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  • It's advice as old as time. If you get a sunburn, start lathering on the aloe vera.

  • And when we say, old as time, we mean it.

  • Humans have been using aloe vera medicinally for thousands of years.

  • But does the slimy gel actually have skin-healing properties?

  • Well, the research is surprisingly scarce, but it seems like it may help boost your skin's natural healing process.

  • Sunburns themselves really aren't that different than burns from a campfire, a curling iron or stepping on a George Foreman grill.

  • So studies looking at burn-healing, tend to lump them together.

  • And there is some evidence that applying the mucus innards from aloe plants, helps you heal faster after a burn.

  • A review from 2007 in the journal, Burns, found that in 127 burn victims, those who used aloe healed almost 9 days faster on average than those in control groups.

  • But what aloe actually does is a little less clear.

  • In general, there are three main concerns when treating burns: reducing pain, actually healing the wound and preventing infection.

  • Aloe's anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activities are well documented, so it might simply help because it keeps pesky microbes at bay.

  • But ask just about anyone who slathers on the aloe after a sunburn and they'll swear it's an analgesic, meaning that it reduces pain.

  • And that might be because it reduces inflammation. Your body's immune response that makes things like sunburns all red and painful.

  • For example, an experiment in 1993 was able to isolate an enzyme in aloe that breaks down bradykinin, an inflammatory substance linked with pain.

  • But there's not all that much clinical research on aloe's pain-killing effects, so the jury is still out on whether they're real, or just acting as a placebo.

  • There's a bit more evidence that it boosts skin healing.

  • Studies in rats have shown that aloe extract helps new skin cells move into burned areas, so they can rebuild the damaged tissue.

  • And the gooey gel in aloe vera contains a large amount of glucomannan, a fiber comprised mostly of the sugar mannose, which stimulates the production of fibroblastic growth factor.

  • It helps stimulate the formation of collagen and new blood vessels, which speed up how quickly the skin heals.

  • That said, human studies to date are kind of flimsy.

  • A 2012 Cochrane review noted that the few trials that have been conducted aren't high quality.

  • They're all small, and their results are potentially biased by things like patients or caregivers knowing that aloe is being used.

  • So it might work, or it might just be that people think it will work.

  • And when it comes to your over-the-counter sunburn gel, it might not even be the aloe itself.

  • Researchers have found that it can speed up the absorption of vitamins and drugs through the skin.

  • So if your aloe gel also contains things like Vitamin E, or some other anti-inflammatory drug, that substance gets into your skin faster.

  • But whether aloe works or not, I think we can all agree it's just better to avoid needing it.

  • So if you're going to spend some time in the sun this summer, maybe take steps to avoid overexposure instead of relying on aloe to soothe your beet-red skin afterwards.

  • Thanks to Joelle and Brianna Beecher for asking, and to all of our patrons who voted for this question in our poll.

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It's advice as old as time. If you get a sunburn, start lathering on the aloe vera.

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