What is aloe vera?
Originally from Africa, aloe vera is a succulent plant with spiky, fleshy leaves that contain a clear gel that has healing properties. Aloe vera gel has been used as a skin soother for thousands of years—in fact, legend has it that Cleopatra used aloe as part of her beauty routine.
What is it used for?
The ingredients in aloe vera gel can relieve pain, reduce swelling, ease itching, and increase blood flow to injured skin to help the healing process. People use aloe vera gel to treat sunburn, poison ivy, and other rashes. They also use it to treat insect stings and frostbite, and as a first aid remedy for minor burns (ones that don’t blister), cuts, and scrapes.
What’s the best form to use?
The best source of aloe vera gel is a live potted plant that you can keep on your windowsill (more on this below). Using the gel straight from the plant ensures that it’s fresh and that its active ingredients are full-strength.
Here are two other choices:
- Pure aloe vera gel from a health food store. The label should say that it is 90 to 100 percent pure aloe vera. To keep it fresh (and refreshingly cool), store pure aloe gel in the refrigerator.
- A commercial aloe vera product from a drugstore. Be aware that many "aloe" lotions and other products contain very little aloe and may have no health benefits. Check to see that "aloe vera" appears near the top of the product’s ingredient list. Avoid buying a product whose label says "aloe vera extract" or "reconstituted aloe vera."
How do I use it?
For sunburn, rashes, insect stings, and frostbite: Simply spread aloe vera gel gently on irritated skin and let it soak in and dry. Many people find that aloe vera gel stops pain and itching as soon as it touches the skin. You can reapply it as often as you wish.
- For cuts and scrapes: Be sure to wash wounds well before applying aloe vera gel.
- For minor burns: Immediately cool a burn first by running it under cool water for 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t put ice on a burn, because the coldness can damage burned skin. Then, if the burn is minor (not blistering), you can gently apply aloe vera gel.
How can I grow an aloe vera plant?
You can buy aloe vera plants at most plant stores and nurseries. They are very easy houseplants to grow. Place your plant in or near a window and water it thoroughly when the soil dries out. Be sure the pot has good drainage and don’t water it too often: overwatering aloe vera plants may cause the spongy leaves to rot at the base of the plant.
How do I get the gel out of an aloe vera plant?
- Cut off a plump lower leaf near the central stalk.
- Cut off any spines along the edges.
- Slit the leaf lengthwise.
- Squeeze out the gel from the center of the leaf (you can use the tip of a butter knife), and apply it to your skin.