Imagine asking your health-care practitioner about a product that might alleviate peptic ulcers, heal athlete’s foot and also ease fine wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. Or imagine approaching the nearest cosmetics counter and requesting a product that will act as a natural skin moisturizer, a healer of insect bites and a gentle laxative for the bowels. However, if you consider the wonders of aloe vera gel, these requests aren’t so farfetched.
The medicinal and beauty-enhancing properties of aloe vera have been utilized since the ancient civilizations of Africa, China, Egypt, Greece, Spain and Arabia. The name aloe vera stems from “alloeh,” the Arabic word for bitter, as the aloe leaves contain a bitter liquid. As both the health and beauty industries have experienced a swing back towards more natural treatments, aloe vera has enjoyed a return to the spotlight.
Aloe vera has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is known as a purgative (internal cleanser), an emmenagogue (for conditions of the female reproductive system) and a vermifuge (an agent that destroys or dispels intestinal worms).
More than 500 studies have been done on aloe vera during the past five decades. Yet the makeup of this plant is so complex that not all of its components have been identified. Besides being rich in vitamins and minerals, aloe vera also contains amino acids, essential oils, enzymes, glycoproteins, biogenic stimulators, polysaccharides and the antibiotics aloin and aloetic acid.
Available in powder, capsules, bottled gel or juice, tablets, decoctions, tinctures and extracts, your options for administering aloe vera are numerous. Many households keep a live aloe vera plant on hand for topical use on minor burns and other wounds. Just cut an appropriately sized piece of leaf, squeeze out its gel onto the wound and watch as both the patient and plant soon recover from their injuries.
In its processed form, pure aloe vera gel is a thin, sometimes slightly brownish liquid that is often preserved with citric acid. A thickening agent such as the emulsifier carrageenan (a type of Irish moss) is sometimes added. When you’re shopping, purchase gels made with close to 100 per cent aloe vera. The bottle should be refrigerated after opening. Note: if you are diabetic or pregnant, consult a qualified health-care practitioner before internal use.
The topical uses for aloe vera gel include everything from burns, bruises, welts, chickenpox and eczema to poison ivy, sunburn, insect bites, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. In the case of skin irritations, it increases the availability of oxygen to the skin by increasing the synthesis and strength of tissue. It relieves pain, decreases swelling and helps prevent blistering and scarring. Aloe vera’s antibacterial, healing properties make it a great acne treatment as well.
The plant acts as a humectant, creating a barrier that prevents moisture loss from the skin. Because it regenerates skin at a cellular level, aloe vera helps in the battle against aging, creating softer, more pliable skin. Its rich store of nutrients is carried down through all skin layers. Aloe vera can be used as an ingredient in moisturizers as well as many other skin products. On its own, the gel makes a great astringent for oily skin.
Be cautious, however, when purchasing beauty products touting natural ingredients such as aloe vera, calendula and royal jelly. Often these products contain only minuscule amounts of the herbs, especially if they are listed at the end of a long paragraph of chemical ingredients.
The aloe vera plant (A. barbadensis) is thought to have originated on the island of Socotra, off the horn of Africa. Nowadays, however, there are hundreds of species of aloe vera growing in dry climates worldwide. And while this spiky perennial strongly resembles a cactus, it is in fact considered to be of the lily family; hence the nickname, “lily of the desert.”
Healing Aloe Salve
Remove the thin outer skin of three aloe leaves and process in a blender. Mix in a teaspoon (5 millilitres) of vitamin C powder. Place in an airtight container and store in the fridge.
Aloe and Almond Exfoliant
Mix together in a bowl one tablespoon (15 grams) of finely ground almonds, one tablespoon (15 g) of finely ground oats, one tablespoon (15 ml) of aloe vera gel and one teaspoon (5 ml) of honey. After thoroughly washing face and neck area, apply exfoliant to the clean skin using gentle circular motions. Rinse well with warm water and lightly pat excess moisture from the face.
Aloe Tea Toner
Boil one cup (250 ml) of distilled water. Remove from heat and add one heaping tablespoon (15 ml) each (or one tea bag each) of dried green tea leaves and dried camomile flowers. Steep for 15 minutes and strain, if using loose herbs. Add one tablespoon (15 ml) each of rose water, aloe vera gel and apple cider vinegar. (For oily skin add one tablespoon/15 ml of lemon juice.) Pour into a clean, airtight bottle and shake well. Store in the fridge and use within three weeks. This toner can be used to balance the pH of the skin after cleansing and before moisturizing.