From how to use it in its raw form to the best aloe vera products out there, here’s everything you need to know about the super-soother
Aloe vera’s use in skincare was once restricted to a neon bottle of gel you’d pick up at a beachside shop in an attempt to cool a nasty sunburn, before heading out on the Tenerife strip.
While some skincare ingredients are anecdotally overhyped (much like those cheap Piña Coladas that don’t taste the same once the plane touches down back home), aloe vera is proving to be more than a holiday romance and is fast becoming a super-skincare ingredient we’re fully committed to.
For centuries, aloe vera has been touted by many cultures as a cure-all for easing the symptoms of everything from irritation to wrinkles, but it’s only recently hit the mainstream in any significant way (beyond the aforementioned neon green bottle anyway). Here, we uncover the truth about aloe vera’s benefits, what it can really do for your skin and how you should use it for the best results.
What is aloe vera?
"The aloe vera plant has been used for cosmetic purposes for almost 6,000 years and was once revered as the 'plant of immortality'," says consultant dermatologist, Dr Derrick Phillips.
"Also known as the 'burn plant', aloe vera is commonly used in skincare products to aid sunburn and heat damage to our skin, due to its natural antiseptic properties."
The spiky succulent grows naturally in dry, tropical climates in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the southern and western parts of the US.
"The clear gel that is inside the leaves can be taken directly from the plant," says Dr Phillips. It is this gel that’s commonly used in beauty products for its hydration and soothing properties.
What is aloe vera good for?
Aloe vera tends to have a calming effect on the skin, especially its water-dense leaves, which allow it to thrive in dry and unstable climates. "When the gel from within the plant’s leaves is applied, it has a cooling sensation that provides instant relief," says Dr Philips. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), aloe vera is safe to use for soothing mild sunburns.
How do you use aloe vera?
"The gel within the aloe plants can be used on the face, body and scalp to help with skin concerns you may have, avoiding the delicate eye area," advises Dr Phillips. "It’s used in many products for sunburn relief, hair care, pore cleansing and skin moisturising."
To use it in its raw form as a moisturiser, simply cut an aloe vera leaf into 4cm segments (after removing the rind), extract the gel and apply it to your skin after bathing to help lock in moisture.
Is aloe vera good for hair?
"While clinical evidence supporting its use for hair is very limited, aloe vera is often used to help ease symptoms of scalp conditions such as dandruff," says cosmetic dermatologist, Dr Surbhi Virmani.
Aesthetic and skin doctor Dr Sophie Shotter adds: "It contains fatty acids and amino acids, as well as being rich in vitamins A, B12, C and E, which contribute towards stronger hair and healthy follicles."
"It also contains enzymes, which break down fatty acids and may, therefore, help with greasy scalps."
Want to hear more about healthy-hair ingredients? Our guide to nixing problems with your crowning glory should help.
Raw aloe vera vs aloe vera in cosmetics
"When a cosmetic product harnesses a natural ingredient, it will use a concentrated version of the botanicals," explains Dr Shotter. "Using the gel from an aloe leaf will contain the same enzymes, vitamins and amino acids as the aloe extract in a product, but it will be less concentrated and so you are likely to need more of it."
Product versions will also have a longer shelf-life. "When you apply aloe vera gel from a plant, the instant it’s cut and the gel is removed, it will start to degrade rapidly in nutritional value, colour and texture," says Dr Phillips. "This is shown when you keep fresh aloe gel at room temperature or even refrigerated. It will soon darken and lose its viscosity in a few days. In product varieties, there are other ingredients besides aloe vera used by manufacturers that function as both preservatives and thickening agents."
Does aloe vera have any side effects?
"Generally aloe vera is a well-tolerated ingredient, but like any ingredient, it’s possible to develop dermatitis or hives afterwards," explains Dr Shotter. "This is more common in people who have allergies to other plants in the lily family, such as onions and garlic."
Dr Phillips adds: "If you do react to aloe vera, you will notice an itching, burning sensation. If this occurs, ensure you rinse the aloe vera off with water immediately."
Who would benefit most from using aloe vera?
Dr Shotter tells us that those with sensitive and irritated skin are likely to benefit the most from choosing aloe vera over other moisturising products.
However, "be sure to use a product that’s not mixed with harsh chemicals and ingredients," advises Dr Phillips. "Aloe vera holds many benefits when used raw, and even when bottled for manufacturing uses. But the added ingredients to preserve aloe vera to prolong its shelf-life can irritate some users’ skin."
So, if you have irritation-prone skin, have a read of the product label for ingredients that you may have had a reaction from in the past. If in doubt, consider doing a patch test.
The best aloe vera products to add to your haircare & skincare routines
Best for sensitive skin
Try: Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Chamomile & Lavender
• Size: 118ml
This multi-purpose mist teams up aloe vera, soothing chamomile and lavender to breathe life back into the skin. Hydrating, brightening and replenishing, the skin is left with a healthy, dewy glow. Simply mist onto the face, neck or hair when needed.
Best for hair
Try: Garnier Ultimate Blends Hair Food Aloe Vera 3-in-1 Normal Hair Mask Treatment
• Size: 390ml
• 98% natural ingredients
• 98% biodegradable formula
This hybrid formula nourishes hangry hair, leaving it feeling soft to the touch and looking shinier. Use it as a conditioner, rinse-out hair mask or leave-in treatment, depending on how much love your hair needs. It’s blended with aloe vera and coconut to help condition hair without weighing it down.
Best for face hydration
Try: L’Oréal Paris Hydra Genius Aloe Moisturiser Combination Skin
• Size: 70ml
This aloe-infused number delivers moisture that penetrates quickly and deeply, without overloading the skin. It instantly absorbs and refreshes to help reinvigorate and lock in moisture for long-lasting hydration.
Try: Vaseline Lip Therapy Aloe Vera Lip Tin
• Size: 20g
The rich, yet refreshing contents of this famous tin help nourish dry lips and parched skin, as well as soften cuticles. This multitasking, triple-purified and non-greasy jelly can be simply thrown in your bag or pocket and taken anywhere with you.
Best for bathing
Try: Dove Hydrating Care Body Wash
• Size: 450ml
• Soap and sulphate-free
Featuring the brand’s famous ¼ moisturising cream and formulated with aloe vera and birch water, this sulphate-free body wash can be lathered up in your hands or on a sponge to refresh, while moisturising deep into the skin’s surface layers.
Best for body hydration
Try: Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Soothe Body Lotion
• Size: 400ml
This smart lotion formula contains calming microdroplets of Vaseline jelly and aloe vera. Refreshing, fast-drying and soothing on dry and irritated skin, it leaves limbs feeling deeply moisturised with a supportive, protective layer to lock in moisture.
Best for deep-pore cleansing
Try: Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque
• Size: 125ml
Formulated with oil-absorbing Amazonian white clay to help lift away debris and reduce the appearance of pores, as well as soothing aloe, this masque leaves your face feeling clean and skin looking refined. Apply to damp, clean skin for 10 minutes before removing with a warm, wet cloth. Use once or twice a week to reap maximum skin rewards.
Best soothing toner
Try: Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic
• Size: 200ml
Refresh, soothe and brighten the appearance of even sensitive skin with this soothing, botanical-based and alcohol-free toner. Gentle and non-drying, the aloe vera found in this tonic hydrates, while calendula, chamomile and cucumber soothe and refresh. Skin is left looking radiant and ready for the next step in your skincare routine.