You can barely open a magazine or beauty blog without being hit with full page mentions of aloe vera nowadays.
Whether it’s A-listers like Victoria Beckham and the Kardashians endorsing the benefits of this spiky-leaved plant; or behemoth brands such as Clinique and Kiehl’s touting its benefits in their product lineups, aloe vera is truly living up to its fame as the “plant of immortality”, a moniker given to it by the ancient Egyptians (Cleopatra was a fan!).
So, what is the lure of this thick-leaved plant that is standing at the crux of a multimillion dollar beauty and wellness industry?
Aloe vera is a succulent that stores a gelatinous liquid in its leaves. This “gel” (easily harvested by splitting open the leaves) is packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants and other nutrients that work wonders for our skin and hair.
The simplest way to use aloe vera is by bringing home a living plant (it’s seriously low maintenance), and squeeze out the fresh gel when needed.
If that’s not an option, look for aloe vera leaves at any organic shop. And if even that’s not possible, buy a jar of organic aloe vera gel. Just remember: Pure aloe vera gel is never the bright green color you will see in the plastic bottles stacked at most department stores… steer clear of them at all costs!
And contrary to popular belief, pure aloe vera gel, taken straight from the leaf, is not gooey and sticky. So massage some into your face and hair, and reap the benefits.
Aloe vera for the face
Soothe a sunburn: Applying aloe vera gel directly over sunburnt skin has been found to be more anti-inflammatory than 1% hydrocortisone. It has also been found to block up to 30% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. These, combined with its cooling properties, make aloe one of the best shields for sunburn.
Moisturize: Both Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston have been known to swipe neat aloe vera gel over their skin as a quick moisturiser. Why does it work? Science shows that aloe can penetrate the epidermis (skin’s outermost layer) four times more efficiently than water. This makes is super-effective at improving hydration, without clogging the pores or leaving skin greasy.
Sensitive skin: Anyone who’s ever suffered from sensitive skin knows that throwing more and more chemical-laden creams at it rarely solves the problem. That’s because most chemicals only further compromise the lipid barrier (outermost layer of the epidermis that acts like a brick wall to keep skin safe and healthy). Pure aloe vera gel, on the other hand, is naturally rich in vitamins and minerals that help skin actually heal and regenerate, while simultaneously soothing away the inflammation. It is also both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, which helps keep out germs and other toxins till the barrier function is restored.
Bust acne: Aloe vera works on several levels to heal chronic acne. It’s antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory, which helps prevent and heal acne at the cellular level.
Lighten blemishes: Aloe is packed with two hormones – auxin and gibberellins – which boost the production of new, healthy skin cells. So, be like Cameron Diaz and dab pure aloe vera gel on any spots to heal them quickly and with minimal scarring.
Reduce pore size: Being an astringent, aloe vera decongests the pores, keeping out dirt, microbes and excess sebum. Consequently, they look smaller and don’t develop blackheads.
Prevent premature ageing: Fine lines and wrinkles? Aloe vera gel is rich in vitamins C, E and beta carotene (a pre-cursor to vitamin A), which improve skin’s elasticity, making it smoother and more supple.
Eye makeup remover: Removing eye makeup, especially of the waterproof kind, is never easy. And I definitely don’t want an over saturation of chemicals in this most delicate of areas. So, blending one teaspoon each of aloe vera gel and extra virgin olive oil works perfectly for me here. Simply soak some cotton wool in the liquid and wipe gently across the eyes… no wonder Salma Hayek is a fan!
Aloe vera for hair
Boost hair growth: In Aloe Vera: Nature’s Soothing Healer, Diane Gage explains that this transparent gel has a chemical makeup very similar to that of keratin, which forms the main building block of hair. It also increases blood circulation to the scalp and contains proteolytic enzymes that lift away the dead skin cells that are hampering fresh growth. Simply massage pure aloe vera gel into your scalp, using circular motions, till it’s completely absorbed. Rinse away after an hour; avoid shampooing for at least a day afterwards.
