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What is a substitute for aloe vera?

Aloe vera is a succulent plant that has been used for centuries for its medicinal and skin care properties. The clear gel inside the leaves contains active compounds like polysaccharides and antioxidants that can provide soothing relief for sunburns, minor cuts, insect bites, dry skin and other skin irritations. However, some people are allergic to aloe vera or simply don’t have access to an aloe plant. Are there any good substitutes for aloe vera gel? Here are some of the best options.

Why Use Aloe Vera?

Before looking at substitutes, it’s helpful to understand the key benefits of using aloe vera gel:

  • Soothes burns, wounds and irritations – The cooling gel can provide quick relief for mild sunburns, skin irritations from bug bites or poison ivy, razor burn or other minor cuts and wounds.
  • Moisturizes skin – Aloe vera gel contains polysaccharides that help retain moisture in the skin, making it effective for very dry skin conditions.
  • Supports skin health – Antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E in aloe fight free radical damage and support the skin’s natural healing process.
  • Easy to grow and use – The succulent aloe plant is low maintenance and thrives indoors or outdoors in frost-free climates. The gel can be scooped directly from the leaf and applied to the skin.

What to Look for in an Aloe Vera Substitute

When selecting an alternative to aloe vera, look for products that provide similar skin care benefits:

  • Soothing, cooling and moisturizing properties
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients
  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • Easy to apply to burns, bites, cuts, etc.
  • Absorbs quickly without being greasy

Some natural ingredients to look for include plant oils and extracts, vitamins, minerals, honey and herbs that can calm, heal and hydrate skin. Avoid products with lots of artificial fragrances, preservatives and chemicals.

Aloe Vera Substitutes

Here are some of the top alternatives to reach for when fresh aloe vera gel isn’t available:

1. Cucumber

Fresh cucumber is one of the simplest aloe vera substitutes. Cucumbers have a very high water content, making them naturally hydrating for skin. They contain vitamin C, caffeic acid and antioxidant flavonoids that reduce inflammation.

To use cucumber as an aloe substitute, simply peel and blend or process cucumber flesh until smooth. Apply the puree or juice directly to sunburns, cuts, insect bites or dry skin. Store any extra in the refrigerator for a few days.

2. Witch Hazel

Witch hazel extract comes from the leaves and bark of the North American witch hazel shrub. It contains tannins that have soothing, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Witch hazel can quickly stop bleeding from small cuts and also helps shrink blood vessels to reduce swelling and puffiness.

Look for witch hazel extract without alcohol. Soak a cotton pad and apply it directly to skin irritations, bites or minor burns. Or add a teaspoon or two to a cup of water and rinse or soak the affected area.

3. Honey

Honey is naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, making it ideal for wound care. The viscous honey also helps retain moisture in skin and keeps the wound surface free of contaminants that can cause infection.

For burns and wounds, apply a layer of medical grade Manuka honey and cover with a sterile bandage. Change the dressing daily. For skin irritations, dilute with a bit of water and apply a thin layer to the affected area several times a day.

4. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree essential oil contains anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and wound healing compounds called terpenes. It has been used in Australia for centuries as a topical antiseptic.

Never use tea tree oil undiluted as it can cause irritation. Mix 2-4 drops with a tablespoon of carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil and apply to cuts, burns, insect bites, blisters, or areas of fungal infections like athlete’s foot. It helps prevent infection while also reducing swelling and redness.

5. Oat Extract

Oats contain compounds called avenanthramides that have anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties. Colloidal oatmeal has long been used to soothe poison ivy, chickenpox, insect bites and other itchy skin conditions.

Look for skin care products containing oat extract or colloidal oatmeal as the active ingredient. For quick relief, make a paste by grinding oats in a food processor and mixing with just enough water to make a paste. Apply to the affected area for 15-20 minutes then rinse.

6. Green Tea

The antioxidants in green tea called catechins help reduce inflammation and redness in skin conditions like sunburns, rosacea or acne. Green tea also has antimicrobial effects that help protect wounds from infection.

Brew strong green tea, allow it to cool, then apply directly to the skin with a cotton pad or spray it on. You can also make a compress by soaking a clean cloth in the tea. Leave it on for 10-15 minutes a few times a day.

7. Calendula

Calendula, also called pot marigold, is an anti-inflammatory herb used in many topical skin care products. The petals contain carotenoids, polysaccharides and flavonoids that soothe damaged skin and support healing.

Look for creams, ointments, salves and tinctures containing calendula extract or make a calendula tea to use as a skin wash. It’s effective for rashes, minor wounds, bruises, burns, bee stings, canker sores and diaper rash.

8. Chamomile

Chamomile is a popular herb for skin conditions because of its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity. The flavonoids in chamomile calm redness, itching and swelling. It may help heal cuts, burns, eczema, sunburn and other irritations when applied topically.

