Megan writes about health and wellness issues, among other topics.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera is a succulent plant with long spear shaped leaves and spikes, usually with a deep green color. It is native to the Arabian peninsula and thrives in tropical or subtropical climates. It also does well as a houseplant, and is low maintenance and easy to grow or propagate. The inside of the thick aloe vera leaves contain a gel thought to have different medicinal properties. Aloe vera gel is high in vitamins, antioxidants, and (in totally unprocessed form), latex. Aloe has been used since at least the time of ancient Egyptians as a topical remedy for burns and cuts.
Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
The purported benefits of aloe vera gel go far beyond use just as an ointment for burns. In addition to becoming very popular lately for its cosmetic benefits, its health benefits have been taken advantage of long before.
One study showed that when applied topically, aloe vera gel accelerates wound healing on cellular level better than a placebo. This is thought to occur because of a glycoprotein found in aloe vera, which protects against cell death on a cellular level. Aloe has been used for burns and wounds for thousands of years, but we are just recently beginning to understand how it works on a micro level.
Aloe can protect against tooth decay when applied orally, and this is because of its antibacterial properties. One study showed that strong concentrations of aloe vera gel (greater than 50% concentration) were just as effective as prescription antibiotics in treating oral bacteria.
There is evidence that aloe vera gel has immune boosting and virus-fighting properties. This study showed promising results of aloe vera taming outbreaks of oral herpes simplex (HSV1), or oral herpes. It has also been shown to combat strains of influenza in a laboratory setting, but more research is needed to understand and unlock its full antiviral benefits.
Lower Blood Sugar
When taken orally, aloe vera gel may lower fasting blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes. It may also therefore lower hemoglobin A1c, which is a blood test that measures your average blood glucose over time and is used to measure the degree of control of diabetes.
The latex component of aloe vera gel (the yellow portion that oozes from it separate from the clear thick gel) can act as a potent laxative. It can also cause severe nausea and stomach cramps, however. It is not advisable to use this as a laxative, as taking even small doses for a few days in a row can cause kidney damage and other health problems (see more under risks below).
Benefits of Aloe Vera for Hair
Beyond the already-established health benefits associated with aloe vera discussed above, the beauty industry now has its eye on the plant for its promising uses for hair and skin health. The aloe vera market is expected to grow in the 2019-2024 timeframe by 7.2%, according to this forecast. Below are some of the cosmetic benefits associated with aloe.
Removes Dead Skin Cells, Clearing the Way For New Hair Growth
Aloe vera gel, when applied to the scalp, naturally breaks down sebum and residue that lead to dandruff, clogged/impeded hair follicles, and oily hair. This happens because of the salicylic acid in aloe. The process of removing dead skin cells and oil is exfoliation. Aloe vera can provide the same benefits some more harsh clarifying or exfoliating hair treatments can provide, but in a gentler, natural way. Aloe vera can be used on the scalp daily.
Aloe vera aids hair in moisture retention because it acts as a surfactant, which means it leaves or deposits some of it’s substance onto hair and results in a smooth finish because the hair remains somewhat coated with it.
Prevents Dandruff and Scalp Itching
This is an added benefit due to the “sloughing” aloe vera does to the scalp. Dandruff is buildup of the oily secretions on our scalp. It can cause itching if too much of it builds up. Aloe works to exfoliate and remove that buildup. It also has a cooling effect (which is why it helps sunburn feel better), and this cool feeling can help calm an irritated, itchy scalp.
Benefits of Aloe Vera for Skin
Ingested or applied topically, aloe is also becoming known for its skin benefits.
Reduce Wrinkles and Reduce Signs of Aging
One study shows that aloe taken orally as a supplement can significantly reduce wrinkles and can increase collagen production, reversing some damage caused by the sun over time. Aloe can also help wrinkles when applied directly to the skin. It won’t reverse wrinkles that have already appeared, but it can help prevent further aging signs.
Moisturizes and Soothes
While aloe gel can’t completely replace your skincare moisturizer, when added to your existing moisturizing cream it can help soothe and calm redness. Because of the antiinflammatory properties of aloe vera gel, it can also be helpful in reducing the severity of acne flares.
Popular Products Containing Aloe Vera
While many consume aloe vera or use the gel on their skin directly from the plant, there are also a lot of supplements and creams out there that now contain aloe vera in addition to other ingredients. If you are going to ingest aloe vera it may be better to use a supplement that has already been prepared in order to remove the yellow latex portion of the gel (see risks, below). Here are some popular products that harness the benefits of aloe vera:
This supplement (found on Amazon) contains 10,000 equivalency of natural aloe vera, and is taken in pill form. This supplement can help concentrate some of aloe’s anti-inflammatory benefits, which can help with both the above health concerns and to bolster a hair/skincare regimen.
This vegan collagen powder contains aloe vera as an ingredient, among other natural plant based collagen boosters like rice bran solubles and pea protein that boost our bodies’ collagen production naturally. The aloe adds anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits which can boost overall health as well. I use a scoop of this powder every morning in my smoothie, and have actually seen better skin results than with bovine collagen.
Bondi Boost, a natural ingredient hair-growth boosting shampoo, contains aloe vera juice in many of its products. In fact, aloe vera is the first and main ingredient in all of its topical hair-growth brand products (not in the vitamins this brand sells). While aloe itself does not necessarily cause hair to grow faster or longer, it’s power to cleanse the cuticle and slough away debris may result in faster hair growth since it helps create prime growing-conditions. I have personally used the hair growth system and apart from hair growth, I have noticed that my hair is cleaner for longer and I don’t have to wash it as often. I directly attribute this to the aloe vera leaf juice in all of the Bondi Boost products I’m using.
Risks of Taking Aloe Vera
Using aloe vera topically likely poses little risk. Oral, “decolorized” (processed to remove the whole particle latex components--the yellow juice found inside the leaf) aloe vera has been shown to potentially cause cancer in lab rats, but the relationship is unclear and further studies are needed. When taken in small doses, and when the aloe vera has been decolorized, it is likely safe to consume. Many products will specifically list if the aloe vera has been decolorized.
While not a cure-all or standalone beauty or health product, aloe vera has potential to be a helpful addition to both your overall health and skin/hair routine. I personally have seen results from using aloe vera products both in powder/edible form and in some of the beauty products I use. It is important to avoid those products containing aloe vera latex, which can be harmful. As always, if you are going to use a natural supplement for health conditions, consult with your doctor first.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.