For many of us, acne continues to affect our everyday lives well beyond our teenage years. For treating acne, retinoids (e.g. tretinoin) are considered the first line of therapy. However, the topical application of retinoids is associated with irritation, dryness, and redness. The good news is, aloe vera has well-recognized anti-redness and antioxidant properties, and may be a helpful, natural sidekick to retinoids in fighting acne! So, could aloe vera help acne patients tolerate topical retinoids better?

This is the question clinical investigators explored in a study structured to investigate the efficacy and safety of a combination skin care regimen of aloe vera gel and tretinoin (TR) in treating mild to moderate acne. For the study, sixty participants were split into two groups; the first group was given both TR cream and aloe vera topical gel to apply daily, while the second group was given TR cream and a placebo gel containing no aloe vera to apply daily. During this 8-week trial, the researchers focused on evaluating both acne improvement and whether the aloe vera improved the irritation typically experienced with TR application. The results demonstrated that the combination of aloe vera and TR improved acne at both 4 and 8 weeks of use. The group that used the TR and placebo combination did not see as much improvement in the same timeframe. In addition, skin redness was reduced in the TR and aloe vera combination group.

This study may support the simultaneous use of aloe vera when using tretinoin cream to treat mild-to-moderate acne. It also highlights the potential benefits of combining natural products with prescription medications. However, there are some limitations in the study design that prevent it from demonstrating a clear effect of aloe vera alone on acne.

First, the authors do not report what was in the placebo gel, limiting our ability to compare the two different treatments. Second, there is a limited explanation as to why 12 of the original 75 subjects in the study dropped out (the authors only cite “personal reasons”). Given that this is more than 10% of the participants, the drop out rate could potentially affect the study results. A more detailed explanation for why participants left the study would allow evaluation as to whether the treatments they were receiving contributed to their exits. Finally, only female participants were enrolled in the study, so it is difficult to assess the effect of aloe vera on males.

Conclusion: Aloe vera gel may have a role in improving acne when used alongside the prescribed medication tretinoin. However, these results can only be adapted for treating women with acne at this time.

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