Aloe vera is renowned across the world for its many healthcare applications and uses. However, despite the popularity of this particular plant, a lot of people don't actually know the specifics about what aloe vera contains, and how its diverse nutritional build-up works to support different areas of our health.
In this article, we'll be taking a look at aloe vera's main claim to fame: its ability to help look after our skin.
What Is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera is a common plant that was originally native to the hot, dry climate of the Arabian Peninsula. Nowadays the plant genus Aloe incorporates over 400 different species that are grown and cultivated all over the world. Aloe vera is distinguished by its dark green, often grey, leaves that can grow to be anywhere from 20 to 100cm tall.
Different aloe vera varieties produce different kinds of leaves, with some being smooth and fleshy, whilst others feature prominent, white-tipped spines. Despite the popularity that aloe vera boasts in today's society, this is not a recent phenomenon. The first recorded use of aloe vera by humans took place in the 16th century BC in ancient Egypt, where it was referred to as the “plant of immortality”.
Throughout the course of history, verified mentions of aloe vera and its herbal benefits have been found in countries like China, Japan, India, Greece and even by the Roman Empire.
What Nutrients Are in Aloe Vera?
The leaves of the aloe vera plant contain a huge variety of different nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fibre that make it so versatile and beneficial to human health. These include:
- Vitamins A, B, C, D and E
- Vitamin B12 (aloe vera is one of only a few plants to contain this nutrient)
Over 75 different compounds have been found within aloe vera, which produces two different ingredients that are regularly exploited by a variety of different industries to maximise the nutritional content of their products.
Aloe latex – Latex can be found as a yellowish liquid within the inner layers of aloe vera leaves. The latex, or juice, can be harvested by cutting or breaking the aloe vera leaves. You want to make sure that you never ingest this kind of aloe vera, because it has been reported to possess laxative effects and may cause more serious digestive health complications to occur.
Aloe gel – This is the part of aloe vera that you are more likely to have experience with. This clear gel is known to contain some of the healing properties reportedly associated with aloe vera, and is also much safer for you to ingest if it is used as an ingredient or flavouring in food or dietary supplements.
What Can Aloe Vera Be Found In?
Thanks to the impressive nutritional content that we just discussed, it comes as no surprise to say that aloe vera is used widely across a variety of different industries, most prominently in the pharmaceutical and beauty industries.
Used in shampoos, conditioners, face creams, gels, soaps, moisturisers and a whole array of other hygiene products, aloe vera and its concoction of nutrients offer a diverse range of health-promoting properties. Although more uncommon than the previously mentioned applications, aloe vera is also used as an ingredient or flavouring in different cuisines, as well as an extract utilised in dietary supplements.
What Does Aloe Vera Do for the Skin?
Now that we have a good understanding of why aloe vera is regularly sought after and used, we can begin to investigate some of the ways this beneficial plant can help to support and look after our skin.
Aloe vera is popularly used as a natural remedy to help with the healing of wounds like scrapes, cuts and burns. The soothing and anti-microbial properties help to clean and disinfect wounds, which may help to quicken the overall healing process.
A study in 1995 looked to analyse the effectiveness of aloe vera in the treatment of burns. The scientists used a sample of 27 participants, 9 females and 18 males, who had been admitted to the burn unit of Ramathibodi Hospital in Thailand.
The burnt area was divided into two equal-sized sections, with one being treated with a Vaseline gauze treatment and the other with an aloe vera solution. The dressings were cleaned twice a day and the burns were inspected at established intervals throughout the duration of the study. The results determined that “the aloe vera gel-treated lesion healed faster than the Vaseline gauze area. The average time of healing in the aloe gel area was 11.89 days and 18.19 days for the Vaseline gauze-treated wound.”
Aloe vera is also popularly used to help heal sunburn. When our skin is exposed to powerful ultraviolet rays from the sun for too long, eventually the skin cells may begin to die, which triggers an anti-inflammatory response in your body to help heal and protect the skin from further damage. The healing properties of aloe vera can be exploited to help reduce immediate pain or discomfort caused by burns, as well as to promote and possibly quicken the overall healing process.
Soothes and Hydrates
Because of the dry climate aloe vera is native to, its leaves have the ability to store huge amounts of water to prevent the plant from drying out in even the most intense heats and conditions. Thanks to this ability, the gel contained within the leaves is often used as the basis for pharmaceutical products designed to help either hydrate or moisturise your skin.
