Given the sustained spike in houseplant ownership over the past few years, chances are, you’re the proud owner of some very Instagrammable succulents.
But know that aside from looking dazzling on your desk, some of these tiny plants are powerhouses when it comes to your beauty routine. One standout in particular? Aloe vera.
Native to North Africa and Southern Europe, this spiky lad is now one of the most studied plants on the planet, with research showing that it has the ability to reduce skin inflammation from sunburn to psoriasis.
So what exactly is aloe vera?
'A perennial succulent of the lily family, aloe vera is a thick, short-stemmed shrub with triangular, fleshy leaves composed of three layers; one of which contains the slimy, water-filled gel that we typically associate with aloe vera products such as after sun,' explains Dr Ward.
'It’s also the main part of the plant that ends up typically in all skincare products. This gel is mostly made up of water (as much as 99%) which is why, once it evaporates on the skin, you feel a cooling effect,' she adds.
'The remaining 1% contains a huge amount of nutrients that are amazing for the skin. These include vitamins A, C and E (which are antioxidants), vitamin B12, folic acid, enzymes, fatty acids and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.'
'It's commonly known to treat sunburns topically', says nutritionist Mays Al-Ali. 'But drinking this healthy elixir in juice, smoothie or shake form provides you with a number of other health benefits.'
What is aloe vera good for?
Aloe vera can share its benefits in various forms, including juices, powders, gels, creams, supplements – and even mouth wash.
Aloe vera benefits for body, skin and hair
1. Speeds up the healing process of burns
Probably most commonly linked to soothing skin after sun exposure, aloe vera is recommended as a topical medication for all types of burns.
2. Kills germs
Known for its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, aloe vera has been shown in studies to inhibit the growth of some bacterias that can cause harm to humans.
3. Reduces wrinkles
Research has shown that aloe vera gel applied to the skin can have an effect on wrinkles and collagen production, according to a study on 30 women over 45 years old.
Al-Ali says: 'The antioxidants and vitamins have also been shown to neutralise the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, repairing your skin from existing UV damage and helping prevent fine lines.'
Another study found baby aloe vera may protect against sun-related ageing.
4. Improves acne
It makes sense that aloe vera would improve acne, due to its antibacterial properties, but it’s also been shown to enhance the properties of Ocimum oil as well as benefit alongside traditional treatment.
'Hydrating aloe vera juice may help reduce the frequency and appearance of acne', explains Al-Ali.
5. Soothes skin
'Aloe vera is loaded with phytosterols which help to soothe itchiness and irritation,' says Dr Ward.
6. Prevents water loss in your skin
'It gives protection to prevent TEWL (trans-epidermal water loss) - so it’s ideal if you tend to suffer from dryness and dehydration,' says Dr Ward.
7. Helps psoriasis
Studies on humans have suggested aloe vera may help with skin condition psoriasis when used in combination with propolis, a compound produced by bees.
8. Thought to help with hair growth
Though there's no solid evidence to support the claims that aloe vera supports hair growth, many of the deficiencies that lead to unhealthy hair or loss could be benefited by the herb’s multiple nutrients and minerals.
'Aloe vera contains several enzymes known to help in the breakdown of sugars and fats and to keep your digestion running smoothly, so it may help decrease irritation in the stomach and intestines as well as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other inflammatory disorders of the intestines such as ulcerative colitis', says Al-Ali.
9. Improves symptoms of diabetes
Aloe vera gel and juice has been shown to successfully reduce blood sugar levels in human studies, which causes insulin resistance in people with type two diabetes.
'In human and animal studies, aloe vera gel helped reduce blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity', says Al-Ali. 'It's also been shown to reduce body fat and improve insulin sensitivity by activating AMP-activated muscle protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme responsible for glucose and fat metabolism'.
10. Balances acidity
Due to its alkaline properties, aloe vera can help to reduce acidity and balance the pH in the body, improving symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux — particularly in juice form.
Al-Ali explains: 'The compounds present in aloe vera juice help control secretion of acid in your stomach which may give relief from heartburn and combat gastric ulcers, preventing them from getting larger'.
11. Increases hydration
Aloe vera helps to keep the body in sufficient moisture, which allows for the smooth runnings of the detoxification processes that happen in the liver and kidneys.
12. Source of B12
Aloe vera is one of the only vegan sources of B12, a vitamin that is essential for our production of red blood cells and DNA, and is mostly found in meat.
13. Helps IBS
Though more research needs to be done, it looks as if aloe vera can help with inflammation in the bowel, suggesting it may be useful as a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.
