Aloe vera is also known as medicinal aloe, while its common names are lily of the desert, burn plant and elephant’s gall. It belongs to the family of succulent plants in the genus ‘Aloe’. The origin of this burn plant is believed to be in Sudan and has been used for more than 6,000 years. The great virtues of this plant have been recognized by many civilizations, including the Egyptians, Spanish, Persians, Greeks, Italians, Africans, Japanese, and Indians. It grows best in warm and dry climates and is densely found in India, Africa, and other arid zones.
Aloe vera plant is often a stemless or sometimes very short-stemmed juicy plant that grows around 60–100 cm (24–39 inch) in height and the offsets spread out wide. The leaves of this plant are thick and fleshy and the color varies from green to gray-green. Some varieties of this plant have white flecks on the upper and lower portions of the stem surfaces. The margin of the leaves is like saw-tooth and the flowers bloom during the summer. This plant can be easily grown both, indoors and outdoors.
These days, aloe has an entire industry behind it. Its juices are used in cosmetics and personal-care products such as moisturizers, soap, shaving cream, and suntan lotion. The aloe vera product that probably comes to mind most easily is the bright green gel that’s stocked on drugstore shelves. You’ve probably used it to soothe a nasty sunburn.
Aloe vera is also available in supplement form, which is said to offer the same possible benefits to the skin and digestive system as other versions of the plant.
What Are the Various Types of Aloe Vera That People Use?
There are two medicinally useful parts of the aloe vera plant. First, the leaves are filled with a clear gel. This gel is extracted from the plant and usually used on the skin to treat burns and various skin conditions. The gel can also be found in liquid or capsule form and taken orally.
The second substance the plant produces is called aloe latex. This is the yellow pulp that’s found just under the outer part of the plant leaf. Aloe latex has been shown to have laxative properties, and it’s usually taken orally to treat constipation.
The latest in aloe vera trends is the introduction of aloe-based drinks, such as aloe vera juice and aloe vera water. The plant juices are usually mixed with citrusy juice to make aloe vera juice or water to make aloe vera water.
Aloe vera on its own can taste a little bitter, so many brands will add flavor or sweeteners to the bottle. Take a look at the bottle’s ingredients list to make sure it’s not packed with loads of added sugars.
What Are the Potential Health Benefits of Aloe Vera?
There’s not enough evidence to prove that aloe vera can treat all the health issues it’s said to help with. But the plant has been linked to many potential benefits, including:
- Digestive help Aloe latex contains aloin, which is an anthraquinone that gives aloe vera its laxative properties and may help treat constipation.
- Treating skin conditions, such as psoriasis and acne Aloe creams have a calming effect on the skin and have been shown to help reduce itchiness and inflammation.
- Sunburn relief Some people swear by aloe to calm a sunburn. You might have experienced the gel’s cooling effect yourself, but the research backing up the claim that it can speed skin recovery is lacking. One small study, for instance, found aloe vera didn’t have any effect on treating a sunburn when compared with a placebo.
- Wound healing Aloe gel may help expedite the healing process of burns or cuts on the skin.
Heartburn relief Researchers found aloe vera helped lessen several symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), including heartburn, belching, and vomiting.
Lower blood sugar A study found drinking two tablespoons of aloe vera juice every day for two weeks helped lower the blood sugar levels among people with type 2 diabetes. Triglyceride levels of the study participants also improved — a big deal for those with diabetes, because they’re at an increased risk of developing heart disease.
All the Ways You Can Use Aloe Vera
In addition to using aloe vera to tap the potential benefits outlined above, the plant has been shown to have a few other surprising uses, including:
- A way to keep produce fresh One study found aloe vera gel applied on the outside of tomatoes helped delay ripening, aided in maintaining their quality and freshness, and prevented certain bacteria from growing.
- A mouthwash Aloe vera mouthwash has been shown to reduce plaque inside the mouth.
- As a pain reliever Salicylic acid found in aloe vera may act as a painkiller.
A Closer Look at the Possible Beauty Benefits of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is also an “it” ingredient in the beauty and cosmetics world. You’ll find it in everything from moisturizers and toners to shampoos and deep conditioners. There’s even an entire line of products called Aloe Vesta, which are designed to protect sensitive skin.
What’s the reason for the hype? The plant is known for keeping skin hydrated and clear. It’s rich in antioxidants such as and vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E, and it contains seven of the eight essential amino acids. It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory properties, though some critics say more research is needed before we can say that for sure.
One study found an aloe vera topical gel helped treat acne lesions when combined with a tretinoin cream. Another study found aloe has anti-aging potential: The researchers gave 30 women doses of aloe vera gel twice a day for three months. The women saw significant improvements in their wrinkles and the elasticity of their skin thanks to an increase in collagen production.
Side Effects and Health Risks of Aloe Vera
Aloe gel (the part of the plant that’s commonly found in creams and moisturizers) is generally safe to use and can be helpful in healing the skin when it’s applied topically.
Aloe latex, however, can be dangerous. Taking aloe latex orally can lead to cramps and diarrhea, and it could make other oral medications you’re taking less effective.
Aloe latex can lead to more serious problems, too. Taking even just 1 gram orally per day for several days could end up causing kidney damage and may even be fatal. It also can lower blood glucose levels, so people with type 2 diabetes need to be careful and talk to their doctor before incorporating aloe latex into their care regimen.
Another potential negative for aloe latex: It could have cancer-causing compounds. A study from the National Toxicology Program found whole-leaf aloe vera extract created cancerous tumors within the large intestines of rats. But don’t be alarmed: The study didn’t involve humans and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says there’s nothing that suggests researchers would find the same results in humans. The good news is the rats in the study drank water containing 60 part per million (ppm) of aloin every day. That’s much higher than the 10 ppm that the industry tends to set as their limit, so it’s not likely that you’d reach unsafe levels.
How to Select and Store Aloe Vera for the Best Quality
Consult the label on your aloe vera product to learn about the best storage method. Generally, it’s best to store aloe vera gel and aloe vera juice in a cool, not-too-humid environment, such as at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Humidity and temperature can affect the shelf-life of the product. That’s why you’ll likely find aloe vera juice in amber-colored bottles. The dark bottle is designed to keep light from affecting the active ingredients.
Aloe vera is considered a supplement, and supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means there’s no way to know for sure whether the safety or potency claims on the product are valid. And there are loads of products that claim to be rich in aloe vera, but many of them contain no or hardly any active ingredients.
There is one thing to look for, however, when buying your product: the seal from the International Aloe Science Council, which is an organization that’s been active since the 1980s. Seeing the seal on a product means the product’s aloe vera quality and purity has been tested and confirmed.