Find out all about aloe vera, including what it does, the benefits to taking it and how much you might need
Written by Charlotte Haigh on December 7, 2018
Reviewed by Dr Sarah Schenker on December 18, 2018
What is aloe vera and what does it do?
Aloe vera is a plant that’s been used as a traditional herbal medicine for centuries. In fact, stone carvings show it was popular in ancient Egypt.1 It’s still in wide use throughout the world, in countries including China, India, Japan and South Africa.2
The two parts of the aloe vera plant used herbally are:
- the clear gel found inside the leaves
- the yellow substance, called latex, found just under the plant’s skin3
Traditionally, aloe vera has been used as a herbal medicine for a range of conditions, including constipation, colic, skin diseases, wound care and hair loss. Nowadays, many people use it for soothing burns, constipation, cold sores and psoriasis.4,5
Aloe vera is available as tablets, capsules, gels and ointments. You can also sometimes find it in health drinks and as an ingredient in cosmetic products.6
Benefits of aloe vera
What does aloe vera do in the body?
Despite its long-term traditional use, there have been few robust clinical studies looking at aloe vera.7 But so far, evidence suggests it may have a role to play in the following:
1. It can help repair damaged skin cells
Aloe vera may be beneficial in treating wounds, such as burns, according to a 2015 review of research published in BioMed Research International. Its secret? The gel contains a compound called glucomannan, which boosts the formation of new skin cells and collagen production.8
2. It can ease psoriasis symptoms
Some people with this skin condition – characterised by inflamed, itchy, scaly patches, which can sometimes crack and bleed – use aloe gel to soothe symptoms. The evidence is mixed at the moment, but research does suggest that aloe vera may be helpful for easing certain symptoms of psoriasis alongside other treatment.
For example, its wound-healing properties can mean it helps cracked skin to repair itself, while the glucomannan encourages production of collagen – the substance that keeps skin springy and elastic – which may help prevent new patches from forming.9,10
3. It can relieve constipation
Traditionally, the latex in aloe vera, when taken orally, has a long history as a laxative for constipation. Its benefits are mainly due to a type of natural laxative in the plant called aloin. Several studies have supported aloe latex’s effectiveness for treating constipation, although one of these positive studies looked at aloe in combination with celandine and psyllium, rather than on its own.11
How much aloe vera is safe to take?
As a cream, gel or ointment applied topically, aloe vera is safe to use as needed.12
However, if you’re taking aloe for a digestive condition, remember it’s a laxative. So, if you have diarrhoea symptoms or ulcerative colitis, it may make you need to go to the loo more often.13 Always read the label carefully and follow directions for oral use.
Talk to your doctor before taking aloe vera if:14
- you have diabetes – aloe vera can lower blood glucose levels
- you’re taking any medication orally – as aloe vera’s a laxative, it can reduce the absorption of medication you’re taking and may therefore make it less effective.
What are the side-effects of taking or using aloe vera?
Children under 12, and pregnant or breast-feeding women should not take aloe vera. People with digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s, should also avoid drinking any aloe preparations.15
Strangely, although a one-off topical application of aloe is very hydrating, a 2014 study by South Africa’s North-West University found that using aloe vera gel on a regular basis can reduce the moisture levels in your skin.16 More research is needed but it’s worth bearing in mind if you have dry skin or a skin condition, such as psoriasis.
Due to aloe vera’s laxative effects, it is best to start with a small amount as when taken orally it can also cause:17
- stomach cramps
The right amount to take for you is enough to produce soft, comfortable stools.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Aloe Vera
2. Foster M, Hunter D, Samman S. Evaluation of the Nutritional and Metabolic Aspects of Aloe Vera
3. As Source 1
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6. As Source 2
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8. Hashemi SA, Madani SA, Abediankenari S. The Review on Properties of Aloe Vera in Healing of Cutaneous Wounds
9. Lana Burgess. Medical News Today. Can aloe vera treat psoriasis?
10. As Source 8
11. As Source 2
12. As Source 9
13. Michigan Medicine: Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Complementary and Alternative Therapies for IBD
14. As Source 1
15. European Medicines Agency. European Union herbal monograph on Aloe barbadensis Mill. and on Aloe (various species, mainly Aloe ferox Mill. and its hybrids), folii succus siccatus
16. Fox LT, et al. In Vivo skin hydration and anti-erythema effects of Aloe vera, Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii gel materials after single and multiple applications
17. As Source 1