Daily Nutrition & Health
How to Use Aloe: 11 Benefits for Skin Care, Digestion and More
Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training and Laura Chacon-Garbato, LME – Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training / Chair, Outer Nutrition Advisory Board 24 July 2023
Aloe vera is a popular ingredient common in many products. Whether you visit a grocery store or a beauty shop, you’ll likely come across aloe in one form or another: as a juice, in beverages or as a supplement, as well as in ointments, facial cleansers or sunscreen.
Widely known as a “miracle” plant, aloe vera can be used in many ways. In this guide, we’ll go over the basics of aloe and what you need to know about its versatility, as well as its benefits depending on type and use.
We collaborated with our experts and the Global Product Science & Safety team to share the latest research and practical uses of aloe for everyday consumers.
What Is Aloe and Why Is It So Popular?
Aloe is a genus containing more than 550 species of succulent plants. In today’s vernacular, aloe commonly refers to Aloe vera, the scientific name of a specific tropical succulent plant originating in the Arabian Peninsula thousands of years ago.
Widely known as “true” aloe due to its many uses, aloe vera is a member of the Asphodelaceae Juss family. For centuries, people have cultivated the plant for its beauty and many benefits. Grown around the world, aloe can be found in gardens, in the wild or even potted on a windowsill.
As a tropical succulent, the plant can survive in hot temperatures with little water, thus storing large amounts of fluid as a gel in the central part of each leaf or fillet.
The leaves are crushed, ground or pressed to release the gel, which is then filtered and processed to obtain different forms of aloe to be used for food or cosmetic products.
How Is Aloe Vera Gel Used?
According to our Global Product Science and Safety team, aloe vera gel can serve many unique purposes depending on how it is processed.
On one hand, many companies use the gel to develop cosmetics and skin care products for external use. Others use the gel for producing refreshing drinks, juices, dietary supplements and powders safe for consumption. You’ll find aloe incorporated into beverages and teas to support digestion and bowel health.
As a natural ingredient, the final composition of aloe vera may vary depending on the crop and growing factors, as well as manufacturing processes.
Why do companies use aloe for skin care?
- Aloe vera is well known for its hydrating and soothing properties.
- When applied to the skin, aloe can soothe minor burns and irritation by moisturizing and lubricating the skin.
- Today, aloe vera is a common ingredient in creams, lotions, cleansers, soaps, shampoos, ointments and other cosmetic and personal care products.
Why do companies use aloe for food and supplements?
- After processing the gel to remove impurities, aloe vera is popularly promoted as a tonic for the digestive system.
- Aloe supports nutrient absorption and overall digestive health and has traditionally been used to soothe an upset stomach or indigestion.
- Although the gel is primarily water, aloe vera also contains small amounts of minerals and botanical compounds.
- The gel is also a source of specialized sugars known as polysaccharides that purportedly support immune function – our body’s natural defense system against illness and injury. And, like other plants, phytonutrients found in aloe vera are a source of antioxidants.
A Brief History of Aloe Vera Usage
Aloe vera has a long history of use in botanical medicine throughout the world. Evidence of aloe’s medicinal use dates back more than 4,000 years:
- Ancient Egyptians called it the “plant of immortality,” giving it as an offering at funerals for the pharaohs and using it in the baths of Egyptian queens.
- Cleopatra loved aloe vera gel and used it to embellish her beauty.
- The wound-healing quality of aloe was so well known that Aristotle convinced Alexander the Great to conquer a particular Island in the East of Africa to acquire aloe for use as medicine to treat soldiers.
- In Asia, aloe vera has a broader history of use which includes the preparation of beverages and juices using aloe gel.
6 Benefits of Aloe Gel for Skin Care
Aloe vera gel, both as a topical gel and as an ingredient in skin care products, is useful for hydrating and cooling the skin, keeping it soft and supple.
Here are a few benefits of aloe gel for skin care:
1. It can help reduce and prevent skin flare-ups.
Aloe vera is a very gentle ingredient that also has natural antimicrobial properties. Using it to reduce and prevent mild to moderate flare-ups in combination with traditional antiacne medication can be a great option for people with skin sensitivities.
