area, but don’t use ice — you could get frostbite!

3. Take ibuprofen for the pain

— as directed, of course, and only if you tolerate NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen). These may provide temporary pain relief, although they will not help in the actual healing of your skin.

4. Stay clear of the ‘caine

Avoid sunburn creams that contain benzocaine or other ‘-caine’ ingredients, as these can cause a deadly serious allergic reaction in some people.

Want to stop sun damage before it starts? Read our Guide to Sunscreen.

Is aloe good for sunburn?

Aloe vera has antiseptic properties and fights viruses, fungi, and bacteria. It’s also an anti-inflammatory which, when used properly, can treat pain and discomfort. But when it comes to using aloe to heal skin from sunburn, the jury’s still out. Aloe vera hasn’t been thoroughly clinically tested, making it tough to say for certain what aloe can do for your skin.

However, the cooling effects of aloe gel may feel soothing most of the time. Aloe vera products that contain too much alcohol can irritate your skin, making you feel the burn even more and damaging it further. When it comes to products, the best aloe for sunburn symptoms are alcohol- and fragrance-free gels or lotions, unless you have an aloe allergy. As always, patch test new products before applying them to your whole body!

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How to use fresh aloe vera

If you have access to aloe plants either as a houseplant or at your local grocery store it’s easy to apply raw aloe vera to the skin. Harvest pure aloe vera gel by simply slicing open the aloe leaf. Next, you can either use a knife to peel the aloe skin away from the gel, or touch the cool side of the leaf directly to your skin. Using aloe vera this way can help mild inflammation, such as superficial acne. Potential benefits of applying aloe vera on sunburn include cooling down burning sensations and fighting inflammation.

If you, like me, killed the succulent and consider produce drawer a synonym for graveyard, then you’ll be happy to know there are many aloe vera moisturizers and lotions available, whether you shop at drugstores or department stores.

The best aloe vera lotions

It’s no surprise that aloe vera is one of the most popular skincare ingredients, but it’s important to consider the rest of the label. Aloe vera moisturizers with too much alcohol or fragrance can irritate your skin and make sunburns even worse. Here’s a few of my favorite aloe vera-based products for common skin concerns:

Babo Botanicals After Sun Soothing Hydrating Organic Aloe Gel

($14.95, 8.0 oz)

  • Aloe is the main ingredient

  • Alcohol-free formula won’t irritate sunburn

  • Can be applied to face & body

  • Cooling and moisturizing can provide sunburn relief

Real Aloe Aloe Vera Lotion

($14.99, 16 oz)

  • Aloe is the main ingredient of this skincare gem

  • Contains chamomile and witch hazel leaf extract in a trifecta that fights signs of sunburn

  • Jojoba and avocado oil help to reinforce your skin’s natural moisture barrier

  • Super affordable

SheaMoisture BeautyHack Aloe Vera Gel

($4.99, 3.2 oz)

  • Aloe is the main ingredient

  • Simple formula is gentle enough for most people with sensitive skin

  • Can also be used to moisturize damaged hair

Sun Bum Cool Down Hydrating After-Sun Gel

($9.99, 8.0 oz)

  • Restorative moisturizer with the main ingredients of water, glycerin, and aloe

  • Alcohol-free formula

  • Contains some added fragrance and dyes that may irritate sensitive skin

COOLA ER+ Radical Recovery After-Sun Lotion

($32.00, 6 oz)

  • Restorative moisturizer with water, sunflower seed oil, and aloe vera juice as the main ingredients.

  • Contains essential oils to assist with absorption and as added fragrance

  • Made up of 70% organic ingredients

  • Complex formula may not mesh well with sensitive skin

Not to toot our own horn…

…but when it comes to fragrance-free products with aloe for the face, Curology’s ahead of the curve. Our custom cream’s base formula contains aloe barbadensis leaf juice along with other ingredients proven to be non-comedogenic. If you, like others, seek to simplify your skincare regimen, sign up for Curology and get your first custom formula prescribed to you by a dermatology provider for free.

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Stephanie Papanikolas

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