Medical uses of aloe vera
Aloe vera plants have long, thick, triangular leaves and are relatively easy to grow. The thickest outer layer is the peel; the middle layer is the bitter yellow juice; and the center is a gel that can be applied directly to the skin.
In traditional and folk medicine, aloe vera has been used internally and externally to treat a variety of unrelated ailments. Today, aloe vera supplements, juices, and skin and hair care products are considered to have therapeutic properties.
Here's what some current research says about the benefits of aloe vera for skin health.
Skin wounds and conditions
Aloe vera gel applied to the skin is thought to treat, prevent, or relieve many conditions, including:
- surgical wound
- skin ulcers
- Oral ulcers
- cold sores
- genital herpes
In existing research, there is evidence that aloe vera gel is well suited for use as a wound dressing. It can promote the healing of burn wounds better than Vaseline gauze or 1% silver sulfadiazine ointment.
There is insufficient evidence to support its effectiveness in supporting recovery from thermal burns and possibly UV radiation, but the research is outdated and has not been repeated.
Similar to the results with wound dressings, surgical wounds treated with aloe vera gel not only promote healing but also help relieve incision pain.
Some studies show that aloe vera can lighten dark spots (also called hyperpigmentation) on the skin after four to five weeks of treatment. However, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness, optimal formulation, and appropriate concentration of aloe vera.
Laboratory studies show that aloe vera does this by accelerating the growth of new skin cells, including protective keratinocytes, and strengthening fibroblasts. 9 Additionally, the gel appears to have potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Even so, research results are inconsistent, with some studies showing no improvement or even delays in wound healing.
A 2020 review of 40 studies concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend aloe vera as an effective treatment for psoriasis, acne, or eczema.
There is also no evidence that aloe vera can speed the healing of cold sores or genital herpes, both of which are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Can Aloe Vera Anti-Aging?
In addition to increasing skin cell turnover, aloe vera gel contains antioxidants and UV protective compounds that may prevent long-term skin damage and photoaging.Therefore, aloe vera may be beneficial to your skin care routine, with some studies showing that aloe vera can significantly reduce wrinkles and dryness on the face.
Other possible benefits
- Relieves heartburn, burping, and reflux in GERD
- Improve constipation
- Lower blood sugar in diabetics
- Improve triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels in patients with diabetes
- Fight tooth decay
However, research results are often mixed and the evidence is limited.
In 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned laxative manufacturers from adding aloe vera to their over-the-counter products because of a lack of evidence to support its safety.
aloe vera side effects on face
Side effects of applying aloe vera to the skin (topically) are uncommon. Even in oral form, the plant is generally well tolerated. This is especially true for topical and oral aloe vera preparations that have had the latex removed.
Common side effects
Skin irritation is possible as a side effect when using aloe vera topically, but is uncommon. Aloe vera can also cause allergies and hives, especially in people allergic to other plants in the Liliaceae family, such as onions, garlic, and tulips.
If you develop itching, swelling, rash, or hives, you may be sensitive to the gel and should stop use immediately. Aloe vera gel should not be used on infected skin.
Common side effects of taking aloe vera by mouth include:
- stomach cramps
serious side effects
The risk of side effects may vary depending on the aloe vera formula. Aloe vera gel and juice appear to cause fewer reactions than whole-leaf aloe vera extract and aloe vera latex found in some oral supplements. Overall, overusing aloe vera can cause problems.
When taken in higher doses, aloe vera may cause:
- Drug-Induced Hepatitis : Risks vary, but liver toxicity usually occurs with long-term use of aloe vera oral supplements over a period of months or years.
- Acute Renal Failure : Long-term use of aloe vera latex at doses exceeding 1 gram per day may cause kidney damage. Some cases of kidney failure caused by aloe vera are fatal.
Aloe vera and cancer risk
Aloe vera whole leaf extract has shown clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in rats and has been classified as a possible human carcinogen (Group 2B) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. So far, human studies show a trend toward increased risk of colorectal cancer, but more research is needed.
How to apply aloe vera to your face
- Use clean hands to snip off a leaf near the base of the plant.
- Place cut side down in a glass and let the latex drain for about 10 minutes, then discard.
- Remove the leaf spines and use a vegetable peeler to remove the clear gel inside.
- Scoop out the gel and store it in a clean, sealable container in the refrigerator.
- Keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.
- Place a small amount of gel on your fingertips and gently work it into the skin in a circular motion.
- If using as a face wash, rinse with cold water and pat skin dry.
- If using as a facial moisturizer or for other skin conditions, lightly apply a thin layer of aloe vera gel to skin and allow to dry.
Taking aloe vera by mouth may interact with certain medications. In some cases, it increases the concentration of the drug in the blood (and the risk of side effects), and in other cases, it decreases the concentration of the drug in the blood (and the drug's effectiveness).
If you take any of the following medications, talk to your healthcare provider before taking aloe vera by mouth:
- Diabetes medications, including insulin and Glucophage (metformin)
- Diuretics ("water pills"), such as Lasix (furosemide)
- Heart rhythm medications, such as Lanoxin (digoxin)
- Anticoagulants ("blood thinners"), such as aspirin and coumadin (warfarin)
Stimulant laxatives should be used with extreme caution during pregnancy and only for short-term relief of constipation. Similar precautions should be taken due to the stimulant laxative properties of aloe latex and whole-leaf aloe vera extract. Overuse of stimulant laxatives can cause uterine contractions, increasing the risk of miscarriage or premature birth.
Aloe vera (either in gel or latex form) may not be safe to take orally during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
There are no recommended dosages for any form of aloe vera.
Aloe vera products for skin use can range in concentration from as low as 0.5% to over 99%. There is no evidence that lower concentrations are less effective than higher concentrations. As a rule of thumb, start with the lowest dose possible and gradually increase if necessary, never exceeding the manufacturer's recommended dose.
Oral preparations of aloe vera include capsules, extracts, powders and juices. To be on the safe side, follow the manufacturer's dosage instructions, especially for aloe vera latex and whole leaf extract supplements.
Preparation and selection
Pure aloe vera gel contains therapeutic amino acids, fiber, lipids, sterols and vitamins. The gel from the plant is safe to eat, but store-bought aloe vera gel should only be used topically because it's not known whether it's safe to eat.
Aloe vera products include topical gels, juices, and oral capsules. They are approved for use in cosmetics or dietary supplements but are not intended to treat any medical condition. They are also not tested for quality or safety.
Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, which means the FDA does not approve a product's safety and effectiveness before it is marketed. If possible, choose supplements that have been tested by a trusted third party.
However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that does not mean they are safe for everyone or effective overall. Therefore, it is important to discuss any supplements you plan to take with your healthcare provider and check for potential interactions with other supplements or medications you take.
Since few aloe vera supplements are certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or similar certification body, stick to well-known brands with established market positions.
It is important to read the ingredient list and nutrition facts list of a supplement carefully to understand which ingredients are included and the amount of each ingredient. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.
People have used aloe vera for medicinal purposes for centuries. Today, it remains an alternative medicine option, but research supporting its health benefits is limited.
Its most common use is when it is applied to the skin to aid in the healing of burns and wounds. Additionally, evidence supporting aloe vera's ability to improve other health conditions is limited, but more research is needed.
Finally, aloe vera latex (also found in unbleached whole leaf extract) has laxative properties. However, latex also produces more side effects than aloe vera gel. Consult your healthcare provider before using this product or starting a new nutritional supplement.