The idea of ‘natural’ skincare has become increasingly popular in recent years, and there’s a huge range of products available. But it’s worth noting that plant-based (‘botanical’) treatments should be used with care.
Extracts taken from plants can affect the skin in a variety of ways. And although they’re often used for common skin conditions, there’s not always much scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. Plus, they may cause skin reactions in some people.
Aloe vera is one such plant-based skincare ingredient. This cactus-like plant belongs to the lily family and comes from West Africa, but is now found all over the world. Its leaves contain a gel that is used in health and beauty products.
But is it the wonder plant that some people say it is? Read on to find out more about the potential skin benefits of aloe vera gel.
What is aloe vera gel?
The gel of the aloe vera plant comes from its fleshy leaves. Some people have been known to squeeze this gel straight from the leaves onto their skin. But generally, it’s extracted then used in a variety of aloe-based skincare products.
But what does aloe vera gel do for skin? Well, it has softening, hydrating properties. For this reason, you’ll find it in some moisturisers, cleansers and other skincare products available in pharmacies, health food shops and online.
What skin conditions is aloe vera gel used for?
Some websites promote aloe vera products as cures for all sorts of conditions, from skin blemishes to cancer. But while there’s some evidence that it can help with minor skin issues, there’s little scientific basis for many of these claims.
In addition to being used in moisturisers to help hydrate and soften the skin, aloe vera gel is used for:
- sunburn – if your skin is red and sore from too much sun, an after-sun product containing aloe vera can be soothing. It can be used on mild sunburn, when the skin isn’t blistering. Applying it to damp skin may help to trap more moisture and stop the skin from drying out. Remember, however, that aloe vera gel won’t protect your skin from the sun
- burns – there is some evidence to support the use of aloe vera gel for minor burns after initial first aid, because of its skin-soothing effects. Some people with cancer also use it during radiotherapy treatment, to help heal and soothe the burns this can cause. However, a review of people with breast cancer in 2017 showed that this only has a small chance of working, and it’s not recommended
- frostbite – did you know that frostbite is sometimes referred to as ‘cold burn’? This means some of the treatment is similar to treatment of a burn, so applying an aloe vera gel to the affected area after initial first aid can help
If you have any type of burn, you should see a doctor if:
- your skin is swollen
- your skin is blistered
- your temperature is very high or you feel feverish
- if you feel very tired, dizzy or sick
- you have headache and cramps or pains in your muscles
Can aloe vera gel cause side effects?
If you do decide to use aloe vera gel on your skin, you should be aware that, just like conventional treatments, plant-based products can have an impact on your body.
While using aloe vera on the skin is generally thought to be safe, it may cause side effects or an allergic reaction in some people – including itchy skin or a rash.
It’s important to consider the possible risks, and it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before using a plant-based treatment. They’ll be able to help you to make an informed decision.
- many skincare products have plant-based (botanical) ingredients
- there isn’t always much scientific evidence to support their use
- aloe vera gel is used in skincare products because of its softening properties
- it’s also used to treat minor burns, including sunburn
- possible side effects of aloe vera include skin reactions
- you should consider the risks before using plant-based treatments, and speak to your doctor for advice