There is no question that aloe vera has been used by numerous civilizations for countless centuries. In fact, records of its restorative powers appear in Sumarian clay tablets dating back to 2100 BC. We have learned that ancient civilizations used aloe to treat a variety of ailments ranging from sinus pain to burns, wounds, and mild infections.
While aloe was originally used in ancient Persia, its healing benefits became known to much of the civilized world. In fact, when the New World was discovered, the Spanish brought aloe plants with them. Today, aloe is grown in the U.S. throughout Florida, Southern California, and the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. Although more than 300 species of aloe are grown throughout the world, only two are grown commercially. These include Aloe Barbadensis Miller and Aloe Aborescense.
Aloe first became included in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1820 and, since then, countless scientists have studied its efficacy in a range of clinical applications. The first scientific research surrounding aloe dates back to 1935 when Collins and Collins discovered aloe vera to be beneficial in the treatment of radiation dermatitis. Since that time, studies have proven aloe's
effectiveness in treating a wide range of conditions, including superficial skin abrasions, frostbite, burns, periodontal disease, peptic ulcers, herpes, and even diabetes. Despite this, new discoveries relative to the healing abilities of aloe are occurring everyday. The power of aloe may best be summed up by Dr. Wendell Winters, professor of microbiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center and a fellow aloe researcher, who states, "We think of aloe as a pharmacy in
Aloe in Skin Care Applications
Loaded with more than 200 active components, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, polysaccharides, fatty acids, and more, aloe is one of the few natural substances scientifically proven to benefit the body. Among aloe's exceptional abilities, which are relevant to skin care:
- Aloe penetrates tissue – Unlike water, aloe can be absorbed by the skin. In fact, it is absorbed deep into the skin's layers. This is due to the presence of lignin, a substance similar to cellulose. This ability allows aloe to act as an excellent carrier for the other components of aloe vera, as well as other ingredients that are included in aloe-based skin care products.
- Aloe acts as an anesthetic – Aloe has a high magnesium content and contains aspirin-like compounds. Therefore, it is commonly used to alleviate the pain of burns and wounds, including countless skin ailments.
- Aloe has antimicrobial properties – Among the antimicrobial compounds found in aloe are saponin, which acts as an antisepsis, and barbaloin, which is effective against Mycobacterium, a family of bacteria known to cause serious diseases. A 1979 study by Heggers et al showed that aloe in concentrations greater than 60 percent is lethal against various organisms. Given that bacteria is a main cause of acne, aloe's antimicrobial properties are beneficial in treatment of the condition.
- Aloe is an anti-inflammatory – Aloe contains salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid known for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. Additionally, it contains sterols that inhibit acute inflammation, similar to cortisone, but without the side effects. Nearly all skin conditions stem from inflammation, making aloe an ideal remedy.
- Aloe is proven to heal wounds – Scientific research has shown that several components in aloe are responsible for the substance's excellent ability to regenerate cells. These include gibberellin, a growth hormone-like substance that increases protein synthesis and lectin, a protein that increases collagen activity and improves the collagen matrix. Thus, aloe may be utilized to heal conditions, such as acne or eczema, while improving the overall health of the skin.
As mentioned earlier, aloe is readily available in nearly every type of skin care product – from cleansers and serums to moisturizers and sunscreens. However, few, if any of these products deliver exceptional results. Why? Because of limitations in quality and concentration, as well as inappropriate formulations that do not maximize the active ingredients present in aloe.
First and foremost, to experience the healing benefits of aloe, it must be the product's base ingredient. This statement is further solidified given aloe's ability to be absorbed into the skin. Thus, when used as a product base, it acts as an excellent carrier for other effective ingredients.
Chances are you currently use – either personally or in your practice – several products that advertise the presence of aloe. Take a look at the ingredient list. Is aloe the first ingredient? I am willing to bet that instead, you will find it to be water-based. This is the problem with most skin care products. A base of water will only dilute the active ingredients in your product, which makes the aloe it does contain virtually worthless.
Next, look at the quality of the aloe that is utilized. Like other cosmetic ingredients, aloe is available in a range of grades, with cosmetic-grade being the most commonly utilized in skin care products. In addition to the numerous beneficial components present in aloe, the plant also contains active ingredients that are considered impurities because they cause contact irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. Given that cosmetic-grade ingredients are allowed by the Food and Drug Administration to contain percentages of impurities, cosmetic-grade aloe may actually be detrimental to some skin types. For this reason, it is necessary to select pharmaceutical-grade aloe, the purest form available.
Simply purchasing pharmaceutical-grade aloe, however, is no guarantee that the plant has been properly harvested and processed. Aloe's active ingredients begin to decompose and lose their effectiveness soon after harvesting. To avoid this, aloe must be processed within four to six hours to ensure it remains bioactive. The only way to ensure these procedures have been properly followed is to buy the purest and most bioactive aloe that is certified by the International Aloe Science Council (IASC), a non-profit trade organization that is dedicated to providing the world with the highest quality of aloe.
Finally, it is important to note that exceptional results cannot be achieved by simply using fresh aloe in your practice. The household aloe plant is a different species than the Aloe Barbadensis that is used in skin care applications. Additionally, as noted above, unprocessed aloe contains irritating substances, such as anthroquinones, which could result in more harm than good.
Given all this information, how do you tap the power of aloe to improve the beauty and well-being of your clients? Begin applying pharmaceutical-grade aloe to your clients' skin following a variety of procedures, including microdermabrasion and peels. Not only will doing so calm inflammation, it will also accelerate healing. Pharmaceutical-grade aloe vera gel can be purchased online and at natural food stores. Another option is to apply aloe-based skin care products, such as moisturizers, that utilize a pharmaceutical-grade of aloe.
Because consumers have been inundated with product marketing that touts the use of aloe without seeing results from these products, many are naturally cynical about the benefits of aloe. Therefore, it is essential that, as skin care professionals and trusted advisors to our clients, we educate them about the proper ways to utilize aloe and the proven benefits they may realize. In addition, take a look at the products you are carrying at retail to ensure those that contain aloe do so in a manner that will generate results.
Incorporating aloe into your practice does not require a large financial investment, nor does it necessitate time-consuming training. What it does require is an understanding of the benefits of aloe and the ways in which those benefits may be realized. By properly utilizing aloe as part of treatment protocols and encouraging your clients to utilize aloe-based products for maintenance in between office visits, your clients will quickly experience improvements in their skin health; the result of which will improve your business overall.
Dr. Ahmed Abdullah, a board-certified plastic and cosmetic surgeon, is CEO and co-founder of Lexli International, Inc. A recognized expert on the restorative and medicinal effects of aloe vera, he has authored several published studies, including "Effects of Aloe Vera on Gap Junctional Intracellular Communication and Proliferation of Human Diabetic and Non-Diabetic Skin Fibroblasts" (2003) and "Effects of Aloe Vera on Expression of Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 2 IIIc mRNA in Human Diabetic and Non-Diabetic Skin Fibroblasts" (2009). He is a member of the International Aloe Science Council (IASC) based in Dallas, Texas, and has served on its board of directors. Abdullah is also a clinical associate professor in plastic surgery at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine in Grand Forks, N.D. He owns and practices at Plastic Surgery Institute PC and the Lexli Skin Care Center, both based in Fargo, N.D.