The Health Benefits of Aloe Vera

Centuries-Old Remedy for Skin and Digestive Disorders

Aloe vera is a succulent plant grown around the world. It's had known medical uses that date back to ancient Egypt. Both the juice from the leaf and the thicker gel may offer health benefits.

Some aloe vera products are taken by mouth, while aloe vera gel is usually applied to the skin. The gel, also known as latex, contains aloin. It has a laxative effect and until 2002, it was used in some products until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) halted this use over cancer concerns.

This article details how aloe vera has been used to treat skin burns and other conditions. It explains the mixed research results in support of its use, as well as what to look for when choosing an aloe product.

forms of aloe vera
 Verywell / JR Bee

History of Aloe Vera Use

Aloe vera is commonly used in traditional medicine to treat skin disorders. In Ayurvedic medicine, rooted in ancient Indian practices, it is said to have a cooling effect that balances aggravations of the pitta dosha. This is a concept of heat in the body's digestive process.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the gel's bitter taste and cooling properties are said to benefit disorders of the liver and intestines.

Today, aloe vera gel is used for its moisturizing, softening effect on the skin. Many cosmetics manufacturers add aloe vera to makeup, soaps, sunscreens, shaving creams, and shampoos. There are even aloe vera facial tissues that are designed to reduce nasal chafing.

Also Known As

  • Aloe
  • Burn plant
  • Elephant’s gall
  • Kathalai (in Ayurveda)
  • Lily of the Desert
  • Lu Hui (in traditional Chinese medicine)

Health Benefits

Aloe vera gel is often used on the skin to treat sunburn, burns, and eczema. It has a soothing effect that may aid in treating symptoms caused by genital herpes, poison oak, poison ivy, and skin irritation in people treated with radiation.

Those who support aloe vera use say it can speed the healing of wounds and reduce the severity of psoriasis too.

When taken orally as a juice or dietary supplement, aloe vera's laxative effects may help to ease constipation. Some advocates say it can be used in treating peptic ulcers, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. Others believe aloe vera can help to maintain normal blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

For the most part, the evidence supporting these claims is mixed.

Burns and Wounds

One of the most popular uses of aloe vera gel is to aid in the healing of sunburns and burns from cooking or other causes. It may relieve symptoms of the allergic reactions that cause contact dermatitis and help to heal minor cuts and abrasions.

The freshly extracted gel may offer short-term relief from pain and itchiness. Whether it can actually speed up the healing process is another issue.

A 2012 review of studies from Australia looked at seven clinical trials investigating the use of aloe in treating burns, skin biopsies, and irritation after surgery to treat hemorrhoids. The researchers could find no evidence that aloe aids in the healing of acute or chronic wounds.

The same results were seen in studies of aloe vera when used to treat plaque psoriasis. A small study of 41 adults with stable plaque psoriasis found that aloe vera gel, applied twice daily for a month, was less effective than a placebo in relieving psoriasis symptoms.

Radiation Skin Reactions

Radiation-induced dermatitis (RID) is a common side effect of cancer radiation therapy. Symptoms include:

  • Red, flaking skin
  • Frequent blisters
  • Dermal atrophy (thinning of the skin)

A 2013 study from Iran evaluated the effects of aloe lotion in 60 people undergoing radiation therapy. A thin layer of lotion was applied to half of the irradiated area of skin after treatment for four weeks. The researchers found that the areas treated with aloe had a lower grade of dermatitis than areas without the aloe.

The study findings, though, were limited somewhat by the wide variety of cancers treated. Other studies have not found similar results and research results on aloe's use in treating RID remain mixed. There is no evidence that oral aloe vera has any effect on people with RID.

An older study from Australia looked at the use of aloe cream in 225 women with breast cancer who were treated with radiation therapy. The non-aloe cream helped to reduce pain and skin peeling, while the aloe cream had little, if any, effect.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a complex of digestive disorders. They include ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Ulcerative colitis can cause more serious symptoms, such as:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bloody diarrhea

One early study of 44 people with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis found that a 2-to-1 dilution of aloe vera gel, taken twice daily, improved symptoms in most people after four weeks.

The research results included nine people with complete remission of symptoms, 11 with some improvement, and 14 that showed at least some response.

Diabetes

Some healthcare providers working in alternative medicine have long endorsed the oral use of aloe vera to better control blood sugar (glucose) in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

A 2016 review from India looked at eight clinical trials of how oral aloe vera might benefit those with diabetes. It found that aloe vera improved fasting blood glucose in people with prediabetes but had limited effects in people with type 2 diabetes.

Chinese researchers also found similar results, with aloe vera offering some benefit to people with prediabetes. However, they noted limits on the research and an absence of safety testing.

More research is needed to see if aloe vera is safe and effective when used to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.

Recap

Aloe vera gels and juices may offer health benefits when used to treat certain medical conditions. Studies have looked at its use in treating skin irritated by radiation in people with cancer, or how it might help people with Type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. The results are mixed and further research is needed.

