Aloe vera was a staple skin remedy when I was growing up. My mom always kept a jar of that gooey green jelly in case of sunburns or bug bites, and I truly believed it was magical. These days, mainstream and organic brands alike use the plant juice and extract, often instead of water, and the result is often nice and nourishing.
In this article, I go into detail about exactly what aloe vera gel is, and what aloe vera’s benefits for the skin are. I also talk a bit about side effects, and any concerns you may have about aloe vera and California’s Proposition 65.
In this article:
- What Is Aloe Vera Gel?
- Aloe Vera Gel Skin Benefits
- Which Skin Types Benefit from Aloe Vera?
- Does Aloe Vera for Skin Have Any Side Effects?
What Is Aloe Vera Gel?
Aloe vera is very popular in skin care, either on its own as a gel or as a juice or extract used in skin care. The juice or gel is taken directly from the aloe vera plant, which is a type of succulent that grows well in hot or dry climates. The leaves of the plant are thick and fleshy with a dark outer skin that protects the gel inside.
The pure aloe vera gel taken directly from the plant is primarily composed of water with some polysaccharides – two ingredients that are simple yet lovely for the skin. The high water content in aloe vera is the reason why it often shows up in skincare products at high percentages, and why it often replaces water altogether.
As you may already know, water is an essential ingredient in skin care, since it makes our skin stronger, healthier and suppler. However, water doesn’t really stay in the skin on its own. That’s where the polysaccharides in aloe come into play.
Polysaccharides, when applied topically, act as humectants. They can pull moisture into the skin and help keep it there. This is why aloe vera, even on its own, is more moisturizing and soothing to the skin than plain water would be.
Then there are a few other traces of beneficial ingredients that remain, like amino acids which also have a moisture binding effect, lipids which help to soften the skin, and sterols and vitamins which have skin-soothing and antioxidant effects.
It is important to note that often the aloe vera used in skin care may undergo some processing first, so the composition might be slightly different. Manufacturers of raw materials for cosmetics will usually take the gel, dry it out into a powder, and then rehydrate it in water so it can become more stable and may even hold a more concentrated quantity of certain beneficial ingredients (although it will lose others).
Aloe Vera Gel Skin Benefits
There are many benefits you’ll get using aloe vera for skin, all of which are presented below!
The blend of water and polysaccharides in aloe vera means that it is wonderful to load the skin up with moisture! The polysaccharides ensure that some of that water will get into the skin and stay there. Keep in mind that since the polysaccharides are present at a low percentage, products with aloe vera should still contain other humectants, as well.
The polysaccharide and phytosterol content in aloe vera makes it a lovely skin-soothing ingredient that helps it to calm down redness, control itch and reduce irritation. These compounds have anti-inflammatory effects, although since they show up in aloe vera at fairly low percentages these benefits are mild and the soothing effect is light. This is why aloe vera is seen as more of a boosting product or a base for carrying other, stronger anti-inflammatories.
Aloe vera for skin contains phytosterols and vitamins that reinforce the skin against the sun and pollution damage that causes extrinsic aging. Because of these ingredients, it provides some anti-aging protection.
Aloe vera, especially in its pure gel form, has a lovely cooling and refreshing effect when applied to the skin.
Which Skin Types Benefit from Aloe Vera?
The beautiful thing about aloe vera for skin is that it is beneficial to all skin types. It is a mild, non-comedogenic ingredient that primarily helps to increase water content in the skin and to keep it soothed. Dehydration and sensitivity are concerns that often plague all skin types, so keeping the skin hydrated and fortified with formulas that contain aloe vera is always a good idea.
Does Aloe Vera for Skin Have Any Side Effects?
Aloe vera as it shows up in skincare products does not have any side effects for the most part. Allergies, of course, are possible with aloe vera as they are with any other natural ingredient, although they are quite rare. It’s always extra surprising when someone is allergic to aloe since it is considered a skin-soother.
If you do have an allergy to aloe vera it will probably manifest as redness, stinging, or hives. It’s always important to patch test new skincare products for a few days on the upper arm or behind the ear to check for allergies before applying it to large parts of the face or body.
Consuming aloe vera gel, however, can have its risks. You may have heard that aloe is restricted under Proposition 65 in California. The reason for this is that ingesting aloin, a yellow liquid that is present in the aloe vera plant might be carcinogenic. It also happens to be a laxative, so even if it doesn’t cause cancer in humans it can still have an unpleasant physical effect.
When making aloe vera gel (even at home!) it is pretty easy to drain the plant of the aloin-containing exudate, and there is none of that stuff in any aloe vera-based skincare products you can buy in stores. Even if there were, aloin doesn’t seem to pose an issue when applied to the skin topically.
Photos via @kiran_muchandimath, Instagram