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Most of you reading this are likely to have some Aloe vera laying around the house for when someone gets burnt from a little too much sun. Aloe vera is one of the most well-known and effective treatments to soothe the pain and discomfort that sunburn can cause. You might, however, be surprised at just how many other ways this gel can be used.
This cactus-like plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Its healing powers are referenced in notable texts like the bible and it was referred to as the “Plant of Immortality” by the ancient Egyptians who used it to maintain their health and beauty. Throughout its extensive use around the world, it has also been called the “miracle plant,” the “silent healer,” and the “elixir of longevity.” With such an incredible reputation that has lasted thousands of years, it’s hard to doubt the effectiveness of this amazing plant. Let’s take a closer look at the Aloe vera plant and the many, many ways in which it can provide us with healthy, beautiful, and youthful skin.
History of Aloe Vera
The earliest known references to the Aloe vera plant trace back to ancient Egypt. Drawings of the plant as old as 6000 years have been found on the walls of their temples! The Egyptians believed that the “blood,” or, as we now refer to it, the gel, of the plant was the key to youth and beauty. They even embalmed their dead with Aloe, believing that it could preserve the body and offer them both physical and spiritual immortality.
The first written mention of the plant’s use was found on clay tablets from Mesopotamia. Those tablets are estimated to be from about 2100 B.C. In this time, they believed that all illness was caused by demonic spirits rather than bacteria and viruses.
Although they were wrong about the cause of their sickness, the antibacterial properties of Aloe vera made it more than capable of returning their good health!
As time passed, the plant and its use in both medicine and beauty spread around the world. References can be found in the Roman, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Arab, and Japanese civilizations with all of them revering the plant, in one way or another, as a “Fountain of Youth.” With its widespread use and impressive reputation, there are a lot of stories about the Aloe vera plant and notable historical figures.
Stories claim that the famous Egyptian queens Cleopatra and Nefertiti, who was known as “the most beautiful woman who ever lived”, used aloe as part of their beauty routines.
Alexander the Great was the King of Macedonia and one of the most successful conquerors in history. He used the Aloe plant to treat the wounds of his soldiers. Alexander was supposedly convinced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle to conquer an entire island for the sole purpose of securing its supply of Aloe vera.
The famous Roman healer and physician Dioskurides referred to Aloe vera as one of his favorite medicinal plants. He expanded on the plant’s many uses believing that it could be used to treat wounds, skin irritation, sunburn, gastrointestinal pain, hair loss, and acne.
Many years later, the Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas with a hefty supply of Aloe vera in his fleet. They kept the plants potted on their ships to keep the sailors healthy during their long voyage. The Spanish are credited for bringing Aloe vera to the Americas, which was practically the last place in the world that the plant had yet to reach. The plant quickly gained popularity with the natives of South America upon Columbus’ arrival.
Once the plant eventually made its way to North America, the Native Americans were also impressed by the plant and its wide range of uses. In addition to using the plant for its well-known uses like treating burns and other wounds, they also used the plant as a sort of primitive bug spray. They would rub the gel on their skin to keep the bugs at bay while marching through swamps and forests.
After colonialism happened in North America, Aloe vera’s use continued in the United States. During the 1800’s the juice from the plant became a popular laxative in the US. However, it wasn’t until the 1930’s, when the gel from the plant was successful in treating radiation dermatitis, that it really caught on as a skincare product. After its ability to heal the skin was proven, its use for skincare purposes exploded in the United States; bringing it to a level of popularity similar to its earlier fame among the ancient civilizations.
- The name Aloe vera comes from the Arabic word “Alloeh” which means “shining bitter substance” and the Latin word “vera” which means “true.”
- There are around 600 different species of Aloe.
- Aloe vera grows best in hot and dry climates.
- Aloe vera plants can live up to 100 years in the wild.
- The healing gel of Aloe vera is about 96% water.
Active Components in Aloe Vera
So, what exactly makes Aloe vera worthy of this hype? Surely it must have some sort of unique compound that makes it so incredible, right? Well although Aloe vera is incredible, it’s not because of some secret ingredient. Instead, it’s so amazing because it just has SO many different beneficial compounds: 75 different ones to be exact! Let’s take a look at some of the heavy hitters that make Aloe vera so incredible
Aloe is packed with vitamins A, E, C, and B12. These vitamins are needed for a lot of different processes in our body and helping to maintain healthy skin is one of them. Some of these vitamins also work as antioxidants that fend off free radicals that can prematurely age our skin.
The plant also contains 8 different enzymes that break down sugars and fats in our body. This makes Aloe effective for aiding digestion when consumed. These enzymes are also useful for reducing inflammation both internally when eaten and externally when used topically.
Anthraquinones are plant-based compounds. Aloe vera contains 12 different ones that work as laxatives, antibacterials, antivirals, and pain relievers.
Aloe vera also has two types of plant growth hormones called auxins and gibberellins. Although they’re normally meant to help the plant grow, they’re also effective for speeding up the healing process of wounds and for reducing inflammation in humans.
Aloe vera has a high content of essential minerals that are necessary for many of the enzymes and cells in our body to function correctly. Some of them are also antioxidants which can help to slow down premature aging.
