Botanical name(s):

Aloe africana, Aloe barbadensis, Aloe ferox, Aloe perryi, Aloe spicata, Aloe vera. Family: Liliaceae. Over 200 known species of aloe exist.

Other name(s):

Aloe vera, burn plant, lily of the desert, elephant's gall, laxative, aloin, barbaloin

General description

Aloe is a plant that probably originated in Africa. More than 200 known species of aloe exist. The term "aloe vera" translates from Arabic and Hebrew to mean a "true shining, bitter substance." The succulent leaves are the part of the plant most often used. The flower may also be used.

Aloe vera has long been used in folk medicine. It is known mostly for its ability to aid in the healing process of cuts and burns and for its ability to moisturize and soften the skin. Aloe vera is also one of many anthelmintics (substances that will destroy or eliminate worms from the digestive system). Taken internally, aloe acts as a cathartic or laxative.

Aloe leaves, when superficially scratched, produce a bitter yellow liquid that contains the anthraquinone barbaloin, a strong laxative agent.

Medically valid uses

The following are well-established properties of aloe extracts:

  • They function as an astringent (a substance that has a constricting or binding effect) and is able to seal off cuts or scrapes.

  • They function as a laxative: The anthraquinones and barbaloin in aloe stimulate the bowel and increase its tone.

  • They increase the turnover rate of collagen and may increase collagen production. Collagen is essential in helping wounds heal.

Applied externally, aloe:

  • Helps heal minor burns and sunburns

  • Helps heal wounds, insect bites, or stings.

  • Stimulates cell regeneration

  • Has astringent, emollient, anti-fungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties

  • Moisturizes and softens the skin

Note: Aloe vera promotes healing best in the open air, so minor cuts and burns should be left uncovered after aloe vera is applied.

Dried aloe latex taken from the leaf (98 to 99 percent pure) has laxative properties and can be taken internally to help treat constipation, hemorrhoids, rectal itching, colitis, and other colon problems. However, the FDA required that laxative manufacturers remove aloe from their products in 2002 because the ingredient had not been subject to scientific studies to confirm safety. 

Aloe juice is dried and used to make tincture of benzoin, a sticky material used in medicine to ensure that bandage material adheres to the skin. Also, the acemannan (a complex mannose carbohydrate) found in aloe is used to make denture adhesive.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Aloe is claimed to soothe stomach irritation, assist in the healing of stomach disorders and ulcers, ease menstrual problems and prevent immune suppression in the skin caused by ultraviolet light.

Aloe vera is sometimes helpful in treating calluses and corns, varicose veins, infections, and arthritis. It is possible that aloe may be useful in the treatment of skin cancer.

Essence of the aloe vera flower may be helpful in relieving or healing mental and emotional burnout. This may be useful for women who are prone to hot flashes. Note: When taking aloe vera gel internally for ulcers or menstrual problems, use a brand of gel that will not have a laxative side effect.

Dosing format

Aloe vera is available as a tablet, gel, or liquid for internal use, and as a gel, lotion, ointment, or spray for topical use.

The gel from a freshly broken leaf from the aloe plant can be applied to minor burns, scrapes, lacerations, or sunburn for relief of discomfort. Similarly, over-the-counter (OTC) preparations may be applied for the same conditions and may be more convenient than keeping an aloe plant in the home.

OTC oral preparations of aloe should be taken as directed on the packaging.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

One study conducted by the National Toxicology Program found that non-decolorized whole leaf extracts of aloe vera added to drinking water caused cancer in female rats, but not in mice. 

Allergic reactions to aloe are rare. Test for allergy by applying a dab of aloe under your arm or behind your ear. If a rash or stinging occurs, do not use.

It is possible to develop an intolerance to aloe vera juice, so internal treatments should not be used on a continual basis. As always, consult a physician before using herbal medications.

People with diabetes who take medications to lower blood sugar should not use oral aloe vera as it may lower blood sugar levels even further. 

Topically: Do not use aloe vera if a rash or stinging occurs with use.

Internally: As with any laxative, do not use when abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting are present. Do not use in presence of chronic intestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, sprue, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult a physician before taking any herbal medicines.

There are no known significant food or drug interactions.

Additional information

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