14. Improves periodontal health
Aloe vera juice has been shown to reduce plaque when used in the place of a mouthwash in multiple studies.
15. Protects from cavities
Another area of mouth decay, it’s proven to fight cavities as effectively as leading toothpastes — especially recommended for those with sensitive teeth due to the gentle nature of aloe latex, which contains anti-inflammatory anthraquinone.
16. Speeds up the healing and reduces pain of mouth ulcers
When applied topically, aloe vera has shown to reduce the size, discomfort and inflammation of an ulcer.
How to use aloe vera on your face
There are heaps of aloe vera-laced products that can be used on your face, but what precisely is the best way to go about this? 'Always follow the guidelines of any skincare products you’re using that contain aloe vera. As a rule, if you’re using it to treat a mild sunburn, you can apply the pure form of the gel (or look for a product that lists Aloe Vera as its main ingredient) up to three times a day to help it heal faster and soothe the skin,' says Dr Ward.
'If you want to try it more for its hydrating and anti-bacterial effects, it’s best blended with other beneficial skincare ingredients,' she adds.
7 best aloe vera products
1. Best aloe vera gel
Brimming with 90% pure, organic aloe vera juice as well as conditioning purslane and panthenol, this soothing gel tackles irritation and caused by shaving, epilation or sunbathing.
2. Best aloe vera day cream
This body shop hero is enriched with Community Fair Trade aloe vera from Mexico and is the perfect antidote for dry parched skin.
3. Best aloe vera body butter
This vegan hero contains the purest organic bioactive aloe vera, to ensure that the plant’s beneficial polysaccharides are maximised in order to help moisturise the skin on your body. Plus, at only a fiver, it's a steal.
4. Best aloe vera serum
Packed with Waiwera water, aloe vera, mamaku black fern and raspberry oil, the combination improves the skin all fronts, helping to brighten, hydrate and reduce redness.
5. Best aloe vera mist
Privy to skin flair-ups post-workout or during the 2pm slump? Keep this mist handy. It blends aloe vera extract with Green Tea Leaf Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Grapeseed Oil, and Grape Seed Extract to calm and hydrate sensitised skin.
6. Best aloe vera juice
Made from the highest organic grade, sustainably cultivated aloe vera, this clever bottle of juice is guaranteed to contain 1000mg/litre of aloeverose polysaccharides. There is also no bitter outer rind or synthetic preservatives for natural taste.
7. Best aloe vera supplement
Grown in tropical locations including South Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Nature's Garden supplements contains 100mg of concentrated Aloe Vera extract to help support healthy digestion.
7 Things to knoe about aloe vera juice
What are aloe vera juice side effects?
Though there doesn’t seem to be negative reactions from consuming the purified, decolourised juice, there has been some noted from unpurified, colourised juice, including diarrhea and cramping. Check the label for terms like ‘pure’, ‘decolourised’, ‘100 percent aloe vera’, ‘organic’ and ‘safety tested’ — and make sure it hasn’t had sugar added.
It’s also be known to react with some drugs, including medications with substrate of Cytochrome P450 3A4 and CYP2D6, and sevoflurane, so avoid if you’re taking these or speak to a medical professional.
Also, avoid if you have hemorrhoids, kidney conditions, a renal disorder, a cardiac condition, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, intestinal obstruction or diabetes.
What are the benefits of drinking aloe vera juice first thing in the morning?
It’s thought it flushes out toxins, which can aid digestion and clean the systems in the body when consumed first thing. It can be added to smoothies or drunk on its own.
Is it good to drink aloe vera juice every day?
You can safely drink up to eight ounces of aloe vera juice per day, which amounts to a tablespoon one to three times a day, to benefit from its health-boosting properties.
What are the benefits of aloe vera on the face overnight?
Though it’s best to check a small patch first to ensure skin doesn’t react badly to the gel, it’s shown to increase collagen and reduce wrinkles in skin when applied topically. It’s also included in many beauty and self-care products, if you’d prefer to avoid the pure gel.
What’s the effect of aloe vera juice on the kidneys?
It’s important to distinguish between the gel or juice — which is clear and inside the leaf — in the aloe vera plant and the latex — which is yellow and comes from under the skin — as the latter can lead to kidney failure.
Some products are made by crushing the whole plant, including the latex, so it’s worth speaking to a medical professional before taking or using products.
Does aloe vera have benefits for weight loss?
In short, no — and not safely. It has laxative effects, but that shouldn’t be utilised for dropping pounds.
Can we eat aloe vera?
Aloe vera is edible as long as it’s washed thoroughly and all traces of latex, which is the yellow substance that’s damaging to the kidneys, are removed.
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