An A-to-Z Guide to Aloe Vera


While we’ve all sought the healing benefits of aloe vera after a pesky sunburn at some point in our lives, industry professionals say the ingredient is much more than just a skin-soother. Read on to learn everything about the super plant, from how it’s formulated into skin care to its many benefits.

What is aloe vera?

According to Krupa Koestline, cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants, aloe vera—it’s also known as perennial succulent xerophyte—is a plant that develops water storage tissue in its leaves to survive in dry climates. “The innermost part of the leaf is a clear, soft and moist tissue that consists of large thin-walled cells in which water is held in the form of a viscous mucilage,” she explains. “The thick, fleshy leaves of aloe plants not only contain cell wall carbohydrates such as cellulose and hemicellulose, but also storage carbohydrates such as acetylated mannans, which are not as commonly found.”

In a study conducted by Skin Research & Technology, researchers found that aloe’s ability to store water in its leaves makes it a great topical skin-care ingredient for treating dry skin. Heather Florio, founder and CEO of aloe-based skin-care brand Desert Harvest, adds that aloe has antibacterial, antifungal, antibiotic, anesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties.

How is aloe formulated into skin care?

While we would typically think of aloe vera as an ingredient that comes in a thick gel form, Koestline says 90-percent of the aloe vera used in modern skin care is actually in the form of a concentrated powder. “Brands are using patented technology to create such powders that contain standardized polysaccharides to match the needs of the cosmetic application.” This is also a more sustainable way to use the plant, as it cuts out the water content and reduces the carbon footprint generated from production, she explains.

Noting that Desert Harvest’s aloe vera is uniquely processed, Florio gives us a step-by-step look into how the brand formulates their aloe-based products. “We start by growing our aloe vera in volcanic soil, which significantly boosts nutrient content in our aloe vera. Then, we set up on-site initial processing of our aloe vera to preserve those nutrients before utilizing a cold process to freeze-dry our aloe vera, as heat would also kill all the nutrients in the plant.”

What are aloe’s skin-care benefits?

Washington, D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD says aloe vera’s biggest skin-care benefit is it’s ability to regenerate damaged tissue, which helps with would healing—a major reason why it’s formulated into after-sun products. “It is also great for sensitive skin,” says the doctor. “Aloe aids in the prevention of scarring and discoloration of tissue with its abundance of antioxidants including beta carotene, vitamins C and E and mineral zinc,” adds Florio. “It also has compounds that may help prevent wound infections while stimulating collagen synthesis and skin regeneration, making it great for wearing under makeup or as an aftershave for both men and women to help with cuts and bumps.”

If you’re struggling with acne, Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD says aloe, known to be a natural, more mild alternative to salicylic acid, can help. “With its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, aloe is a good option for patients with inflamed acne lesions when applied topically. It is lightweight and will not clog pores. Other conditions that might find relief with topically applied aloe would be things like psoriasis. It is always important to consult with your dermatologist first just to be sure.”

How is aloe vera used?

If you can find an aloe vera plant—they are often sold at grocery stores or farmer’s markets—Dr. Alster recommends starting a DIY experiment at home. “Aloe vera can be applied to the skin directly from the plant. Use a mortar and pestle and you can create a calming, cooling face mask or you can use it for sunburn relief.” While the doctor says it can be used on the skin daily, she explains that aloe vera is not a substitute for active ingredients such as vitamin C or retinol. “Aloe vera is best when included in active products for its calming effects to counteract any irritation or sensitivity.” If you would prefer to buy a product with aloe already in it, it can be applied wherever skin is irritated, or to simply keep the skin looking hydrated and healthy.

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