Young woman applying aloe vera gel to her face

Whether you have a sunburn on your delicate facial skin or are looking for a natural alternative to prescription creams and moisturizers, you may want to try aloe vera gel.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the clear gel from the aloe plant can be rubbed on the skin as an ointment to treat wounds and burns. People commonly apply aloe vera gel to their faces to help promote clearer complexions, smoother skin and to reduce inflammation, adds Kim Chang, an aesthetician with the Baylor Aesthetics Studio, which is associated with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

“Aloe vera contains antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins A and C, and it is highly anti-inflammatory," says Chang.

While health food stores and pharmacies typically sell commercially made aloe vera gel, the gel extracted directly from the plant's leaves is not only fresh, but economical too.

What Is Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera is a safe, popular herbal medicine that dates back more than 6,000 years in a variety of cultures, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Egyptians depicted its use on stone carvings, where it was known as the "plant of mortality" and given to pharaohs as funeral gifts. Fast forward to today, people keep aloe vera plants in their homes and use the thick, clear gel from inside its leaves to treat everything from mild sunburns to acne.

Applying Commercially-Made Aloe Vera Gel

Prep and Exfoliate Skin

First, gently cleanse your skin with soap and water. To remove dead skin cells, lightly scrub your face with a wet washcloth or an exfoliating facial pad.

“The enzymes in the gel can also help exfoliate the skin to make it smoother, but if you are looking for something stronger I would recommend using a grainy exfoliator paired with a pure moisturizer,” says Chang.

Skip exfoliating if you're applying aloe to a sunburn or skin that is otherwise irritated or inflamed.

Read more: 11 Warning Signs Your Skin Is Sending You

Apply Aloe Vera Gel to Your Face

Commercially-made aloe vera gel can be applied directly to your face as a skin-healing mask, using clean fingertips. Start by applying a small dot of gel to the skin on the inside of your wrist to ensure that you're not allergic or sensitive to the gel. Wipe clean, and allow it to dry.

Assuming you're not allergic, use your fingertips to apply the gel to your face, using small, concentric circles. Repeat until all of your skin is covered. Depending on the desired effect, you can either remove after 30 minutes or repeat the application every few hours.

You can also apply aloe directly to your skin to reduce inflammation, soothe insect bites and help heal sunburns, minor abrasions and skin irritations.


If you experience redness, redness or swelling, DO NOT apply aloe vera gel to your face. Check with your dermatologist before using, especially if you have sensitive skin or a history of allergic skin reactions.

Fresh aloe leaves and aloe gel

Applying Home-Grown Aloe Vera Gel

Harvest Leaves From the Aloe Vera Plant

To harvest aloe leaves from the plant, grip the base of leaves with your fingers and gently pull away from the plant. You can also use a pair of scissors or sharp knife. Clean the dirt from the surface of the leaf by gently scrubbing them with a wet toothbrush or nailbrush. Rinse the leaves under cold running water.

Prepare Aloe Vera Leaves

Cut and and remove the base of the leaf. Remove the spines from the sides of the leaf using a sharp kitchen knife. Remove the skin from both sides of the leaves using a kitchen vegetable skinner, or cut the leaf in half vertically and scoop out the gel using a small spoon. Store the gel out of direct sunlight in an airtight plastic container.

Exfoliate Your Skin

Cut a 2-inch piece from the leaf you've harvested. Remove the skin from one side of the leaf. Cross-cut the gel and sprinkle with a generous portion of baking soda. Scrub your skin in a circular motion using the leaf. Clean and rinse your face with warm soap and water.

Make an Aloe Vera Toner

To create an inexpensive toner, mix 2/3 cup distilled water with 1/3 cup aloe vera gel. Pour into a clean, airtight bottle and refrigerate. Shake the bottle well and apply the toner to your face with a cotton ball or pad.

Other Aloe Vera Gel Benefits

In addition to skincare, aloe provides a wealth of healthful properties when used topically or internally. These include:

  • Beneficial healing properties: A September 2018 study published in Wounds found that aloe accelerates wound healing by supporting cells that produce collagen and keratin, two proteins that are key to skin health. 
  • Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is the body's natural response to wounds and infection. Aloe seems to reduce prostaglandin production, known to exacerbate inflammation. One 2015 in Pharmacognosy Review found that the plant seems to function as an antioxidant by helping to inhibit free radicals. 
  • Benefits on the immune system: Some preliminary research has shown a positive connection between aloe and the immune system, but more studies need to be done. 
  • Laxative effects: When ingested, aloe latex can act as a laxative, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, it can also cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Whether you choose to buy aloe vera or grow it in your own home, the plant can be an inexpensive, effective and handy addition to your medicine chest.