What is Aloe Vera?

Daniel Judd Bsc MBiol
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What is Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera is a species of plant with large, sap filled leaves. The sap in these leaves, also known as aloe vera gel, is a common ingredient in a number of products. It can either be used as the pure gel straight from the leaf or as an extract. There are many claims about what the gel can do, these include working as a moisturiser, healing damaged or sunburnt skin or more severe wounds, anti-inflammatory action, treating psoriasis and clearing up, but not curing, genital herpes outbreaks. It is also used in food and drink and has a history of use in herbal medicine dating back as far as 3,000 years ago.

Aloe Vera, ingredients, Harley Street Emporium

How does it work?

Of the claims listed above, there isn’t much in the way of convincing evidence that Aloe Vera can actually do many of these things. Some people find it soothing and effective for sunburn and healing minor wounds.  A study looking at using aloe vera clearing up acne wounds found that it caused faster healing of the skin but it only looked at 17 patients, far too small a number to give reliable results.

Other studies have given some evidence to the use of a cream containing 0.5% aloe vera extract to help with skin conditions like psoriasis and genital herpes outbreaks. In both cases the cream helped heal the damaged skin faster than a placebo, although it should be noted with genital herpes that clearing an outbreak does not cure the infection.
As a moisturiser, aloe vera gel is naturally 98% water implying it should be hydrating. However, aloe vera gel on its own does not act as a humectant, meaning it doesn’t increase the skin’s water holding capacity so the water will not be retained when applied without other ingredients mixed in.

 

Safety/Contraindications

Side effects:
Generally topical aloe vera application is considered safe but has been shown to cause allergic reactions, itching and burning in some users.

Interactions with other medicines:
Topical aloe vera is not thought to have any interactions with medicine.

 

Some other names it goes by:

Acemannan, Aloe africana, Aloe arborescens Miller, Aloe barbadensis, Aloe barbadesis, Aloe capensis, aloe-coated gloves, Aloe Ferox, Aloe Gel, Aloe Latex, Aloe Leaf Gel, Aloe mucilage, Aloe natalenis, Aloe Perfoliata, Aloe Perryi Baker, Aloe saponaria, Aloe spicata, Aloe Vera, Aloe vulgari, Aloe Vera Barbenoids, Aloe Vera Gel, Aloes, Arborescens natalenis, Barbados Aloe, bitter aloe, Burn Plant, Cape Aloe, Carrisyn Curacao aloe, Chritkumari, Curacao Aloe, Elephant’s Gall, first-aid plant, Ghai kunwar, Ghee-Kunwar, Ghikumar, Ghi-Kuvar, Ghrita-Kumari, Gvar Patha, hirukattali, Hsiang-Dan, Indian Aloe, Jafarabad Aloe, jelly leek, Kanya, Kumari, lahoi, laloi, Lily of the Desert, Lu-Hui, medicine plant, Mediterranean aloe, Miracle Plant, mocha aloes, mussabar, natal aloes, nohwa, Plant of Immortality, plant of life, rokai, sabilla, Savila, Socotrine aloe, subr, true aloe, Venezuela aloe, Za’bila, Zanzibar aloe.

Read more on Cancer Research UK web site.

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