Possible Side Effects

When applied to the skin, aloe vera is generally though to be safe to use. Side effects, if any, tend to be mild. They may include skin irritation and redness, and allergies can sometimes occur.

Keep in mind that aloe vera gel should not be used to treat severe burns or wounds. Seek immediate medical attention if you have a deep cut or a large or severe burn.

Oral Aloe Vera

There are concerns about the long-term safety of aloe vera when it's taken by mouth. Aloe vera extracts can have a powerful laxative effect. This may cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Electrolyte disruptions, such as the loss of potassium

Potassium loss can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeats known as arrhythmia. The long-term use of aloe vera, especially in undiluted gel form, may cause permanent kidney damage.

Some studies in animals have shown that whole-leaf aloe extracts can cause cancer of the large intestine. One theory is that aloin, which gives aloe latex its yellowish color, acts as a cancer-causing agent. Filtering out the aloin may lead to gels that can be used more safely, but further research is needed to confirm this.

The safety of aloe in people with liver and kidney disease has not been established. To be safe, do not take oral aloe vera if you have:

  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Intestinal problems
  • Heart disease
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Electrolyte imbalances

Due to the lack of safety research, oral aloe should not be used in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.

Drug Interactions

It's possible that oral aloe vera may cause certain drug interactions. This means it may block the effects of drugs you already take. Or, it may make their effects more powerful. This can lead to problems with side effects or the treatment of your existing health conditions.

It's always a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider before adding supplements or alternative medicine products. That's especially true if you are taking:

  • Diabetes medications, including insulin
  • Diuretics (water pills) like Lasix (furosemide)
  • Heart rhythm medications like Lanoxin (digoxin)
  • Laxatives and stool softeners
  • Licorice root
  • Oral or injectable steroids
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or Advil (ibuprofen)

Sometimes, you can avoid an interaction by taking your drugs a few hours apart. Changes in your dose or a substitute drug may be needed.

Aloe vera applied to the skin may cause an interaction too. It can boost the skin's ability to absorb steroid creams and increase the risk of skin damage.

Recap

Aloe vera may offer health benefits but there are also risks. People with certain health conditions, such as kidney or heart disease, should avoid its use. It also may interfere with drugs you already take for other medical issues. Discuss any aloe vera use with your healthcare provider before you start taking it.

Dosage and Preparation

There are no standard doses of aloe vera. The effects and risk of side effects can vary based on your age, weight, and current health.

Aloe products meant for the skin may be in concentrations as little as 0.5% to as high as 99%. There is no data to suggest that lower doses are less effective than higher doses.

Oral forms of aloe may come in capsules, soft gel caps, powders, and juices. These supplement doses range from 100 milligrams (mg) to 10,000 mg. Larger doses may mean a higher risk of side effects.

For safety reasons, keep to the lowest possible dose when using oral forms of aloe vera. Few clinical studies have used anything more than 500 mg daily.

Although aloe vera gels are meant for use on your skin, some products are called cold-pressed "gels" for oral use. These are often labeled as full strength, whole leaf, or pure filtered. They are thicker liquids and often sold by the gallon for digestive health.

If you decide to use an oral gel preparation, don't use it for more than 10 days. Stop right away if you experience any side effects.

What to Look For in Aloe Vera Products

Aloe vera products are approved for cosmetic or dietary supplement use. They are not intended to treat any medical condition and are not tested for quality or safety.

Since few aloe vera supplements are certified by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or similar certifying bodies, stick with well-known brands with an established market presence. You should also opt for products that have been certified organic by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

If you choose an oral aloe preparation for medical reasons, speak with your healthcare provider first to ensure its safe use. If you buy a cold-pressed aloe vera gel, only choose those that have had most of the aloins removed.

Summary

Aloe vera has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. It remains an alternative medicine option today, but the research in support of its health benefits is still unclear.

Its most common use is for soothing burns. Other possibilities include relief for digestive disorders and the prevention or treatment of diabetes. Some studies suggest aloe vera may help with these conditions but others have found no benefit.

If you choose either an oral form of aloe vera or one applied to the skin, choose a reputable brand. Make sure to speak with a healthcare provider first so that you avoid side effects or drug interactions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I use aloe if I have a latex allergy?

    It may not be a good idea. If you use aloe vera and you have a latex allergy, you may experience a reaction. These range from a mild skin rash or hives to nasal congestion or difficulty breathing. It's rare, but aloe latex can trigger a serious and potentially fatal, whole-body reaction known as anaphylaxis.

  • How do you get aloe vera gel out of the plant?

    With clean hands, snip one of the leaves close to the bottom of the plant. Put the cut side down in a glass to allow the latex to drain for about 10 minutes. Then remove the leaf spikes and use a vegetable peeler to get to the clear gel inside. Scoop it out and store in a clean container.

  • How do I care for an aloe vera plant?

    Plant it in a potting mix for cactus and other succulent plants. Keep the aloe vera in bright, indirect light. Let the top third of the soil dry out before watering so the roots don't rot.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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