Use dried chamomile flowers to make a strong tea. Allow to cool before applying to the skin with a cloth or cotton pad. You can also buy creams containing chamomile extract.

9. Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat without chemicals. It contains medium chain fatty acids with antimicrobial and moisturizing properties. Coconut oil helps treat damaged skin by forming a protective barrier.

Use extra virgin coconut oil directly on dry patches, bites, cuts, stings, burns or rashes. The soothing oil can be applied several times a day. It’s safe for most people, though those with coconut allergies should avoid it.

10. Olive Oil

Olive oil has anti-inflammatory phytochemicals like oleocanthal and oleuropein. Extra virgin olive oil is unprocessed to retain more skin-nourishing compounds. It provides a protective barrier over damaged skin to support healing.

Dab on a little extra virgin olive oil to soothe sunburn, windburn, minor cuts and abrasions. The oil locks in moisture without clogging pores. Olive oil can stain fabrics, so use caution when applying.

11. Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender essential oil promotes faster healing of minor burns and wounds because of its antimicrobial and anti-scarring properties. It also contains anti-inflammatory and pain relieving compounds.

Mix 2-4 drops of lavender oil with a tablespoon of carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil and apply to the affected area up to 3 times a day. You can also buy first aid ointments containing lavender oil.

12. Vitamin E Oil

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects against free radical damage to skin cells. It also supports new cell growth to help heal wounds and reduce scarring.

Buy vitamin E oil derived from non-GMO vegetables like sunflower or safflower oil. Apply a small amount directly to cracked, burnt or irritated areas of skin 1-2 times per day.

Home Remedies

You may already have some of the key ingredients for aloe vera substitutes in your pantry. Here are a few effective options you can whip up at home.

Baking Soda Paste

Make a paste with baking soda and water and apply it to minor burns, bites, rashes or cuts to reduce inflammation and itching. Rinse after 15-20 minutes. The sodium bicarbonate helps neutralize skin acidity and acts as a disinfectant.

Milk Compress

Soak a clean cloth in cold whole milk and apply as a compress to sunburned skin. The proteins and fats in milk help moisturize and reduce redness and pain. You can also make a bath by mixing 2 cups powdered milk with lukewarm water and soaking for 15-20 minutes.

Yogurt Mask

Plain yogurt contains probiotics and lactic acid that nourish skin cells and exfoliate away dead cells. Apply a thin layer to sunburned or windburned skin and leave on for 20-30 minutes before rinsing. The cooling effect helps reduce redness and discomfort.

Oatmeal Bath

Grind 1 cup of rolled oats in a food processor until powdery. Run a warm bath and sprinkle in the oatmeal, stirring to disperse it. Soak for at least 15 minutes to relieve itchy rashes like chickenpox or poison ivy.

When to See a Doctor

While these remedies can provide relief for minor skin irritations, burns and wounds, it’s important to see your doctor for:

  • Second or third degree burns
  • Cuts or wounds requiring stitches
  • Infections with pus, red streaks or fever
  • Large blisters or blisters with bleeding
  • Wounds or bites that show no signs of healing after several days

Signs you may require medical treatment include increased pain or swelling, redness spreading from the wound, drainage or foul odor. Seek immediate care for any burns, cuts or wounds on the face, joints, hands or genitals which have higher risk of infection.

Key Takeaways

While aloe vera is famous for its skin healing properties, there are many other effective options if you don’t have access to the fresh gel. Look for remedies that provide similar soothing, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Some of the best natural aloe vera substitutes include:

  • Cucumber
  • Witch hazel
  • Honey
  • Tea tree oil
  • Oat extract
  • Green tea
  • Calendula
  • Chamomile
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil

You can also make home remedies using ingredients like baking soda, milk, yogurt and oatmeal. While these alternatives can help wounds heal faster, see your doctor for more serious burns, cuts or bites that show signs of infection.

Aloe Vera Substitute Key Benefits How to Use
  • High water content hydrates skin
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Reduces swelling
  • Blend cucumber flesh into puree
  • Apply to irritated skin
Witch Hazel
  • Natural astringent
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Stops bleeding
  • Apply extract directly
  • Use cotton pad soaked in extract
  • Add to bath water
  • Antibacterial and antimicrobial
  • Promotes wound healing
  • Retains moisture
  • Apply directly to burn or cut
  • Cover with sterile bandage
  • Change dressing daily

The Bottom Line

Aloe vera is often touted as a natural cure-all for skin conditions, but there are many other effective alternatives if you don’t have an aloe plant on hand. Look for options with soothing, hydrating and antimicrobial properties such as witch hazel, honey, green tea, coconut oil and calendula. While these remedies can promote healing, see your doctor for any severe burns, cuts or infections that don’t show signs of improvement.