2. It moisturizes the whole body.
The benefit of using aloe vera is that it is water-dense, so it’s a great ingredient to use in skin care products for dry, itchy skin. It keeps the skin hydrated and smooth.
3. It cools and hydrates the skin.
Suppose you’ve ever had a minor burn from either a sunburn, cooking or using a styling tool. You know that the first thing you want to do is apply something cool. Aloe vera gel can help create a better barrier while hydrating and cooling the skin. A great tip is to keep it in a gel form in the refrigerator for that extra cooling sensation.
4. It’s a great ingredient for DIY masks.
Because of its light and versatile texture, you can use aloe vera gel to create your own hair masks in addition to hydrating face masks which can cool flare-ups. Aloe vera is full of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, enzymes and minerals that are beneficial to support skin health.
5. It’s gentle for a relaxing facial.
Facials can help restore parched-looking skin and help you feel refreshed. Getting a facial with aloe gel can leave your skin softer, smoother and with a radiant glow.
6. It hydrates overstyled tresses.
Especially during the summer months, our hair tends to get a little drier. Aloe vera is a great ingredient to use on hair. Look for products that have a nondrying formula and consist of silkening, moisturizing ingredients like aloe vera. It will leave your scalp feeling refreshed, and your locks looking great.
5 Benefits of Consumable Aloe for Health and Wellness
When aloe gel is extracted, processed and manufactured in a safe-to-consume, ingestible form, you may come across products such as aloe juice drinks or concentrated capsules of powdered aloe.
Many people take aloe vera juice as a supplement, and here are a few reasons why:
1. Aloe vera supports healthy digestion.
When consumed as a tonic for the digestive system, aloe juice can be used to soothe the stomach. In one independent trial,* aloe vera juice consumption was found to help relieve intestinal discomfort and inflammation. Other independent studies* suggest aloe may reduce gastric acid production.
2. It supports nutrient absorption.
As food makes its way through the 20-plus feet of the digestive tract, nutrients – including vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, carbohydrates – and water are absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream so they can be utilized by the body. These nutrients provide structure to the body – allowing us to grow and repair tissue – and provide energy for everyday activities.
In one independent study,* researchers tested the effects of aloe vera gel and whole leaf extract and the effect of these liquid preparations on the absorption and subsequent blood plasma concentration of vitamins C and E.
The trial found that aloe gel, acting as a time-release agent, slowed down the rate of absorption of vitamin C, keeping plasma levels elevated over a longer period of time when compared with controls. Both forms of aloe had a similar effect with regard to vitamin E.
3. Aloe vera may promote intestinal health and immunomodulatory support.
Prebiotics are compounds in foods that encourage the growth of good bacteria in your digestive tract. Examples of foods rich in prebiotics include apples, bananas, garlic and soybeans.
Recent scientific data suggests that compounds in aloe vera may be a beneficial prebiotic ingredient. According to one independent study,* acemannan, a polysaccharide present in aloe vera, may act as a prebiotic and stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
This change in microbiota composition is typically accompanied by an improvement in the immune system by modulating immune response. The authors of New Perspectives on Aloe* associate this positive immune effect with the polysaccharides and other specific compounds present in aloe gel.
4. It may boost the body’s antioxidant defense system.
The antioxidants in aloe may help to bolster the body’s antioxidant defense system. Oxidation – a process that occurs in the body naturally as part of everyday metabolism – needs to be kept in check since oxidative stress can cause damage to body cells and tissues.
Antioxidants – widely found in plant foods like aloe vera, keep the processes of oxidation and antioxidation in balance. The polysaccharides and other compounds from aloe vera may also lead to positive protection against oxidative stress. In one independent study,* participants who drank aloe vera extract daily for 14 days saw an improvement in total antioxidant capacity measured in the plasma without any clinical side effects.
5. It’s hydrating and may contain fewer calories than highly sweetened drinks.
Aside from being a dietary supplement that provides digestive benefits, aloe juice – made by blending aloe vera gel with water – is also a beverage that can support your hydration needs. Hydration is important for our body and organs to function properly.