The plant contains four plant steroids that reduce inflammation, reduce pain, and have antiseptic properties.
Aloe vera also has a few other miscellaneous compounds that are particularly effective in skin care.
- This acid is one of the most popular acne treating ingredients in the world due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- This plant-based substance’s main purpose is to help plant cells keep their shape. However, it can also help other beneficial ingredients in a cosmetic product penetrate the skin more efficiently; increasing their effectiveness.
- This soapy substance found in the plant cleanses the skin when applied topically.
Topical Uses & Skin Benefits of Aloe Vera Extract
Now that we have a better idea of why Aloe vera is so useful, lets take an in depth look at the many ways that it can help improve our skin’s health and appearance.
Aloe contains compounds that help the skin to attract moisture, as well as, form a protective barrier on the skin’s surface to prevent the loss of moisture. This results in an overall improvement of the skin’s hydration. What’s especially appealing about the use of Aloe as a facial moisturizer is that, unlike many other moisturizers, it doesn’t have a clogging effect on the pores. This can reduce the chance of acne breakouts. The moisturizing and soothing properties of Aloe also make it useful for treating skin disorders like dermatitis and psoriasis.
Aloe vera contains a natural supply of salicylic acid, one of the most common and effective acne treatments in the cosmetic industry. It also contains additional compounds that have antibacterial, cleansing, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing effects on the skin. One of the main causes of acne is when bacteria and oils get trapped in the pores of the skin. By removing these and other irritants from the skin, you greatly reduce the chance of breakouts. Another common cause for acne is an imbalance of your skin’s natural oils. Although it’s true that very oily skin can cause acne to form, so can very dry skin. When the skin becomes overly dry, the body cranks up its production of the oil sebum. This excessive production of the oil can cause it to build up on the skin and cause blemishes to form. The moisturizing compounds in Aloe vera ensure that your skin is adequately hydrated without clogging your pores. Finally, the plant’s content of zinc has a sort of toning effect on the skin. It tightens up the pores which reduces not only their visibility, but also the amount of sebum that they secrete onto the skin. This can be particularly useful for those who suffer from a very oily complexion.
Skin Firming and Wrinkle Reducing
Aloe vera has a very effective mixture of compounds for fending off the signs of aging. One of the most useful ways that it benefits the skin is by increasing the skin’s production of the proteins collagen and elastin. These proteins are responsible for maintaining the skin’s shape and elasticity. A sugar in aloe called glucomannan and a plant growth hormone called gibberellin cause our skin cells to produce more of these proteins than we normally would. If our levels of collagen begin to fall, as they do when we age, our skin begins to lose its shape and become loose. This is the major cause of the formation of wrinkles and fine lines. By increasing our body’s production of these critical proteins, we can maintain and even restore that firm and youthful look that everyone aspires for! The plant is also rich in antioxidants, another critical ingredient in the recipe for youthful skin. Antioxidants remove free radicals from the skin. These free radicals can cause our skin to prematurely age and can even cause skin cancer. By removing them, we can not only improve our skin’s appearance, but also its health.
As we mentioned before, Aloe Vera has compounds that increase the body’s production of collagen and elastin. Since these proteins make up such a large percentage of our skin, they also play an important role in the healing of wounds. Increasing the body’s supply of these proteins allows new skin to form more quickly over damaged areas. The presence of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds in Aloe Vera also help to speed up recovery and fend off infection.
Aloe vera also contains compounds that can reduce hyperpigmentation or dark spots. These can have various causes such as too much sun exposure or result from the scarring of acne. Dark spots are caused by an overproduction of melanin. Melanin is what’s responsible for the color in our eyes, hair, and skin. When part of the skin gets damaged, an enzyme called tyrosinase can deposit too much melanin there. This excessive melanin is responsible for the darker pigment or “hyperpigmentation” of the skin. By interfering with that enzyme, Aloe vera has been shown to be capable of treating existing dark spots, as well as, preventing new ones from forming!
What Aloe Vera Can Treat
So, lets recap on all of the ways that Aloe vera can help our skin:
- Treat Sunburn
- Improved Wound Healing
- Moisturize Skin
- Treat Dark Spots
- Reduce Wrinkles and Fine Lines
- Tighten and Firm Skin
- Reduce Acne
- Treat Burns
- Cleanse Skin
- Increase Ingredient Penetration
- Reduce Pain
- Soothe Skin Irritation
A Timeless Favorite
There’s truth to the old adage that “the strong endure.” Aloe vera is a very unique ingredient in the sense that it has a very, very long history. Its use in beauty and medicine has reached every corner of the world and lasted for thousands of years. Although this plant does sound too good to be true, you can lay your skepticism to rest. Not only does Aloe vera have thousands of years of support from all around the globe, but many of these ancient claims have been supported by science in recent years! Although there is no single ingredient that will give you the skin you dream of, you’d be crazy not to include Aloe vera on your list of must haves. The ancient claims like the “Plant of Immortality” and the “Fountain of Youth” may be a bit of a stretch, but this plant’s effectiveness may surprise you!