A lot of people forget that the skin is an organ, and that it plays an incredibly important role in ensuring that no harmful toxins, chemicals, bacteria or other foreign contaminants make their way into your body. However, just because there are no gaping wounds doesn't mean that your skin doesn't require constant support to help fend off the bacterial onslaught it faces on a daily basis.
If your skin is not properly hydrated then individual skin cells may begin to die and flake. Dry skin is more likely to become irritated, which could cause it to become much easier to rip, tear or develop into a rash. By using an aloe vera-based gel or cream, you may be able to ensure that your skin remains hydrated and clean at all times, especially in delicate or vulnerable areas, such as around the face and eyes.
Aloe vera is a fantastic source of vitamins C and E, which are renowned for their ability to help protect your body against potential harm from free radical molecules.
Free radicals are different to other molecules because they possess an uneven number of electrons. Electrons are usually paired and play an integral role in ensuring that molecules are structurally stable. When free radical molecules interact with your skin cells, they may try and steal electrons in order to form a stable pair. The damage caused by this process, called oxidative stress, has the potential to rupture or impact skin cells, which could contribute to a weakened immune system.
A 2003 study conducted in China looked to analyse the antioxidant properties of different aged specimens of aloe vera extract against other plant-based compounds like Butylated Hydrotoluene (BHT), an organic compound with antioxidant properties, and α-tocopherol, a component of vitamin E. The study concluded that “all the aloe extracts showed significant antioxidant activity” and that “the three-year-old extract exhibited the strongest radical scavenging activity.”
There are a variety of different aloe vera skin creams available that might be able to help protect your skin from free radical molecules. However, for the best possible results, you might want to consider looking for specific creams that have been fortified with additional vitamin E, which might help to improve the potency and efficiency of the cream or gel.
Treatment for Spots and Acne
Acne is a skin disease that is caused when pores on your body become clogged with dead cells, toxins and/or bacteria. These areas can begin to exhibit symptoms like blackheads, whiteheads, spots and even oily skin.
Aloe vera, given its anti-microbial properties, is often used as a facial herbal remedy to help heal blemishes and scars that may be created as a result of acne. Aloe vera is a rich natural source of vitamin C, which can help with the production of collagen, an important protein that can be found in the skin and other connective tissues. Collagen helps to ensure that skin cells remain supple, firm and strong, which, if you're looking to help combat spots and acne, may be a beneficial addition to your skincare treatment.
An experiment in 2004 looked to study the effects of aloe vera gel and essential oils on acne. 84 undergraduate university students with acne were used as the sample and were separated into seven different groups, each one being treated with a different solution, which was applied twice a day after washing in the morning and evening. The number of lesions were counted at the beginning of test, and then daily throughout the four week duration of the study.
The results of the study indicated that “the efficacy of the Ocimum oil lotion products increased with increasing aloe gel contents. Products formulated with the undiluted or 50% aloe gels were most active and resolved inflammatory lesions faster than the standard product.”
This final potential benefit aloe vera may provide includes much of the same science as the previously discussed topic. Aloe vera may be able to help promote the production of collagen to help keep skin healthy. Without sufficient collagen you may begin to see your skin sag, wrinkle and age faster.
Aloe vera skin creams, gels and supplements might be able to help counter these different dermal issues because of the diverse nutritional content they possess. Like we talked about earlier, vitamin C in particular is known to play a role in collagen production, so increasing your intake of this nutrient through the use or ingestion of aloe vera products or supplements may be an ideal solution to help boost anti-ageing efforts.
Thankfully, there is a wide range of different pharmaceutical and beauty products available that may be able to help. When looking for the ideal option for you, try to find alcohol-free varieties with a high percentage of aloe vera extract, because they may be more likely to offer better results.
You can also synchronise these products with your diet by including foods like tomatoes, avocados and nuts in an effort to maximise your intake of helpful vitamins, minerals and nutrients that may further promote anti-ageing efforts to benefit your skin.
From the different benefits we've discussed throughout this article, it should be clear to see that the reputation of aloe vera has been established across centuries of verified use. There are hundreds of different applications for the plethora of nutrients contained within aloe vera, many of which could be the next great addition to help revolutionise your daily skincare routine. All that's left now is to find the perfect one for you and your health.