Hair conditioner: For the smoothest strands, mix half a cup of aloe vera gel with two tablespoons of jojoba oil or coconut oil. Add 3-4 drops of lavender essential oil. Pour into a watertight glass jar and use a dime-size amount as leave-in conditioner after washing your hair.
Dandruff: Aloe helps with literally all kinds of dandruff and the related itchiness. It hydrates skin to stop flakiness, has anti-inflammatory action to banish fungal infections, and is astringent enough to keep oiliness at bay. For best results, mix aloe vera gel with your regular hair oil and massage into the scalp; wash off after two hours.
Maintain the scalp’s pH balance: When the scalp’s pH balance is disrupted, it’s left vulnerable to bacteria, fungus and other infections. Since a lot of our commercial hair products continuously chip away at this fragile balance, a one-weekly massage with aloe vera gel is critical.
Anti-frizz: If your hair is as frizzy as mine, do like the Kardashians. Simply take a small blob of aloe vera gel and lightly rub it onto your strands. Bye bye frizz, sans any chemical residue!
Lustrous locks: Brittle, lacklustre, hard to manage hair? After shampooing and conditioning your locks, give them a last rinse with a half a cup of aloe vera gel mixed a cup of water in the blender. The aloe will infuse your hair with moisture, leaving it smooth and glossy.
Cut the grease: Super-oily scalps are a death knell for hair growth. Excessive sebum clogs pores, leading to breakage and decreased hair growth. To combat, apply aloe vera gel directly to your scalp and massage into the roots. Leave on for an hour, then shampoo.
Aloe vera for the body
Reduce stretch marks: When skin stretches too far or too fast (like during pregnancy or weight gain), it develops tiny tears that appear as stretch marks. Regular use of aloe vera gel heals these microscopic wounds and increases the skin’s elasticity by boosting collagen production, thereby erasing visible signs of damage.
Shaving gel: Aloe vera makes for an excellent shaving gel, as it’s both lubricating and anti-bacterial. If you want to further step up the glide factor, combine two tablespoons of aloe with a tablespoon of coconut oil.
Detox: Aloe vera is packed with acemannan – a complex carbohydrate that allows nutrients to reach the cells, nourish them and at the same time relieve them of toxins. To make a super-detox scrub, combine two cups of aloe vera gel with one cup of sugar. Blend coarsely, then massage skin in circular motions with this mixture; wash off with warm water.
Aloe vera for health
Heal wounds, burns and bites: Several researchers have found that topical application of aloe vera speeds up the reproduction of skin cells by eight times. Cue: faster healing time. It’s so effective that experimental studies opine aloe may reduce the healing time of first or second degree burns by almost nine days. My mother always keeps some aloe vera ice cubes (pour the gel in an ice tray and freeze) chilling in the freezer. In case of emergency, simply pop one out and run over the affected area. The double whammy of healing and cooling actions will take out the sting of a burn or bite faster than you can imagine.
Psoriasis: Aloe vera has also been shown to help with psoriasis and eczema. In one such study, 83% of the patients who were treated with aloe vera gel showed significant improvement. On the other hand, less than 6% of the patients who got the placebo showed any improvement.
Ease headaches: According to Dr Fayyaz Ahmed of The Migraine Trust, aloe vera contains plant sterols – substances that are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect. He recommends massaging aloe vera gel onto your scalp and temples to ease a headache or migraine.
Soothe dental problems: According to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, aloe vera’s antibacterial properties make it a potent weapon against cavity-causing bacteria. It’s also very effective at treating gum diseases like periodontitis and gingivitis (bad breath), along with plaque and ulcers. Pure aloe vera gel can be pretty bitter, so mix it with a few drops of peppermint essential oil, then use as a mouthwash for best results.
Help me out here… is there anything I skipped that you think everyone should know about?