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Aloe vera: how to use, health benefits and where to buy

Siski Green / 26 February 2020

Find out what aloe vera can do and how best to use it, including how to eat it and what aloe vera is used for.

Aloe Vera juice and leaves
Aloe Vera products are made from the whole leaf of the plant

Aloe vera is a bit of a miracle plant – it helps reduce inflammation, has anti-bacterial properties and you can use it on the outside of your body – your skin and hair – as well as the inside, eating itor drinking the gel can improve digestion, for example.

What is aloe vera used for?

Aloe vera can help soothe sunburn, relieve mild skin irritation or inflammation, moisturize hair, you can use it for insect bite relief, natural lubricant, a natural shaving cream alternative, and make-up removal. It’s also used in foods as flavouring, and for preventing tooth decay.

The succulent stores water, along with other nutrients, in its leaves. While most of the leaf is water (99%), it contains around 75 active ingredients, according to a study published in the International Journal of Research and Medical Sciences.

What’s the history of aloe vera?

More than 6,000 years ago Chinese and Egyptian cultures are known to have used aloe vera to treat burns and wounds and it is now one of the more studied plant-based treatments.

What’s the best way to use aloe vera?

All kinds of products, from shampoo to creams to washing up liquid, can contain aloe vera but the amount varies widely. If you want to be sure of maximising the benefits, use fresh aloe. Some supermarkets and wholefood shops sell aloe vera leaves. Cut the leaf horizontally and then scoop the gel out with a spoon. You can apply this gel directly to your skin to soothe sunburn or calm irritated skin. You can also apply it directly to washed hair and let it dry, to add thickness and shine (it will feel crunchy at first, but you can run your fingers through your hair to remove that, leaving your hair soft and shiny).

Can you eat aloe vera?

Yes, aloe vera is edible. You can eat the skin, soaking it in water for 10-20 minutes before eating to ensure it’s soft enough to eat, and add it to a salad. But most people drink the gel inside the leaf in smoothies or similar.

To ingest it slice the aloe leaf and cut out the gel part. Rinse off to remove any of the yellow ‘latex’ – this is a substance that’s released between the skin and gel and can taste bitter, as well as cause laxative effects and kidney problems. Blend the remaining gel into your favourite drink or add to cereal or porridge.

Does aloe vera really work?

Aloe vera is an effective anti-inflammatory when applied to irritated or sun-damaged skin. It’s also moisturising.

Research published in the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 3 suggests drinking aloe vera juice helps to lower fasting blood glucose levels in those with diabetes. Add 1 tablespoon of aloe to a drink twice a day.

Aloe vera is also effective in helping to prevent tooth decay. Research published in General Dentistry 2 found that it was effective at eliminating harmful bacteria in the mouth. Ask your dentist to recommend a toothpaste containing aloe to enjoy the benefits, as the aloe it contains needs to be treated a certain way to be effective.

How long does aloe vera take to work?

If you’re using aloe vera to treat sunburn the relief should be immediate as the gel has an instant cooling effect. For improvements to blood glucose levels in those with diabetes, the effects will take longer to note – in the study mentioned above, the effects were noted after two to three months.

Where can I get aloe vera?

The great thing about aloe vera is that it’s easy to grow and take care of. They don’t need much water – once every two or three is enough (watering thoroughly) – but are best cared for indoors. You can also buy fresh leaves in many supermarkets or health food shops. Chemists and health food stores often sell aloe vera products too and there is a huge variety of choice online. Check the ingredients list on aloe vera products to ensure most of it not all is aloe vera rather than other ingredients. Also, be aware that you shouldn’t eat an aloe vera product unless it’s labelled as a food product. In cosmetics, for example, preservatives will have been added to preserve shelf life as well as to adjust the colour, texture or smell of the product.

What are the side effects of aloe vera?

Most of the aloe leaf is edible, but when you cut it you may notice a yellow substance – this can have a powerful laxative effect and potentially kidney problems. For this reason, it’s best to rinse off any part of the leaf you eat, ensuring there isn’t any of the yellow latex.

Are there any contraindications when taking aloe vera?

Rarely, aloe vera can cause allergic contact dermatitis. High doses can cause digestive problems, too. If you are taking medications for blood disorders, diabetes or digestive issues, talk to your GP first before taking aloe vera.

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.



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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.