Aloe vera shots and facial mists may seem like all the rage these days, though these remedies are much more than another passing trend.
The aloe vera plant, also known as "the lily of the desert," is a succulent. Aloe-based products and the plant itself is used to heal scrapes, cool sunburn, and relieve pain from minor cuts. Its uses go far beyond treating bug bites and boo-boos for kids—it has become a go-to for soothing digestive tracts and has become a key ingredient in beauty products and rituals. Aloe vera can be helpful for supporting thyroid and intestinal health, too.
Before starting any new skin-care regimen or taking aloe orally, talk to your doctor, as it's still potent medicine (even if it comes from a plant).
Aloe vera juice vs. aloe vera gel.
What's the difference between the gel and the juice that come from the aloe vera plant? Both the gel and the juice are beneficial and may come from different parts of the plant, with each bringing its own individual uses and healing properties.
Aloe vera juice is produced either from the whole leaf or just the inner portion (the composition of juice should be specified on the label) and is consumed orally as a health tonic. This health tonic has immune-boosting and digestive-stimulating effects. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that aloe vera juice is used to treat asthma, epilepsy, and osteoarthritis. The skin of the aloe leaf outputs a bitter liquid that is a potent laxative, which is why many prefer to seek aloe vera juice that originates from the inner fillet only, to avoid the laxative effect. Talk to your doctor before taking aloe, especially if you use it as a laxative—it could lower blood glucose levels and reduce the effectiveness of medication when taken orally.
A clear gel can be found inside the leaves, which is often used topically. The gel is a skin-soothing salve for sunburns and is a classic remedy for minor cuts and burns. The University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC, reports that glycoproteins and polysaccharides in aloe vera gel, among other vitamins and minerals, are responsible for its healing power.
What to look for when buying aloe vera.
Aloe vera is a true medicinal plant. Inside the stiff and prickly stalks is the good, healing stuff: a clear jelly that feels fresh to the touch. The thick, green outer must be filleted off in order to consume this potent medicinal food, with the soft gel being highly concentrated with long-chain sugars—the same polysaccharides mentioned above—and glycoproteins that may provide satiation, long-term energy production, anti-inflammatory properties, and immune-enhancing qualities.
When buying aloe vera, know that the best source is straight from the plant! If you don’t have an aloe plant at home yet, you can likely find aloe leaves or even full-grown plants at your local organic grocery, plant nursery, or farmers markets—but, buyer, please beware! It is only the aloe barbadensis variety that is nontoxic and safe to use internally, and where you get it matters. Look for an organic plant grown free of pesticides. Alternatively, pick up a clean, upstanding brand: Lily of the Desert and Mountain Rose Herbs are my personal go-to's. I don’t widely recommend you use many of the store-bought aloe vera concentrates or drinks, as many contain preservatives and lack the medicinal-grade qualities that provide the benefits we're looking for.
Aloe vera and immunity.
The long-chain polysaccharide sugars in aloe are a healing form of sugar. The white blood cells that make up our immune system operate more efficiently on certain types of nutrients such as these bitter-tasting polysaccharide sugars. These rare sugars are the same ones you may have heard about in medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and chaga—they help our immunity and fight back all forms of infection. This is further boosted by glutathione inherently present in aloe.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant important for keeping energy levels high. It plays a key role in the development of white blood cells as well as preventing damage to other cellular functions as oxidation occurs. Many body functions can be boosted by the increased production of glutathione, including immunity, recovery time, detoxification, as well as metabolism!
Aloe vera for beauty and skin care.
For clear skin, adding products containing aloe vera or aloe vera juice may help reduce redness and help broken skin and acne heal. As such, aloe vera is a powerful ingredient in toners and hydrosols, providing antioxidants, increasing hydration, and helping to reduce redness and the inflammatory response. One of my favorite skin-care products containing aloe vera is from my line, a skin-hydrating Ajai Alchemy Grace Rose Mist.
Keeping aloe vera juice or aloe vera gel on hand can also be good for a number of beauty and health needs. Try using it for makeup primer (apply before foundation), makeup remover, sunburn soother, facial mask, lightweight moisturizer, and treatment for an irritated scalp (mix in a few drops of peppermint oil and a carrier oil if your skin is sensitive).
Aloe vera and digestion.
Internally, aloe vera can balance high blood sugar, regulate a leaky gut, and ease constipation. For this reason, we should consider it as seriously as we would a conventional medicine—it really is that much of a wonder and affects the system too. Aside from these incredible healing properties, it’s also a perfect component in a summer drink for quenching, cooling, and soothing.
