Known as the ‘burn plant’ and ‘healing plant,’ aloe vera has been used medicinally for as long as recorded history; records of this prized plant exist on Sumerian clay tablets from as early as 2200 BC. The cosmetic and medical benefits of aloe vera were also utilized by the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greek, Rome and Arabia. The legendary Egyptian queens Nerfertiti and Cleopatra are recorded to have anointed their skin with aloe vera gel as part of their regular beauty regiments. It may have even determined a small part of history: according to some accounts, Alexander the Great was persuaded by his mentor, Aristotle, to capture the Island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean for its renowned aloe vera plant supplies to treat the wounds of his soldiers.
A member of the lily and onion family, the long, spiky leaves of the aloe vera plant resemble more of a cactus than a gentle healing plant. Of over 240 species of aloe, only four have significant nutritional value. The plant aloe barbadensis miller is the most potent and the type of aloe that is primarily used in commercial aloe products. Like the olive tree, the aloe vera plant improves with age; mature plants provide the most health benefits. Aloe vera means ‘true aloe’ and the word aloe stems from the Arabic word “aloeh” or “bitter” as the leaves also contain a bitter liquid.
Body Balm: Aloe Vera Uses
Aloe vera contains over 75 nutrients and 200 active compounds including 20 minerals, 18 amino acids and 12 vitamins. Some of its healing and beauty-enhancing ingredients include calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and polysaccharides. High quality aloe vera products use only the nutritious inner gel not the protective outer rind; “whole leaf” products are therefore misleading. Pure aloe vera gel is the leaf mucilage or pulp, a thin clear jelly-like substance obtained from the tissue that makes up the inner portions of the leaves.
Topical uses of aloe gel include the treatment of wounds, minor skin burns, boils and abrasions. In addition to its rich store of nutrients, aloe gel also contains a high percentage of water which helps hydrate and soften dry skin. A diverse skin healer, aloe vera is good for scars, acne, eczema, psoriaris, and sores. It provides immediate relief and healing for itchy skin, insect bites and stings, poison ivy rashes, sunburns and cuts.
Aloe vera has both an anti-bacterial response and anti-inflammation response resulting in softer, less itchy skin and reduced infection. Some studies have shown aloe vera to also reduce edema (inflamed sites of swelling). It is effective on many patients with urticaria (itchy skin) and acne rosacea where facial skin is constantly red with bumpy pustule formation. Its anti-fungal effects make it useful in treating skin funguses such as athlete’s foot.
As a beauty-enhancer aloe vera quenches dry skin and smoothes rough skin. Its nutrients are absorbed deep into the skin and stimulate skin cells to replicate themselves faster, producing collagen and elastin, making the skin more elastic and keeping wrinkles at bay.
Using aloe vera gives skin a more silky texture because of its cohesive effect on dead, flaking skin cells by sticking them together and increasing exfoliation of the skin. It also possesses the ability to interfere with enzymes that produce melanin or pigment deposits in the skin. This prevents the formation of liver or darkened spots that form in aging or sun damaged skin.