When you forget to reapply sunscreen after a dip in the pool, chances are, you end up with a monstrous sunburn. For such cases, your mother has stocked it in her medicine cabinet. Aloe vera is a known and much-loved home remedy for sunburned skin.

Photo by Massimo Botturi

Aside from relieving sunburns, aloe vera is used in traditional Chinese medicine both internally and externally. So why does aloe vera enjoy such long-lasting popularity?

Aloe vera

The scientific name is Aloe barbadensis. It’s a thick, short-stemmed, cactus-like plant that grows in desert regions around the world. If you look at how its leaves are made up, you see that it stores water in its leaves. Its leaves are triangular and made up of 3 layers. The innermost layer contains 99% of water and a myriad of beneficial nutrients.

It’s the reason why aloe vera is used extensively in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and even in food industries. It’s estimated that the plant has an estimated annual market value of $13 billion globally.

When you cut open a leaf, you’ll find a gooey, clear gel-like substance, popularly known as aloe vera gel. This gel tastes bitter and is known all over the world for its almost magical cure-all properties. This is because it contains

  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E
  • Minerals such as zinc, potassium, and magnesium
  • Enzymes
  • Polysaccharides
  • A type of protein that contains 18 of the 20 amino acids found in the body

In traditional Chinese medicine, aloe vera was used for treating digestive issues when taken orally and of course for its soothing properties when applied to the skin.

Benefits for your skin

Aloe vera can be used for many things besides soothing the sting of a sunburn.

Healing

Aloe vera is a staple in your mum’s medicine cabinet because it accelerates wound healing. This applies to minor cuts as well as burns, and of course sunburns. Specifically, it’s due to the polysaccharides found in aloe. These are molecules consisting of several sugar molecules bonded together. They help in encouraging skin repair and new skin cells to grow.

Its famous soothing effect is attributed to carboxypeptidase. Lastly, the vitamins, A, B, C, D, and E and minerals like zinc, potassium, and magnesium all accelerate wound healing.

With burns, the skin can sometimes start to peel. Aloin is a compound found in aloe vera. Its anti-inflammatory helps prevent peeling. In general, aloe vera reduces inflammation and skin irritation.

Hydrating

Your skin readily absorbs aloe vera, without leaving it feeling greasing. This is because aloe vera contains so much water. As it also contains polysaccharides, it hydrates the skin as well as locks the moisture. Think of it as if the aloe vera gel is acting as a glue: It makes the top layer of the skin cells stick together, which ultimately results in smoother and softer skin.

Aloe vera can be used by all skin types, also people with oily or sensitive skin. Especially in summer with hot, humid days, it has proven to be an excellent, light moisturiser.

Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial

How soothing the aloe plant is has been described already. In addition, it has antifungal and antibacterial compounds. So, applying ale vera on skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can help reduce scaling, redness, and irritation.

Moreover, aloe contains salicylic acid. This means, it not only helps reduces the presence of acne-producing bacteria on your skin but the salicylic acid is an exfoliant that helps remove dead skin and prevent your pores from clogging. Although using aloe alone probably won’t be enough for severe acne, but it will help calm and reduce irritation.

Anti-ageing

Since it’s rich in vitamins C, E, and beta carotene, it’s both nourishing and anti-ageing. Well, that doesn’t mean it can help get rid of my wrinkles, that is reverse skin ageing. Nonetheless, it slows the signs of ageing, that is it helps prevent you from getting deeper wrinkles and lines.

The compounds that speed up healing are also beneficial for anti-ageing. These compounds encourage skin regeneration and increase hydration, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Then, it contains antioxidants belonging to a large family of substances known as polyphenols. Anti-oxidants protect your skin twofold: For one, they limit the generation of free radicals, and in doing so fight the effects of oxidative stress. Secondly, they help the skin repair itself. Namely vitamin C stimulates the fibroblasts and so encourages collagen and elastin production.

Lightening

Speaking of vitamin C, aloe vera can reduce discolouration. Vitamin C can help prevent the effects of the skin’s enzyme responsible for skin discoloration, tyrosinase. When applied to the skin, it suppresses the UV-induced hyperpigmentation and the skin-damaging effects of sunburn. The other antioxidants in aloe vera also contribute to prevent dark spots and fade sun damage that has already occurred.

Of course, if you know how post-inflammatory marks come about after some zits, it also makes sense to apply aloe vera to calm down irritated skin to prevent acne scars.

Other surprising reasons to love aloe vera

Relieve unbearable and itchy bug bites

Is the mosquito bite driving you up the walls? Turn to aloe vera. It can soothe your itchy, irritated skin, also from bug bites. Its natural anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities will reduce the swelling, redness, and itching. A good idea is to have some stored in the refrigerator. Applying it cold will provide quick relief.

Oral health

Even if it tastes bitter, it’s a safe and effective alternative to chemical-based mouthwashes. Research has shown aloe vera is effective in killing the plaque-producing bacterium Streptococcus mutans in the mouth, thus helping to prevent the buildup of plaque on the teeth.

Dandruff

As aloe vera has antiseptic properties, it’s an effective treatment for scalp irritation, scaliness, and flakiness, in short dandruff.

Fresh or bottled ale vera?

The best way to use ale vera is to get it straight from the source – the plant. That is carefully cut open a plant’s leaf, scoop out the gel-like insides and apply that to the affected area.

If you don’t have a plant at home, store-bought varieties in tubs can be as effective as gel harvested from an aloe plant. Having a fresh plat gives you the added advantage that it will contain other ingredients that will help with what you are trying to treat.

Also know that even if a store-bought product contains aloe vera gel in their ingredient list, there usually isn’t a lot of it. You’ll want a product that specifically lists aloe vera as a primary ingredient which is listed as one of the first few (more on how to decipher the ingredient list).

Takeaway

Prevention is better than alleviating the symptoms. Aloe vera is great in soothing a painful sunburn but each sunburn increases your chances of developing skin cancer. As such, religiously apply SPF everyday. And, if you swim don’t forget to reapply.

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