Aloe Vera is a common succulent, a plant like cactus that grows in extremely dry conditions. While its environment may be parched, the aloe plant contains a pair of substances that have been used for generations for their healing properties.
Within the long, slim leaves of the plant are gel and latex. Latex, which is a yellow liquid, comes from just under the surface of the leaf’s skin. Gel is clear in color and thicker in consistency and comes from the inner part of the leaf.
Aloe latex continues to be quite controversial. It has been used in pill form as a type of laxative, but the effectiveness of this treatment is still in question and it can have some serious side effects. The more common use of Aloe for medicinal purposes is as a topical treatment for skin conditions. In this case, it is the gel that provides the healing and it has proven quite effective for a variety of conditions, from simple sunburn to psoriasis.
How Exactly Does Aloe Work To Heal Your Skin?
Aloe has several specific healing properties that make it an effective natural treatment. The gel contains a combination of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A,C and E as well as zinc, copper and potassium, that have the ability to increase circulation in the tiny blood vessels of the skin. At the same time, it has salicylic acid, with anti-bacterial properties that make it an effective agent in healing. Polysaccharides, like acemannan, also help to improve the healing process by positively effecting cell production.
These properties make aloe one of the single most healing natural substances on the planet. In an emergency, you can break a leaf off of an aloe plant, break it open and extract the gel, which can be applied directly to burns or other skin irritations. More commonly, however, aloe vera gel has been incorporated as an ingredient in natural skin creams and ointments that allow for safe and easy treatment of skin problems as well as improving overall skin tone.
Aloe creams and gels can vary in dosage from 0.5% to 70%. For minor burns, the lower dosage is usually effective while conditions such as psoriasis and lichen planus require the use of a 70% aloe product, applied to the skin two or three times a day for as many as eight weeks.
What Specific Skin Conditions Does It Treat?
Aloe can be used to treat a number of different skin irritations. For minor sunburn or other minor burns, applying an aloe gel or cream can bring cooling and soothing relief. Studies indicate that the ability to improve circulation and the positive effect on cell regeneration may even help to speed healing.
The most common application of aloe gel for skin treatment is for psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis, or dandruff. With psoriasis, an inflammatory condition that causes excessive production of skin cells, aloe has been shown to bring relief to the dry, itchy skin that results from the condition. In the case of seborrheic dermatitis, dry, flaky patches of skin develop in formerly oily areas. The application of aloe vera gel can help to reverse this process, allowing the skin to heal and embarrassing flakes to be reduced.
Other conditions that may benefit from aloe treatment include canker sores, skin irritation as the result of chemotherapy, excessively dry skin, scabies, and lichen planus. In all cases, for use on the skin, a topical cream or ointment containing at least 0.5% aloe is recommended. A range of products can be found in most drug stores, health food stores and online.
How Does It Compare To Traditional Treatments?
As with most natural treatments, the main difference between aloe and more traditional treatments is the lack of side effects. Aloe latex can have some potentially serious side effects when taken in oral form, but aloe gel is one of the mildest and safest substances found in nature. In fact, aloe gel is so safe that it can be used even on young children and pregnant and nursing mothers.
It can have an effect on blood sugar levels and on circulation, so diabetics and those taking blood thinners such as Coumadin may want to avoid using it, as should those with an allergy to the aloe plant itself. If you have any questions or cause for concern, check with your doctor before using any product containing aloe.