Over 5,000 years ago, aloe vera was hailed as the "Plant of Immortality" in ancient Egypt. It was used by the likes of Cleopatra and other infamous leaders as part of their beauty regimens.
Extending from its long history of recorded use, aloe is still utilized as traditional medicine in many countries, including China, India, Japan, South Africa, and the West Indies.
What's so great about it?
Just one of over 500 species of aloe plants, aloe vera grows wild in tropical climates. Inside of the fresh leaves contains a gel - a type of mucilage made up of 99% water.
The gel is a nutrition powerhouse and contains over 75 active constituents including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, polysaccharides, hormones, lignin, saponins, and fatty acids. These nutrients give aloe its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Aloe vera has long been used for many different kinds of skin ailments. Science has recently caught up with the wonder herb in the last few decades, and has confirmed its efficacy.
As a little backstory, aloe vera actually made its way into the United States medical system about two centuries ago. In 1820, it was officially published in The Pharmacopoeira of the United States book as a skin protectant and purgative.
Second degree burns
Aloe has been put to the test in treating different levels of burns to the skin. The gel can be used as a preventative tool against the progression of skin damage, enhancing the repairing time of first and second degree burns.
While there isn't a lot of data on its ability to soothe sunburns, aloe's ability to stimulate new cell growth (especially in more serious burns) definitely supports this claim.
Aloe vera gel is effective in reducing redness caused by UV radiation, likely due to its unique ability to restore langerhans cells which regulate skin immunity.
Aloe would be best used in combination with other UV-protective ingredients, like green tea for example.
Although not technically a burn, frostbites are still measured in the same way by degree of injury. Aloe vera has been shown to help improve tissue survival following frostbites.
Fresh aloe vera gel can be used anywhere on the body for its hydrating benefits.
Aloe has a high polysaccharide content, which forms a protective layer on the skin - acting as a humectant. Humectants hydrate by drawing moisture into skin cells.
The gel delivers a soothing effect to the skin, reducing dry and irritated skin. While aloe doesn't quite act the same way as botox, it does improve skin integrity and smoothes the appearance of fine wrinkling.
Aloe also has potential of preventing radiation-induced dermatitis (mild forms are usually dry, irritated rashes).
Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disease that causes thick red patches and white scales on the skin.
Aloe vera can be used as an excellent tool for treating psoriasis. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, aloe reduces lesions and erythema (redness) associated with the condition.
Aloe's wound-repairing activity doesn't really come as a surprise. It can be used on minor cuts, scrapes and abrasions as a simple and effective remedy. Quite a few studies have come out in recent years about the astounding soothing effects aloe has on wounds.
The gel contains glycoproteins, which are known for their cell regenerating properties.
Aloe stimulates the production of hyaluronic acid, collagen, and various other essential nutrients in wounds. As a result, it modulates wound repairing by increasing provisional matrix synthesis, an integral part of the wound repairing process.
Wounds are proven to not only replenish faster with topical application (or oral consumption) of aloe, but also decrease and remodel scar tissue size, resulting in less visible scars.
Aloe has even been successfully tested on surgical wounds in patients after a hemorrhoidectomy, reducing their needs for analgesics (pain-relieving drugs).
Fungal and bacterial infections
Aloe vera gel has antimicrobial properties. This is especially important in treating wounds, as the gel is capable of preventing certain multidrug-resistant bacterial infections.
Aloe has shown its potential as a simple alternative to antibiotics for treating leg ulcers with multidrug-resistant bacterial infections.
On top of that, aloe vera is effective in the treatment of genital herpes. Yes, you read that right. This study from 2009 proved that a cream with a 0.5% extract from the plant cured the first episodes of genital herpes in men.
How to use aloe
Skin care products
Let's just get down to the dirty facts. A lot of blogs and skin care companies recommend aloe vera skin care products. While studies have clearly confirmed the efficacy of aloe in creams for certain skin issues, I would be very wary of aloe-containing cosmetics.
The reason for this is because an extract could be used in such a low quantity, or it could simply just be low quality, and it just wouldn't have much benefit to the skin.
Cosmetic labels list ingredients by order of quantity. Any product marketed as containing aloe vera, yet has aloe near the bottom of the ingredients' list is just using greenwashing tactics. For all we know, aloe could consist of 1/10,000th of the formula.
Aloe vera gel is used as the base of a lot of creams and lotions these days. But, what comes along with this? Synthetic (and potentially toxic) preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners, and other ingredients we don't want on our skin. Some companies are much better than others in this regard, but the need for preservatives is unfortunately necessary.
Don't read into greenwashing on cosmetic labels; there are much simpler ways to use the pure source.
The fresh plant
Here's an excellent article on properly caring for, extracting, storing, and using aloe in different DIY formulations.
Aloe vera gel
Using aloe gel is your next best option. Finding a good-quality one is difficult. I did find one brand, Lakewood, and they sell a USDA certified organic, non-GMO aloe vera gel. You can buy them in bulk.
The downside is their product needs to be used within 2 weeks after opening. Using the above instructions for storing aloe vera gel, like placing in trays in the freezer for example, can extend the shelf life.
Other options I've found either use preservatives (food-grade ingredients like potassium sorbate are highly questionable), or don't have any organic/non-GMO certifications.
Lastly, you can also buy aloe vera in powdered form.
While the gel has been much more clinically verified than its powdered form, this is the simplist way to still get some of aloe vera's benefits without having to really worry about its shelf life.
Powdered aloe vera is more for general skin care, versus treating burns or wounds. For example, It works well in DIY face masks, tea-infused facial toners, and herb-oil infusions.
Aloe vera can be used as a powerful anti-inflammatory tool for regenerating damaged skin cells, and speeding up the repairing time of minor burns and wounds. It can also be used to help treat dry and irritated skin, as well as psoriasis.
Disclaimer: Consult your doctor before using aloe vera for any medical conditions or surgical wounds. In rare cases, people can have an allergic reaction to aloe, resulting in burning and redness.
Now that you've learned about the incredible skin care benefits aloe vera has to offer, how are you going to incorporate it into your life?