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. Whilst you may be lucky and find an effective treatment the first time you visit the doctor, 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.
The individuality of eczema leads many parents to turn to complementary therapies in addition to prescribed medication. We’ve written previously about the use of acupressure and coconut oil though it is likely you will also see that Aloe Vera treatments are a popular alternative 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 known as ‘Aloe vera gel’. This gel has been valued for its health benefits for centuries.
Its use can be traced as far back as Ancient Egyptian times and 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, Aloe Vera is used extensively in the beauty industry and is 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.
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.
A report in Nursing in Practice (2006) Aloe Vera – Myth or Medicine (https://www.nursinginpractice.com/article/aloe-vera-myth-or-medicine) reported that “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.”
How Aloe Vera Can Help Eczema
- Hydrates the skin: There is good scientific evidence that Aloe Vera gel is an effective moisturiser which 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.
- Reduces infections – Eczema 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. Several studies have shown that Aloe Vera gel can inhibit the proliferation of various strains of Streptoccocus bacteria and Candida albican (a yeast).
- Calms the itch: A number of known anti-inflammatory substances have been identified in Aloe Vera gel which can help calm inflamed eczema and reduce the incessant itching. It also feels really cool when applied to have an immediate calming effect too.
- May help hydrocortisone work better: There is an indication that Aloe Vera gel may enhance absorption of hydrocortisone into the skin, which suggests that using Aloe Vera gel in conjunction with prescription steroid cream more effective in calming eczema flare-ups than just steroid creams alone. While more research is needed to understand and verify this finding, Aloe Vera/hydrocortisone cream 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 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) family such as garlic, onions and tulips. As with all new skin products, it’s wise to patch test a small area prior to extensive.
- Unfortunately, eczema and allergies often come hand in hand, and since fresh aloe vera has a short shelf life, it is often combined with other ingredients and preservatives which can cause allergic reactions – lookout for methylisothiazolinone (MI) and parabens which are known to aggravate eczema in some people.
Sources of Aloe Vera
There are plenty of Aloe vera based products available on the market but do check the ingredients list as many products contain only small amounts of Aloe vera so will be of small benefit. To get the maximum benefit stick to using the gel in its raw, ‘fresh out of the leaf’ form and just rub lightly into the skin to leave a slight sheen.
You can buy Aloe vera gel from most health food shops and many high street chemists as well as online. However, we found that the easiest way to get hold of fresh, preservative-free gel was to invest in an Aloe vera plant or two and harvest the gel as and when needed. Even here in the UK, Aloe vera plants can thrive in a sunny conservatory or on a warm window-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! Just remember to a) keep the gel in the fridge until you need it; and b) water the soil, not the plant, otherwise, your plant may start to rot at the base and die. Yes, I did manage to kill one of mine this way…
Aloe vera? The ScratchSleeves view
Although there is currently no direct clinical trial evidence of the effectiveness of Aloe vera gel in treating eczema, 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). However, there is some evidence that Aloe vera can be effective in treating the symptoms of eczema (dry skin, itching and infections) and may even help hydrocortisone work better.
As a result, our view is that Aloe vera is an alternative remedy is worth investigating for mild to moderate eczema but 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.
- Review of scientific research into the uses of Aloe Vera: 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 Apr-Jun; 33(2): 193–196.
- A robust review of clinical trials into the effectiveness of Aloe Vera: Aloe vera: a systematic review of its clinical effectiveness. B K Vogler and E Ernst, British Journal of General Practice 1999 Oct; 49(447): 823–828.
- Aloe Vera – Myth or Medicine. P Atherton, Nursing in Practice Sept 2006
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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.