Unfortunately, eczema is a condition where there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. This makes it particularly frustrating to parents who simply want to alleviate the horrible eczema symptoms which cause so much suffering for itchy children. You may be lucky and find an effective treatment the first time you visit the doctor. However, it’s more likely that you will join a large number of parents who have to look at a range of ways to reduce flare-ups and alleviate the symptoms. We look at the scientific evidence supporting the use of Aloe vera in the management of eczema and how the practicalities of using it.
The individuality of eczema leads many parents to turn to complementary therapies alongside prescribed medication. We’ve written previously about the use of acupressure and coconut oil. In this article we’ll look at Aloe vera, a popular alternative remedy when it comes to treating eczema.
What is Aloe vera?
Aloe vera is a cactus-like, succulent plant with thick fleshy leaves filled with a clear, gelatinous substance. This gel has been used to treat skin conditions, including eczema, for centuries. There is some scientific evidence it can be effective in treating symptoms commonly associated with eczema – that is dry, broken, and irritated skin which is vulnerable to infections.
Aloe vera is considered to be native only to the south-east Arabian Peninsula. However, it has been widely cultivated around the world, and has become naturalized in many arid, temperate, and tropical regions of temperate continents. It is cultivated in subtropical regions around the world and grows well as an indoor plant.
Its use can be traced as far back as Ancient Egyptian times, where it was known as the plant of immortality. Alexander the Great went as far as capturing the island of Socotra just to secure the aloe growing there to treat the wounds of his warriors. Today, the Aloe vera plant is also know at the ‘first aid plant’ or the ‘burns plant’. Aloe vera is used extensively in the beauty industry. It is also a popular natural remedy for many skin conditions, including eczema.
How does Aloe vera work?
Aloe vera contains over 75 nutrients as well as vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that are used to treat a variety of conditions both internally and externally. It is used most commonly to treat sunburn, rashes, psoriasis, eczema and gastric problems. It has been shown to increase the healing rate of burns by up to 9 days.
As with many other alternative remedies, although there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence and individual success stories there is remarkably little scientific verification of Aloe Vera’s effectiveness in treating eczema. Even less scientific effort has been spent understanding the healing mechanisms driven by this complex substance. However, this is some good clinical evidence that Aloe vera gel can be effective in treating the symptoms commonly associated with eczema: dry, broken and irritated skin which is vulnerable infections.
“Topical aloe vera products, provided they are formulated with enough active ingredients, have a natural moisturising effect, easily penetrating the skin and mucous membranes. By virtue of their anti-inflammatory and broad antimicrobial activity and stimulatory effect on cell growth, especially fibroblasts, they speed up the healing of damaged epithelial tissue by up to 30%. Topical Aloe vera preparations are therefore a safe and effective alternative to moisturisers and steroids in the treatment of common skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis.”Nursing in Practice (2006): Aloe Vera – Myth or Medicine.
How Aloe vera can help eczema
Hydrates the skinThere is good scientific evidence that Aloe vera gel is an effective moisturiser, and can increase the water content in the top layer of the skin (the epidermis). This is thought to be due to the high sugar content of the gel which allows it to act as a humectant, attracting and holding water in the epidermis. Increasing the water content of the skin can reduce the ‘tight’ feeling of eczema. A 2019 study concluded that ‘due to the properties of Aloe vera and its compounds, it can be used to retain skin moisture and integrity.’1
Reduces infectionsEczema is often aggravated by infections so minimising them can often make a big difference to overall eczema symptoms. This is especially true of young children who are prone to getting mucky and scratching, and whose immune systems are still developing. According to the Healthline website, Aloe vera is thought to have antimicrobial capabilities that help to prevent infections from occurring1. It found that using an Aloe vera dressing on burn wounds ‘resulted in reduced recovery time, the absence of wound infection, and the lack of redness and itching.’
Calms the itchA number of known anti-inflammatory substances have been identified in Aloe Vera gel2. These substances provide a mechanism for anecdotal evidence of it calming inflamed eczema and reduce the incessant itching. The gel also feels really cool when applied, having an immediate calming effect too.
May help hydrocortisone to work betterThere is an indication that Aloe vera gel for eczema children may enhance absorption of hydrocortisone into the skin. That suggests using ALoe vera gel in conjunction with prescription steroid cream might more effective in calming eczema flare-ups than just steroid creams alone3. While more research is needed to understand and verify this finding, hydrocortisone cream containing Aloe vera is already available in some parts of the world.
A note of caution when using Aloe vera for eczema
Aloe vera can also be taken orally for medical complaints, such as depression and stomach problems, with known side effects such as abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. However, used on the skin there are few disadvantages of using Aloe vera for eczema unless you’re allergic to it.