Aloe also may have the ability to help with leaky gut. In animal studies, scientists have found that aloe can reduce markers of inflammation in the colon, and while further research is needed, it demonstrates that it does, in fact, have anti-inflammatory properties.
Aloe is also known as an effective diuretic. In traditional Chinese herbal medicine, rooted in ancient knowledge that's thousands of years old, aloe has historically been used to address constipation and even parasitic infections. Ever wonder how it works? Researchers at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine have found that the purging nature of aloe is actually a result of our gut bacteria metabolizing the plant compounds found specifically in aloe vera. The end result of that is what helps move congested bowels along. According to Chinese herbal medicine, aloe has a cold and bitter nature, allowing it to drain "fiery" ails like irritability, restlessness, insomnia, red eyes, and headache, or dizziness.
To get a taste, try this smoothie for smooth digestion and glowing summer skin.
Aloe vera and blood sugar regulation.
Aloe is made of a constitution that has been shown to have positive effects on blood sugar back regulation, which is a major marker for happy, humming hormones. When blood sugar regulation is out of whack, it can lead to type 2 diabetes, which is often marked by inflammation, obesity, and insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that allows sugar molecules to enter our cells, which they then use for fuel. When cells are insulin-resistant, it means they no longer respond to insulin. Eventually, the cells can't properly extract their energy from glucose if they are insulin-resistant. In order to function properly, cells need to be efficient at utilizing glucose. Plus, when insensitive, the blood is left full of excess insulin and glucose swimming around causing a chain reaction of problems. Research has found that our friend, the aloe plant, in addition to taking preventive lifestyle modifications to balance blood sugar, helps to manage insulin sensitivity and keep our cells attuned to its activity.
According to Akira Yagi, professor at Fukuyama University, extracts of aloe may even improve signs of Alzheimer’s disease and some forms of dementia, when the brain has become insulin-resistant.
DIY Aloe Vera Recipes
Want to put all of this aloe vera know-how to good use? Here are two recipes, one to heal your skin from the inside out and the other to work from the outside in.
Aloe Vera Smoothie
- 1 to 2 cups coconut milk or almond milk
- 1 cup almond or coconut milk
- 1 medium aloe vera leaf, filleted (approximately ½ cup)
- 2 cups kale
- 2 cups spinach
- 1 medium cucumber
- ½ avocado
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric or turmeric powder
- ½ tablespoon chia or flaxseeds
- 1 tablespoon hemp hearts
- 1 tablespoon raw honey or Manuka honey
- 2 tablespoons collagen protein powder (I love Further Collagen!)
- ½ tablespoon bee pollen
Toss all your ingredients in a blender and blend on high until the consistency is smooth. Top with bee pollen and sprinkle with a spoonful of hemp hearts. Sip slowly and enjoy the gut-healing benefits! Feel free to sub in the greens of your choice, as rotating them is important! You can also try adding cooked cauliflower to give it a creamy feel. Lastly, if you prefer, add a whole fruit like banana, papaya, or mango instead of honey if you’re avoiding added sweeteners or want to keep your sugar consumption down.
Find aloe vera leaf at your local health food market.
How to fillet an aloe vera leaf:
- First, cut off any white parts close to the root of the leaf.
- Then trim the prickly sides by slicing them off entirely using a paring knife. When doing so, try to take off as little as possible.
- With the convex side facing up, use a potato peeler to remove the skin from the leaf. Alternatively, you can slice off the top skin with the knife.
- Then, slide the knife under the gel to separate it from the leaf skin, making sure there is no leftover skin on the gel. (The skin is diuretic, and that’s not what we’re going for here!)
- Dice the gel into smaller pieces.
- Refrigerate and cover your leftover aloe.
This super short how-to video on YouTube makes it easy!
You can also use some of the inner fillet for a super-simple and amazing after-sun face mask!
After-Sun Aloe Vera Face Mask
Take a small amount of inner fillet (or if you don’t have access to the fresh fillet, organic aloe vera gel is a great alternative), open a vitamin E capsule, and mix with organic Manuka honey to create a gummy mask. Add 3 drops of organic oil—coconut works well—for extra glow and skin brightening. Massage into your skin in a circular motion for 2 to 3 minutes. Apply all over face and any areas of sun damage on body. Sit with cucumbers over your eyes and breathe deeply for 15 to 20 minutes.
Rinse face with cold water and spritz liberally with Grace Face Mist or your favorite facial toner or energizing mist, to keep skin moisturized and protected. Apply your favorite facial oil or serum—hydrating rosehip oil is a great option—generously to face.
Want to know more about the healing power of plants? Take mbg's course, the ultimate guide to plant-based nutrition.
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.