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Aloe vera: the plant of immortality

aloe vera Dr. Siklos Krisztina Dermatologist Budapest

Aloe vera has been used for centuries for its health, beauty, medicinal and skin care properties in several cultures: Greece, Egypt, India, Mexico, Japan and China. The name Aloe vera derives from the Arabic word ”Alloeh” meaning ”shining bitter substance”, while ”vera” in Latin means ”true”. 2000 years ago, the Greek scientists regarded Aloe vera as the universal panacea. The Egyptians called Aloe ”the plant of immortality”, and the Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it as part of their regular beauty regimes. Alexander the Great, and Christofer Columbus used it to treat soldiers’ wounds. By the early 1800s, Aloe vera was in use as a laxative in the Unites States, but in the mid-1930s, a turning point occured when it was successfully used to treat chronic and severe radiation dermatitis.

As the  wise king of Israel, Solomon claimed thousands of years ago:  ”…there is nothing new under the sun…”. Nowadays we often see Aloe vera on the shelves in the Pharmacy or on the Cosmetics counter. And naturally, with the most wonderful promises on the packaging. But is Aloe vera really such a magical plant?

About the plant

Aloe vera is a shrubby or arborescent, perennial, xerophytic, succulent, pea-green color plant. In appearance it looks like a cactus.  The plant has triangular, fleshy leaves with serrated edges, yellow tubular flowers and fruits that contain numerous seeds. Since aloe has naturalised throughout the warm regions around the world, it is difficult to correctly establish its origin. It is supposed to be native of North Africa or the Nile region in Sudan. There are more than 400 species from which only a few contain healing properties. Aloe Barbadensis Miller is considered to be one of the most effective species and is the most widely researched. This species is also used in cosmetics.

What does it do?

Many positive properties are attributed to Aloe vera. These are:

  • Relieving skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
  • Possessing anti-ageing properties.
  • Helping insect bites, minor burns and sun damage to heal.
  • Soothing and improving skin irritations.
  • Possessing anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

The plant can be separated into two products: aloe latex and aloe gel. Aloe latex (or aloe juice) is the bitter yellow exudate from the pericyclic tubules in the outer skin of the leaves. The major active constituents of aloe latex are hydroxyanthracene derivatives (15-40%) such as aloin A and B. These derivatives are traditionally known as laxatives, but they act as analgesics, antibacterials and antivirals. Aloe gel is the colourless gel contained in the inner part of the fresh leaves. The gel consists primarily of water (98%) and polysaccharides. Acemannan is considered the main functional component of aloe vera, and is proved to accelerate wound healing, stimulate the immun system and has antibacterial and antiviral effects.  Aloe vera gel is often commercialised as powdered concentrate. Traditionally, aloe vera gel is used both topically (treatment of wounds, minor burns, and skin irritations) and internally to terat constipation, coughs, ulcers, headaches, arthritis, immun-system deficiencies.

There are just 5% of active ingredients in the Aloe vera plant.  The following substances are very beneficial for the skin:

  • Vitamin A, C and E are responsible for the anti-ageing benefits and repairing damaged skin. These vitamins are anti-oxidants and neutralise free radicals.
  • Anthraquinones: as I have already mentioned they are painkillers and have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral effects.
  • Sterols (lupeol, campesterol) and polysaccharides (pectin, glucomannan, acemannan and mannose derivatives) have an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. These substances can soothe the skin and help improve irritations.
  • Other molecules and compounds such as amino acids, tannins and various enzymes contribute to the action of Aloe vera.


So we can understand why this plant is called ”the plant of immortality”……..


Should I stock Aloe vera products?


It all sounds very positive, but Aloe vera products available in the shops are most probably not as effective as those used in the investigations. One study has examined nine powdered concentrates of Aloe vera gel, obtained from leading international suppliers, and compared with fresh Aloe vera gel (Quality and authenticity of commercial aloe vera gel powders. A. Bozzi et al. 2006). According to this study’s results many manufacturers use poor or very diluted raw materials. Even if good fresh Aloe vera gel is used, it is still debateable as to wether it is still effective by the time it arrives in our shopping basket. The active substances of Aloe vera are very sensitive and quickly lose their strength. So in case of an emergency it is advisable to put a plant on the window sill: when you or your family member cuts a knee or finger you just break of a leaf and that’s it done!

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