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What are the benefits of using Aloe Vera gel for skin and hair?

aloe vera leaf

What are the benefits of using Aloe Vera gel for skin and hair? According to ancient Egyptians, Aloe Vera was the ‘plant of immortality’ and is purported to have been used by Nefertiti and Cleopatra more than 2,000 years ago as part of their beauty regimes. The Aloe Vera plant is a herb with succulent leaves, and it is the gel inside these leaves that is so commonly used in health and beauty products. And no wonder, it is a treasure trove of health with 75 active ingredients identified, including vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, A (β-carotene), choline, folic acid, and α-tocopherol.

So what are the health benefits of using Aloe Vera for skin? You have probably heard that Aloe Vera is particularly well known for its ability to provide soothing relief and healing of sunburn or chafed skin, but it also helps hydrate the skin and can provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits as well. Being a plant that thrives in a desert environment, it has unique ways of locking in the water content it needs to survive. As a result, the innermost layer of its leaves are rich in water, which help hydrate the skin and lock in moisture. The gel also contains sugars (mucopolysaccharides) that also act in a way to retain moisture in the skin.

The soothing relief from sunburn and chafing is in large part due to the fact that Aloe Vera contains a compound called glucomannan. Glucomannan aids in wound and sunburn healing by a combination of improving the production of collagen along with the additional beneficial effects of the gel’s vitamin C and vitamin E content. And when you apply it to a sunburn, the soothing effect you feel is likely a result of its carboxypeptidase content, which is a pain reliever.

Natural antiseptic agents are also found in the gel, making it an effective aid in infection prevention and also help with irritations like insect bites to heal more quickly and reduce the swelling and itching that they cause. Aloe Vera gel is also effective for breakouts of acne because of its salicylic acid content – a widely used combatant against acne (in fact, a clinical trial investigated the use of the popular acne treatment tretinoin (a topical retinoid) by itself and when combined with Aloe Vera gel. The combination of the two was found to be significantly more effective than tretinoin by itself).

Although it cannot stop the signs of ageing in our skin, Aloe Vera may help slow it down as a result of its lengthy list of active ingredients.  It can boost collagen production and elastin fibers that make the skin appear less wrinkled, while the zinc contained in the gel can act as an astringent to tighten pores. The antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E also help prevent the formation of free radicals and the damaging effects they can have on your skin.

So what are the health benefits of using Aloe Vera for my hair and scalp? Since your scalp is nothing more than a hair-covered extension of your skin, many of the benefits are the same as for your skin. An itchy scalp caused by dandruff can be relieved by Aloe Vera due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It can also help strengthen your hair because of its fatty and amino acids content and wealth of vitamins such as A, B12, C, and E that all play a role in the development of healthy hair follicles. And if you are prone to greasy hair, there is more good news. Aloe Vera contains enzymes that are able to break down fats, stripping your hair of extra oil or sebum.

How about hair growth? Can it help with that? This topic is a bit more up for debate. There is little sound scientific evidence to suggest that it does, but you will see all kinds of articles on the internet claiming otherwise. The reason for this is that aloenin is a compound found in the plant that has also been shown to promote hair growth in people suffering from alopecia. But the known beneficial effects on improving hair health and decreasing hair breakage could very well be interpreted as contributing to improving hair growth.

So far, we have discussed the benefits of Aloe Vera as applied topically, but before we move on to other forms of application (ingestion), it is worth mentioning the best formulation of topical Aloe Vera to use. And here, it is fairly unanimous that the best way is to use it directly from the plant by taking a leaf, slicing it open and scooping the gel out and applying it directly to your skin or hair. For hair, massaging it through your scalp and letting it sit for 30 minutes before rinsing out is one common recommendation. If you are going to buy a commercial product, avoid those that use “Aloe Vera Extract”. These are manufactured by taking the gel from the plant, dehydrating it and then making a powder out of the dehydrated product. The powder is then rehydrated to produce the “extract”, but all of these processes have resulted in a loss of the beneficial effects of many of the active ingredients.

Now on to ingesting Aloe Vera. Though research is somewhat limited, the beneficial effects remain. One study confirmed that the daily consumption of oral Aloe sterols-containing gels significantly reduced facial wrinkles in Japanese women aged 40 years or older, and that these oral supplements were able to stimulate the collagen and hyaluronic acid production of human dermal fibroblasts (skin cells). Another control trial on men yielded similar results – Aloe sterol ingestion improved skin moisture and dermal collagen production.

Take Away Message

What are the benefits of using Aloe Vera gel for skin and hair? The gel found inside the leaves of the Aloe Vera plant are full of natural anti-inflammatories, anti-oxidants, pain relievers and other essential vitamins that make it an excellent way to treat skin ailments from sunburns to acne. It can also relieve the itchiness that results from dandruff and re-establish a healthy scalp with lustrous strong hair while removing excess oils in your hair during washing. We end with a few words of caution if you intend to take Aloe Vera gel orally. You would be advised to consult a physician if you are on any other types of medication, in particular anticoagulants that reduce blood clotting and insulin for diabetes. And finally, there is another form of Aloe Vera that has been used as a laxative, known as Aloe latex. One should avoid using Aloe latex orally as it appears to contain carcinogens and taking large quantities (1 gram per day) for several days may cause kidney damage or even be fatal.

 

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