Aloe Vera in Skin Care - Benefits and Uses
By Cynthia Bailey MD.
Aloe vera in skin care is an ingredient familiar to most of us. Do you know what Aloe vera is, and why it is so highly valued as a natural remedy?
What is Aloe vera?
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that grows wild in tropical climates. There are a number of varieties. Aloe barbadensis miller is the botanical name of the variety that is cultivated for medicinal purposes. It is in the Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae) family.
The Aloe vera plant grows like a rosette and there are no stems. The leaves grow out from the center of the plant's base. They are thick and knife-like in shape. Inside the tough outer gray green skin of an Aloe leaf there is a clear gel-like flesh. This flesh is 99% water. The other 1% contains the valued medicinal components of Aloe. The skin and flesh are separated by a yellow sap that is foul smelling, sticky and a mess (yes, I grow Aloe in my garden).
Record of Aloe being used medicinally dates back to 16th century BC in Egypt. It was a regular part of the beauty routines of Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra, and it has been used for many centuries in diverse cultures such as China, India, Mexico and others (1).
What are the ingredients in Aloe vera that can benefit skin?
- Vitamins: A (beta-carotene), C and E, which are all antioxidants. Also, B12, folic acid, choline.
- Enzymes: there are 8 including bradykinase which helps reduce inflammation on skin.
- Minerals which function in various enzyme systems and metabolic pathways and/or are antioxidants. Zinc helps tighten pores.
- Sugars including ones with antiallergic and anti-inflammatory functions, and mucopolysaccharides that help bind water to skin.
- Anthraquinones which have some antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Fatty acids including plant steroids that have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and analgesic properties.
- Hormones: auxins and gibberellins that help wound healing and have anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Other components including amino acids, salicylic acid (anti-inflammatory and antibacterial), penetration enhancers and saponins that are soapy and have cleansing and antiseptic properties.
The benefits of aloe vera for skin care.
Why does Aloe vera help moisturize skin?
The sugars in Aloe help to bind water. Aloe also reduces superficial skin flaking and softens skin by boosting epidermal cell cohesion.
Clinical uses of Aloe vera on skin.
There is some scientific evidence for the following uses, though they are not proven by rigorous study:
- Seborrheic dermatitis,
- Genital herpes
- Skin burns (including sun burns),
- Wound healing and,
- Acne vulgaris.
Interestingly, Aloe vera gel has been used medicinally, and as a home remedy, to treat skin problems for centuries. Scientific study has not supported many of the folk remedy claims until more recently. I’ve been interested in Aloe since the mid-1980s when I began my dermatology training in San Diego. Many of my patients had Aloe vera plants at home and used them as a cure-all. Because of this, I did a scientific literature search out of curiosity, and at that time, I could only find concrete evidence for Aloe's efficacy in helping to heal burn wounds. Since then, science has caught up a bit more with folk medicine, and there are more scientific studies showing that Aloe helps heal a number of skin conditions. These skin problems include wounds, burns and inflammatory rashes, and possibly even in reducing skin sun damage. How and why this popular ingredient might work is still uncertain, however.
Aloe vera is a popular ingredient in skin care, and ‘fake’ aloe vera products are common.
Bloomberg News did an investigative journalism report in 2016 and found that a number of credible merchants were selling Aloe gel that actually contained no real Aloe!
They noted that Aloe vera gel products are a growing big business with over $146 million in sales last year and growing by 11% annually. Bloomberg hired a lab to test for Aloe in the most popular, mass produced Aloe vera gel products — including those sold by Wal-Mart, Target and CVS. Their investigation uncovered that a number of products sold contained no Aloe. A quote from the article says,
Jeff Barrie, a Keene, New Hampshire-based sales manager at AloeCorp, one of the biggest suppliers of raw aloe powder, said he’s seen competitors beat his lowest prices by half. That means they’re not selling aloe, he said. Aloe powder can cost as much as $240 a kilogram, he said, while the same amount of maltodextrin (used to imitate aloe) can cost a few dollars.
Making just 1 kilogram of aloe powder, the ingredient used in finished goods like gels and drinks, requires 400 kilos (882 pounds) of aloe leaves, Barrie said. The process involves removing rinds from the leaves and dehydrating the remaining aloe into a powder form.
“Aloe is all harvested by hand,” Barrie said. “It’s an involved process and it’s not cheap.”
Real Aloe vera is profitable, popular, useful and difficult to produce. I know because I grow it in my garden, and I use fresh Aloe at home.
Dermatologist recommended products made with real Aloe vera
I am a fan of Aloe and I am a fan of quality ingredients. We use Aloe in place of water to add moisturizing and soothing properties to 3 of our highly effective moisturizers. I feel that the Aloe enhances the hydrating properties of these 3 products, allowing them to work really well without an oily or heavy feel on the skin.
- Amar Surjushe, Resham Vasani, and D G Saple , Aloe Vera: A Short Review, Indian J Dermatol. 2008; 53(4): 163–166.doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.44785PMCID: PMC2763764
- Mariko Moriyama,, Hiroyuki Moriyama, Junki Uda, Hirokazu Kubo, Yuka Nakajima, Arisa Goto, Junji Akaki, Ikuyo Yoshida, Nobuya Matsuoka, and Takao Hayakawa , Beneficial Effects of the Genus Aloe on Wound Healing, Cell Proliferation, and Differentiation of Epidermal Keratinocytes, PLoS One. 2016; 11(10): e0164799.. Published online 2016 Oct 13.
- Takzaree N, Hadjiakhondi A, Hassanzadeh G, Rouini MR3, Manayi A, Zolbin MM.,Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) activation in cutaneous wounds after topical application of aloe vera gel. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2016 Dec;94(12):1285-1290. Epub 2016 Jul 14.
- Rodrigues D, Viotto AC, Checchia R, Gomide A, Severino D, Itri R, Baptista MS, Martins WK.,Mechanism of Aloe Vera extract protection against UVA: shelter of lysosomal membrane avoids photodamage. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2016 Mar;15(3):334-50. doi: 10.1039/c5pp00409h.
- Finberg MJ, Muntingh GL, van Rensburg CE.,A comparison of the leaf gel extracts of Aloe ferox and Aloe vera in the topical treatment of atopic dermatitis in Balb/c mice. Inflammopharmacology. 2015 Dec;23(6):337-41. doi: 10.1007/s10787-015-0251-2