Unfortunately, without regulation or an at-home testing lab, you won’t know for sure. The ingredients list could offer some clues, said Dr. Anne Chapas, a dermatologist in New York City and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. Aloe vera should be listed as one of the first three items, she said, suggesting that it’s one of the primary components.
Looking for Latin names, like Aloe vera or Aloe barbadensis, on the list, can also help verify that an aloe product is real, Dr. Grundmann said. Just avoid any products that say they include Aloe ferox, a different plant species that is smaller, grows faster and is cheaper to use than aloe, but is less well studied, has different medicinal properties and does not work for sunburn.
Some, but not all, products might list the concentrations of its active ingredients. Dr. Grundmann suggested looking for a 95 percent pure aloe vera gel, though Dr. Ferris cautioned against putting too much trust in percentages listed on labels.
“There are many products that say 100 percent, but the wording can be deceptive,” she said. “Some say 100-percent aloe, but also contain other ingredients, meaning they are not 100-percent aloe. Others say 100-percent gel, but not that 100 percent of what is in that gel is aloe.” Because of this lack of standardization in concentrations, she said, it’s tough to recommend a specific percentage to look out for.
That being said, buying a bottle of aloe likely won’t break the bank. You can buy a 16-ounce bottle of aloe vera gel at Target for about $6.
What other methods can I use to relieve a sunburn?
Frequent cool baths or showers can help relieve the discomfort of a sunburn, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Applying a heavy, emollient moisturizing cream can protect and hydrate the skin, said Dr. Chapas. Drinking extra water can also help prevent dehydration, and pain meds like aspirin or ibuprofen can reduce swelling, redness or discomfort.
Short-term use of corticosteroid creams may also provide relief for itchy, inflamed skin, Dr. Grundmann said. (Keeping the cream in the refrigerator can add a cooling effect, he added.) And always make sure to protect sunburned skin from further sun exposure while it heals.