Aloe vera allergies are uncommon but do occur. The chances of developing an allergic reaction are higher if you are allergic to other plants in the lily (Liliaceae) family4. As well as flowering lilies, this family includes garlic, onions and tulips. As with all new skin products, it’s wise to patch test a small area prior to extensive.
Fresh Aloe vera has a short shelf life, so it is often combined with other ingredients and preservatives. These added ingredients can can cause allergic reactions or contact dermatitis. Unfortunately, eczema and allergies often come hand in hand so you’ll need to be cautious. Lookout for methylisothiazolinone (MI) and parabens which are known to aggravate eczema in some people.
Where to buy Aloe vera?
There are plenty of Aloe vera-based products available on the market. However you do need to check the ingredients list. Many products contain only small amounts and so will be of small benefit. Look for products where Aloe vera appears at or near the top of the ingredients list.
You can buy Aloe vera gel for eczema from health food shops, high street chemists and online. An article on the National Eczema Association website recommends Badger Balm Aloe Vera gel, which is 96% aloe juice.
We found that the easiest way to get hold of fresh, preservative-free gel was investing in an Aloe vera plant. We harvest the gel as and when needed so it is always fresh. Even here in the UK, Aloe vera plants can thrive in a sunny conservatory or on a warm sill.
There are plenty of how-to guides on the web to get you started. But it really is just a case of cutting off a leaf, splitting it open and scooping out the gel. There is a remarkable amount of gel in each leaf! According to Healthline, the gel and juice from mature Aloe vera plants have a higher concentration of active ingredients. This means that you should buy a plant that is at least a few years old. When harvesting leaves, cut them off close to the stem as of the nutrients are found at the base of the leaf.
Is Aloe vera effective in treating eczema? The ScratchSleeves view
There is currently no direct clinical trial evidence of the effectiveness of Aloe vera gel in treating eczema. However, this appears to be due to a lack of trials rather than negative results. Remember that there may be unpublished trials with negative or inconclusive results. That said, there is evidence that it can be effective in treating the symptoms of eczema (dry skin, itching and infections). There is also evidence that it may even help the topical corticosteroids used in conventional eczema treatment work better.
As a result, our view is that Aloe vera is an alternative remedy is worth investigating for mild to moderate eczema. However, do check the ingredients list carefully and always take the time to do a patch test before using a new product extensively. Remember to let your GP or dermatologist know if you are using non-prescribed remedies as this may affect their treatment decisions.
- The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic Review. Hekmatpou, D., Mehrabi, F., Rahzani, K., & Aminiyan, A. (2019). Iranian journal of medical sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6330525/
- Pharmacological Update Properties of Aloe Vera and its Major Active Constituents. Sánchez M, González-Burgos E, Iglesias I, and Gómez-Serranillos MP. Molecules. 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7144722/
- Aloe vera as a biologically active vehicle for hydrocortisone acetate. Davis RH, Parker WL, Murdoch DP. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. 1991 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1993971/
- Aloe Vera: A Review of Toxicity and Adverse Clinical Effects. J Environ Sci Health C Environ Carcinog Ecotoxicol Rev. 2016 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6349368/
- Pharmacological attribute of Aloe vera: Revalidation through experimental and clinical studies. Vinay K. Gupta and Seema Malhotra1, AYU – An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3611630/
- Aloe vera: A systematic review of its clinical effectiveness. B K Vogler and E Ernst, British Journal of General Practice 1999. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1313538/
Our Editorial Policy
Here at ScratchSleeves, we aim to bring you trustworthy and accurate information. We collaborate with qualified dermatologists and doctors as well as drawing on peer-reviewed medical studies and our own experience as parents. All medical content is reviewed by a dermatologist or appropriate doctor prior to publication to ensure completeness, accuracy and appropriate use of medical language. Reviewer details can be found at the bottom of each reviewed post and also on our ‘Meet The Team’ page.
All scientific research referred to in our blog is found in peer-reviewed publications. All eczema related medical articles we refer to are included in the GREAT database (Global Resource of Eczema Trials) managed by the Centre of Evidence Based Dermatology at the University of Nottingham. This database brings together information on all randomised control trials and systematic reviews of eczema treatments. Trials are identified using a highly sensitive, comprehensive search strategy that is compatible with standard Cochrane methodology. Cochrane is internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. Links to the publications we refer to are listed at the bottom of each article.
The original editorial information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare practitioners regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it in because of anything you have read on the ScratchSleeves blog.
As well as sharing our experience of bringing up an eczema child (and favourite allergy-friendly recipes), ScratchSleeves also manufacture and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-adult in a range of colours. Visit our webshop for more information.