While most of your fluids should come from water, many people seek other beverages for a change. For that reason, sodas and high-calorie drinks often line the shelves of grocery and convenience stores. Aloe vera juice may be a good alternative, but be sure to check the nutrition label for any added sugars.
Why You Shouldn’t Eat Raw Aloe
While raw aloe can be used safely as a topical application, it should not be consumed.
The word “aloe” comes from Greek, which means bitter. Just below the rind of the aloe vera plant, there is a latex substance consisting of a heavy yellowish liquid residing between the leaf’s outer layer and the inner gel. This latex contains compounds known as aloins, which are very bitter, act as a laxative and should not be ingested.
To be safely consumed, scientists developed a purification process that removes the aloins from the aloe juice. This process is known as decolorization, where the pressed juice – either from the whole leaf or the inner fillet – is passed through an activated charcoal filter to remove laxative components, such as aloins, to negligible levels.
Most aloe beverage and supplement companies use these processes in order to deliver the digestive benefits of aloe to consumers. At Herbalife, we employ a comprehensive decolorization process and strict quality control measures to produce highly purified, premium-quality aloe vera leaf juice.
All the Ways You Can Use Aloe: A Quick DIY Guide
Today, consumers around the world can reap the benefits of aloe in many forms.
How to Use Aloe in Your Skin Care Routine
When looking for aloe-based cosmetics or skin care products, look for ones that are dermatologist-tested and sulfate-free. Look for an aloe gel product that is fragrance-free. If possible, ask for a sample or trial kit so you can test the product before purchasing. The desired effect should leave the skin feeling smooth, soft and with an improved appearance.
Here are aloe-based recipes you can do yourself:
DIY Hydrating Face Mask
This moisturizing facial mask feels good on the skin and only needs three simple ingredients:
- 3 TBSP oatmeal
- 2 TBSP aloe gel
- 1 TBSP honey
- Cook the oatmeal with 3 tablespoons of water for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Add the aloe gel and honey to the hot oatmeal. Allow it to cool before applying it to your face.
- Leave on for 15 to 20 minutes. Oatmeal and honey are known for their hydrating properties, and the aloe gel has skin-conditioning ingredients.
- Rinse using warm water and a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser.
DIY Mask for Oily Hair
This hair mask is great for oily hair and features three simple ingredients:
- 2 TBSP honey
- 2 TBSP aloe gel
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Stir all ingredients and apply to damp hair, adding the mask from top to bottom. Make sure most of the mask is on your scalp. If you have long or thick hair, you can double the recipe.
- Wrap hair in a bun or hair cap for 30 to 40 minutes. Honey has hydrating properties while aloe gel has skin-conditioning botanicals. The lemon juice acts as a natural astringent to help reduce oil secretion.
- Rinse out with lukewarm water and follow with sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner.
DIY Mask for Skin Flare-Ups
This facial mask is soothing, and the ingredients are great for preventing bacteria. All you need are three simple ingredients:
- 2 TBSP of plain yogurt (unflavored)
- 1 TBSP of aloe gel
- 1 TBSP of honey
- Mix the three ingredients and apply them to your face, preferably with a face brush. Leave on for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Aloe gel and honey are known for their hydrating properties, and yogurt is known as a natural antibacterial ingredient.
- To finish, wash thoroughly using warm water and a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser.
How to Use Aloe Vera Juice
As for ingestible aloe, consumers can purchase safe-to-consume aloe vera in juices, concentrates, powdered extracts or capsules.
Here are a few tips and reminders when incorporating aloe vera into your diet:
- Before purchasing aloe juice, make sure to read the nutrition label for added sugars and high-calorie ingredients.
- Mix aloe vera juice with sparkling water for a refreshing alternative to soda.
- Mix aloe vera juice with hot or cold tea.
- Add aloe vera juice to your favorite smoothie or protein shake.
And as with any nutritional supplement, make sure to evaluate the brand and compare your options to make sure you’re getting premium-quality aloe vera juice. Adding it to your beverage of choice can help you stay better hydrated and get the digestive support you need.
*These studies were not conducted on Herbalife products.