Acne scars: Whether pitted, hyperpigmented or somewhere in between, acne scars are perhaps even more frustrating, and stubborn, than breakouts themselves. One topical ingredient that, at least anecdotally, has been touted for its acne-scar-fading abilities is aloe vera.
As big fans of this all-natural ingredient, we've already explained the many research-backed benefits of this healing plant. But when it comes to acne scars, the research and expert insight are less clear. In fact, there's no conclusive research on acne scars and aloe vera specifically. What we do know is that aloe does possess certain characteristics that are beneficial for helping to heal the skin—and therefore, one can infer, acne scars. Here, we're breaking down the science and expert-backed healing properties of aloe vera in regards to acne scars.
1. It can't heal scars, but it can help fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Acne scars come in many different shapes and sizes. For pitted scars (that are depressed into the skin) and raised keloid scars, professional treatments are often necessary—in these cases, topical aloe vera won't help heal these scars. For another type of acne residue, however, aloe vera may offer some benefits. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is not, technically speaking, an official scar, but it often occurs after breakouts, and many people find them as annoying as breakouts themselves. They can appear dark brown, tan, pink, or red.
Otherwise known as dark spots, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation often shows up in the wake of pimples, pustules, and cystic breakouts. Aloesin, a compound naturally found in the aloe plant, has been shown in certain studies to help lighten things up. In one study specifically, when aloe was applied onto skin four times per day for two weeks, aloesin was shown to effectively fade post-acne hyperpigmentation. Another study showed that topical application of aloesin can directly inhibit hyperpigmented skin from producing more melanin, which is the natural pigment in skin that causes dark spots to form.
If your hyperpigmentation is severe, combining aloe vera—or aloe-vera-infused skin care products—with a prescribed topical (like a retinoid or retinol alternative) may be your best bet in lightening things up. In other words: If your dark spots are extra stubborn, don't rely on aloe vera alone. Rather, combine it with another dermatologist-recommended (or prescribed) topical for double the scar-fading power.
2. Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties.
Aloin, another compound that's naturally found in the aloe vera plant, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that promote overall skin healing. Inflammation is, after all, at the root of a growing list of health issues, skin included, which is where using topical aloe vera can help. Board-certified dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D., sums up aloe as a "great anti-inflammatory," saying that "aloe vera can certainly help with the anti-inflammatory effect and healing damaged skin."
Per one study, topical aloe vera gel was found to be even more effective at suppressing skin inflammation than hydrocortisone cream (a steroid that's commonly prescribed to quell a range of inflammatory skin issues). This is crucial because, as plenty of research has demonstrated, inflammation occurs at every stage of acne development, and in all types of acne. Bottom line: Taming inflammation is key to maintaining overall skin health—and keeping acne, and its subsequent aftermath, at bay.
3. Aloe vera may boost your other acne treatments.
Aloe vera naturally contains salicylic acids, which are well-known to help clear up all types of acne, from blackheads to cystic, and everything in between. Salicylic acid works by "penetrating oil glands and reducing oil production," Bhanusali says, which helps keep pores clear. Indeed, according to research, salicylic acid is considered to be one of the best acids for the treatment of acne scars. In another study, topical application of aloe vera in combination with tretinoin (a retinoid) was shown to effectively treat acne.
So, while aloe vera may not be enough to stave off chronic acne on its own, when used in tandem with other acne-fighting products, it can help boost their effectiveness—thanks to its natural level of salicylic acids. While this doesn't pertain to acne scars specifically, having less acne inevitably means less future acne scarring.
4. Aloe can boost collagen production.
Collagen is important to overall bodily health for so many reasons, not least of which is skin health. For starters, collagen is the main structural protein in your skin that gives it strength, resiliency, and elasticity. Where acne scars are concerned, increasing collagen production can help smooth the skin's surface—in fact, collagen injections are sometimes used to fill and treat deeply pitted acne scars.
Aloe vera naturally stimulates collagen and elastin production in the skin, and it's been shown to help increase skin elasticity and decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Along these lines, topical use of aloe vera has also been shown to help reduce the appearance of stretch marks. In other words, through promoting increased collagen and elastin production in the skin, aloe vera encourages skin to replenish and heal itself from the inside out—a necessary component of healing and naturally fading acne scars.
Rebecca Dancer is a beauty and lifestyle writer who obtained a print and digital journalism degree from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She’s worked at and contributed to various print and digital publications, including Byrdie, Allure, Brides, Teen Vogue, Beauty Independent, Shape, SELF, and Women's Wear Daily.