You probably know that aloe vera soothes a sunburn, but did you know you can also use it for acne and psoriasis?
Every kitchen should have a potted aloe vera plant on the windowsill. Aloe vera has been used medicinally since prehistoric times. Today the clear gel inside aloe vera leaves is among the most popular herbal remedies for sunburns, minor wounds, and other skin problems. It’s even been used for hemorrhoids and insect bites because it’s rich in anti-inflammatory substances and the gel forms a cool, soothing coating on itchy, irritated tissues.
What’s it good for?
• Age Spots
• Athlete’s Foot
• Canker Sores
• Dry Hair
• Dry Skin
• Heat Rash
• Razor Burn
Aloe vera enthusiasts swear that the gel—or a juice that contains a high concentration of aloe vera—can be taken internally as a treatment for arthritis, diabetes, ulcers, and serious infections such as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.You have to take these claims with a grain of salt. Researchers are studying internal uses for aloe vera, but nothing is conclusive yet. One thing is certain: Aloe vera is one of the best skin remedies you’ll ever use.
Powerful Skin Healer: Scientists aren’t entirely sure how aloe vera works, but they have identified many of its active components. The gel contains gummy substances that are nature’s soothing emollients. It’s rich in anti-inflammatory compounds as well as bradykininase, a chemical that acts as a topical painkiller. The magnesium lactate in aloe vera quells itching, and the gel contains substances that promote healing by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to injured areas.
Aloe vera is helpful for a variety of skin conditions, including:
• Minor burns: A quick application of aloe vera gel reduces pain, moistens the skin, and keeps germs and air out. It soothes the pain of sunburn as well. To relieve the pain of an all-over sunburn, add a cup or two of aloe vera juice to a tub of lukewarm water and take a soothing soak.
• Cuts and scrapes: Aloe vera gel dries to form a natural bandage over skin and speed healing. However, it’s not a good choice for serious wounds. Researchers at a Los Angeles hospital found that the gel actually increased the time it took such wounds to heal.
• Psoriasis: The gel quells inflammation and softens the itchy skin scales that characterize this chronic skin condition. A four-week study found an 83 percent rate of skin clearing in those who used aloe vera, compared to only 6 percent of those using an inactive cream.
• Acne: Apply aloe vera when you have a painful outbreak. One study found that 90 percent of skin sores were completely healed with aloe vera within five days—nearly twice the success rate of those using standard medical creams.
• Shingles: Painful sores caused by the herpes virus heal more quickly when aloe vera is applied to the skin. The gel appears to have some antiviral effects. And aloe vera dilates tiny blood vessels called capillaries, allowing more blood to reach the area and thereby speeding healing.
The Inside Story
Doctors are unanimous that aloe vera gel is helpful for minor skin ailments, but what about taking the gel or juice internally? Nothing is certain yet, but a number of studies suggest some intriguing possibilities. For example, a scientific study found that volunteers who took aloe vera juice
twice daily for up to 42 days had significant reductions in blood sugar, suggesting that it’s potentially helpful for treating diabetes. Japanese researchers report that the active ingredients in aloe vera inhibit stomach secretions and sores, giving credence to aloe vera’s reputation as an ulcer remedy.
In fact, two of the active chemical compounds in aloe vera appear to inhibit or destroy H. pylori, the bacterium that causes most ulcers.
Finally, a chemical compound called acemannan, found in the outer skin of aloe vera, has potent antiviral activity. It was the preliminary results from clinical studies of acemannan that made researchers wonder whether it can cause a significant reduction in AIDS symptoms. But much more work must be done before they determine whether it helps prevent some declines in immune function.
Aloe is a very effective—too effective, really—laxative. Aloe latex, which is extracted from the leaf’s rind, is classified as a stimulant laxative. It stimulates intestinal contractions that promote bowel movements. As with other stimulant laxatives, however, doctors rarely recommend it. It can cause severe cramping or diarrhea, along with fluid loss and reductions of vital electrolytes, minerals that play critical roles in the body.
How to Use Aloe Vera
You can buy skin-care products with aloe vera at supermarkets and pharmacies, but it’s not entirely clear that the “stabilized” form of aloe vera in these products has the same beneficial effects as the natural gel. If you do buy prepared creams or lotions, make sure that aloe vera is listed near the top of the ingredient list. For internal use, buy juices that contain at least 98% aloe vera. To get the full benefits of aloe vera, there’s no substitute for the real thing. The plant is very easy to grow. Even if you have a brown thumb, aloe vera thrives with little water and can tolerate shade and poor soil.
To soothe sunburn, cuts, and minor burns, clean the area thoroughly with soap and water. Then cut several inches off a large leaf, slice it lengthwise, and squeeze out the gel. Apply a generous coating to the injured area, and repeat the treatment two or three times daily.