One of the most widely used botanicals, aloe vera is best known for calming sunburned skin and aiding wound healing. According to a paper tracing its origins published in JAMA Dermatology (February 2017), aloe’s anti-inflammatory properties are linked to three mechanisms: It prevents blood vessel dilation in irritated areas, produces pain-relieving salicylates as a byproduct, and inhibits the part of the immune response that triggers inflammation.
Known as the “plant of immortality” in ancient Egypt, aloe still holds a special place in skincare pros’ treatment rooms today. “It’s like nature’s antibiotic—perfect for dry and sensitive skin,” says Carol Blessing, owner and esthetician at Green Bamboo Quality Skin Care in Boonsboro, Maryland. Whether it’s in a powder, gel, extract or juice form, this popular ingredient can be used both in and out of the treatment room to address a myriad of skin concerns.
Why it’s a skincare all-star:
It’s common knowledge that aloe has natural anti-inflammatory properties, but it’s also able to stimulate new cell growth, says Diana Ralys, owner and founder of Diana Ralys Skin Health in Santa Monica, California. “Aloe can help heal chronic skin problems such as psoriasis, acne and eczema; it contains the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, which help firm the skin and keep it hydrated,” she says.
“Aloe is loaded with amino acids and skin-supporting ingredients as well, and has the ability to increase the skin’s humectancy,” adds Teresa Stenzel, director of education for Bioelements. In fact, she says, the ingredient’s deeply hydrating properties improve skin function, making aloe an ideal buffer in more intense professional formulas like chemical peels. “The more hydrated the skin is, the more responsive and calm it will be during professional treatments,” says Stenzel. “It really gives the professional control, and it gives the client better results.”
These benefits are thanks in part to aloe’s ability to permeate the skin. “Water can penetrate up to two layers, while aloe vera juice is able to make it up to seven layers into the skin,” explains Ralys. “For this reason, I use aloe vera juice as a base in most of my products; it makes them so much more beneficial than when water is the main ingredient.”
Replacing water with aloe to improve skincare formulations is certainly something to look out for in the near future. Bioelements’ latest Collagen Rehab mask, for example, does just that. “The aloe allows the formula to work within the skin as well as sit on the surface— it doesn’t just absorb right away,” says Stenzel. “When you rinse it off, it leaves a lasting moisture barrier on the skin.”
In the treatment room:
Bridgette Melhorn, owner and nutritional therapist at Nu Energy Weight Loss & Spa in Rogers, Arkansas, calls aloe a “hardworking botanical beauty” because it’s such an integral part of the spa’s wellness programs. “Our weight loss clients consume liquid aloe vera to help aid digestion and detoxification, and we use it topically to help improve post-weight-loss stretch marks,” she says. “Our facials feature Set-N-Me-Free Aloe Vera Company products, which quickly soothe irritation and speed healing after microneedling, microdermabrasion or chemical peels. And at-home aloe products allow clients to continue the healing and renewal process on a daily basis—they love it.”
One of Nu Energy’s most popular treatments is the Inch Loss Aloe & Herbal Body Wrap (60 min./from $69.99), in which clients are swaddled in a Set-N-Me-Free aloe concoction. “They relax in a zero-gravity massage chair or a whole-body vibration machine while the wrap helps promote lymphatic drainage, reduce the appearance of cellulite, and improve skin texture and firmness,” explains Melhorn.
At Green Bamboo Quality Skin Care, Blessing recommends the M’lis Natural Alternative to Face Lift Surgery facial (90 min./$100) to firm and tone aging skin. It starts with an antibacterial and antioxidant aloe and green tea cleanser, followed by exfoliation and an antiaging mask containing aloe vera extract, which works to draw out skin impurities and help actives penetrate deeper. After an hour the mask is removed, and a serum and moisturizer are applied. “Aloe is one of those ingredients that elicits the same response every time it’s used; it feels soothing, hydrating and ‘takes the sting away,’” says Blessing. “It’s like a magical elixir!”
- There are two substances extracted from the aloe plant: the clear gel, used in topical skin care; and the yellow latex, which can be taken orally to relieve constipation.
- The Mesopotamians, ancient Tibetans and Romans, among others, wrote about the plant’s ability to treat skin conditions. Today, its cultivation is so widespread that it’s unclear exactly where the plant originated.
- There are over 500 species of aloe, with aloe vera being the most widely used for skin care.
- Ancient Egyptians hung aloe from their doorways to protect them from evil spirits, and Cleopatra and Nefertiti were said to have incorporated it into their daily beauty regimens.
- Studies have shown that aloe can help diminish the appearance of wrinkles and reduce a collagen- degrading gene’s expression in sun-damaged skin.
–by Laura Waldon