I have had several patients who are undergoing radiation therapy apply aloe vera to their skin. Should aloe vera be used on the skin to prevent radiodermatitis? — Name withheld on request

Research shows that aloe vera is ineffective and may worsen skin reactions from radiation. Cleansing the skin daily with mild moisturizing soaps has been found to be most beneficial.

Evidence supporting the use of aloe vera for prevention and treatment of radiotherapy-related skin effects is controversial. For example, a 3-arm randomized study that compared a moist aloe extract with a dry skin care regimen and placebo found aloe was not effective for prophylaxis or treatment in patients with breast cancer.1

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However, a recent study found aloe vera was moderately effective when used in combination with mild soap vs soap alone.2 These authors also reported aloe vera may be effective in patients whose cumulative radiation doses are more than 2700 cGy and for patients who experience acute radiation proctitis.

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  1. Hoopfer D, Holloway C, Gabos Z, et al. Three-arm randomized phase III trial: quality aloe and placebo cream versus powder as skin treatment during breast cancer radiation therapy. Clinical Breast Cancer. 2015;15(3):181-190.e1-4. 2. Farrugia CE,
  2. Burke ES, Haley ME, Bedi KT, Gandhi MA. The use of aloe vera in cancer radiation: an updated comprehensive review. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2019;35:126-130.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include additional information from the literature