Aloe vera — what is it good for?

Originally Published: May 18, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 26, 2010
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Alice,

Have you any information on the medicinal plant aloe vera?

—Desert plants

Dear Desert plants,

It's true, aloe vera is a succulent, a plant that stores water in its fleshy leaves and thus thrives in arid climates like deserts. It has been used as a medicinal plant for thousands of years to soothe various external and internal woes. Recent research has found good evidence for many of the ailments aloe has been used to treat for centuries.

Many studies point out that aloe extract in various forms can be used to help alleviate:

  • Skin irritation — used topically, there is evidence that aloe may soothe dry skin, sunburns, and some skin infections and helps stimulate the skin's own healing properties.
  • Constipation — there is some evidence that aloin, derived from aloe taken orally, works as an effective laxative.
  • Psoriasis, dandruff, and other skin conditions — certain congenital skin conditions resulting in irritated or dry and flaky skin can be soothed (not cured) with aloe.
  • Genital herpes — limited evidence suggests that extract from aloe in a hydrophilic cream may be an effective treatment of genital herpes.

There is early evidence that aloe may also assist in:

  • Cancer prevention — it's too early to know for sure, but oral aloe supplements may assist in lung cancer prevention.
  • Skin burns — some evidence suggests aloe may heal mild to moderate skin burns.
  • Colon ulcers — aloe may work better than a placebo in treating colitis.
  • Wound healing — the results are mixed. Some research has shown aloe can help heal wounds while other studies have shown it can potentially worsen some types of skin wounds.

Having an aloe plant around can be enjoyable, even if you never harness it for its medicinal properties. In addition to their sassy, spiky look, they are easy to maintain, as long as you don't over water them these dry soil-loving plants.

Alice