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Using aloe vera for sunburn is a natural treatment option that is suitable for a range of skin types.
People can grow aloe vera at home or buy it as a whole plant. A range of skin lotions, ointments, beverages, and cosmetics contain aloe vera.
When UV radiation damages molecules in the skin, the immune system tries to repair the damage by releasing inflammatory proteins. These increase the size of blood vessels around the affected, allowing more blood to enter. Chemical reactions lead to inflammation of the skin, causing damaged skin cells to peel away.
Sunburn requires treatment and management. The skin must regrow and cure itself.
Aloe vera is a traditional herbal remedy that can help ease sunburn symptoms and reduce inflammation.
Aloe vera contains 19 out of 20 known amino acids necessary for any organism. Amino acids soften hardened skin cells. Aloe vera also stimulates collagen production to improve elasticity and dryness within the skin.
Aloe vera gel or juice is antibacterial and helps prevent peeling skin following over-exposure to the sun. Aloe vera also has anti-inflammatory properties and high water content that helps hydrate the skin.
While scientific evidence is limited, aloe vera is growing in popularity as a sunburn treatment. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, moisturizers containing aloe vera can help to soothe sunburn.
There are many different methods of applying aloe vera to sunburn. These include:
- using the gel, or juice, directly from the leaves
- buying pre-packaged aloe vera gel
- hydrating after-sun spray mists
- applying after-sun rescue balms or lotions
Experts recommend using a gel that contains 100% aloe vera. People should store this in the fridge. However, if pure aloe vera is unavailable, look for products that contain the highest percentage.
Over-the-counter aloe vera products often contain other sunburn-soothing ingredients, too.
Aloe vera alone will not provide sufficient sun protection by itself. Research suggests that herbal formulations that contain aloe vera and an SPF 14–16 are effective in sunscreen creams. However, experts recommend that people use an aloe vera product with an SPF 30 or higher.
Avoid using aloe vera on severe burns. Anyone who has concerns about the severity of a burn should talk to a healthcare professional.
Be careful not to over-apply aloe vera gel or ointment to sunburn. Always read the directions on product labels.
Perform a patch test before using aloe vera gel on a large area of skin. Apply a small amount of aloe vera on the arm and wait 24 hours. If there is a reaction, such as an allergic rash, do not use aloe vera.
While it is possible to consume raw aloe vera gel from the plant to ease inflammation, it will not help with the sunburn.
However, never eat lotions and gels sold as skincare products.
There are many other treatments for sunburn, although their effectiveness depends on a person’s skin type and tolerance levels. These include:
- applying frozen vegetables wrapped in an ice pack or cloth to the burn — never place ice directly on the skin
- taking regular cool baths or showers to alleviate the pain —try adding colloidal oatmeal and apple cider vinegar to the water
- taking aspirin or ibuprofen helps to reduce swelling and inflammation
- drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- dabbing cooled black tea on the sunburn with a flannel
- putting raw honey on a bandage and applying to the burn can help prevent infection — but do not use on infants younger than 12 months, as they could develop infant botulism
- applying witch hazel, which has anti-inflammatory astringent properties, may help reduce inflammation and itching
Aloe vera is a versatile plant species with many uses. Research shows it has potential in treating burn wounds. However, there is still limited scientific research around its effectiveness as a sunburn treatment.
Aloe vera has short-term anti-inflammatory, soothing properties and can provide respite from the pain and swelling of sunburn. Look for products with a high percentage of aloe vera.
Try to avoid getting sunburnt in the first place. Wear sun-protective clothing and apply sunscreen every 2 hours during exposure to high ultraviolet rays. Sunburn damages the skin in the short term but can have serious long-term implications.