If you’ve ever been sunburned, you may have used aloe on your skin to relieve the burn. Aloe vera has a long history of use to heal minor wounds and burns on the skin. The plant is native to subtropical and tropical locations including South Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. It can be grown outdoors in a garden or as a container plant indoors. A mature plant can grow up to 4 feet tall with 36 inch spear-shaped leaves.
The aloe gel used to treat burns comes from the center of the leaves of the aloe or aloe vera plant. If you have access to an aloe plant, you can remove a leaf of the plant and cut it length-wise to access the gel, which can be applied directly to the skin over minor cuts or burns. Aloe gel should not be applied to more serious injuries or open wounds. Aloe gel is also an ingredient in a variety of gels and creams that are sold to treat skin conditions including sunburn and psoriasis.
Some studies have shown that aloe vera gel is effective in healing skin wounds. It appears to increase circulation in small blood vessels in the skin and may act to kill bacteria around the wound. Aloe has also been shown to reduce psoriasis when used as a cream for at least four weeks.
Aloe gel is also taken by mouth as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis, diabetes, asthma, stomach ulcers, and bowel disease. Some studies have shown that aloe may help lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Studies also suggest aloe may help lower total cholesterol and may relieve symptoms of ulcerative colitis, but more research is needed to confirm any of these possible benefits.
A second substance known as aloe latex can be found just under the skin of the aloe plant. It is a yellow liquid sometimes referred to as aloe juice that can act as a laxative when eaten. It is also sometimes used to treat a variety of conditions including epilepsy, asthma, depression, hemorrhoids, diabetes, and glaucoma.
Prior to 2002, aloe latex was found in a variety of commercially produced laxatives. Aloe latex is initially effective as a laxative. But over time, users build up a tolerance and require more and more latex. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration required all manufacturers to stop using aloe latex in laxatives beginning in 2002 due to safety concerns. Aloe latex is generally believed to be unsafe when taken by mouth, especially in large quantities. In addition to possible bowel disorders, aloe latex can cause serious kidney disease which may be fatal.
Cautions for Aloe
Aloe latex can cause serious complications when taken internally. Side effects may include intestinal cramps or diarrhea, kidney disease, and dependence on aloe latex for bowel function.
Aloe gel is considered safe when used to treat minor skin injuries and burns. It should not be used on deep wounds. Some people can have an allergic reaction to aloe gel on the skin resulting in a skin rash. Aloe gel is believed to be possibly safe when taken by mouth.
Talk to your health care provider about all supplements and herbal remedies you use, including aloe vera.