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Does Aloe Vera Really Work?

Aloe vera gel has long been praised as a cure all for everything from burns to indigestion. But is it actually effective?

You've probably slathered cooling aloe vera gel on a bad sunburn. Or even rubbed the natural jelly like substance found inside the aloe plant onto an annoying paper cut or a burn from a hot pan. Aloe vera has been around for a long time. Aloe's many uses date back as far as 5,000 years to early Ancient Egyptian times. Using aloe to treat wounds and and other skin conditions is nothing new. But these days, aloe vera seems to be popping up in unexpected places. Even in water for sale at the grocery store.

Aloe vera is now considered a jack of all trades. The gel of this versatile plant is found in a wide range of products on the market like face creams, antibiotic ointments, mouthwash, and supplements. You can even take a shot of aloe vera at trendy juice bars and natural food restaurants.

Why is everyone suddenly interested in drinking aloe vera juice?

Aloe vera waterFood Network

First let me explain the difference between aloe water and aloe juice. Aloe juice is a mixture of aloe vera gel and citrus juice, while aloe water is a mixture of aloe vera gel and water. There's really not much difference in the two products.

People are guzzling down aloe water and throwing back juice shots because they believe it has amazing beauty boosting and anti-aging properties. There are also claims that consuming aloe vera gel improves digestion, easing constipation and helping you better absorb nutrients. Aloe does contain potassium, vitamin C, and many antioxidants and minerals that work hard to fight against free radical damage. All these nutrients could potentially have an effect on increasing cell turnover and when you're drinking aloe gel with water you're most definitely improving hydration. But one form of aloe vera is also listed on Prop 65 in California.

Prop 65 is officially known as The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. It's purpose is to protect consumers from ingesting chemicals and other substances that are known to cause cancer. In 2005, aloe vera was added to the list. While there are many forms of aloe that make its way into consumer products, the one called out by Prop 65 is identified as "non-decolorized, whole leaf extract."

So is aloe vera actually good for you?

The warning about aloe vera came after a two year study by the National Toxicity Program found that rats who were given a non decolorized whole leaf extract aloe vera developed tumors of the large intestine. The study states that there was, "clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in male and female rats, based on tumors of the large intestine." While the study is concerning, it isn't enough to write off aloe for good.

Non decolorized whole leaf extract contains a chemical called alloin, which was noted by the study to be responsible for causing cancer in the rats. The study also found that cancer only developed when the rats ingested the non decolorized aloe extract. Most products use decolorized aloe gel, which removes the aloin through a process of charcoal filtration.

The aloe vera gel found in drinks and many topical products for sale don't contain aloin, so there's no evidence that they would cause cancer. In fact, one study found that when decolorized aloe vera gel was diluted with water and ingested it actually had anti-inflammatory properties.

What about aloe vera as a topical treatment?

Aloe vera skincare You Tube

Your favorite aloe products might not cause cancer but the science on whether they're actually effective is a little fuzzy. Claire Mcnear, a writer for The Ringer claims that aloe vera is a lie. A very profitable lie that's created a market of aloe products worth about 110 billion dollars.

A number of studies by reputable journals looked into the use of topical and oral aloe vera for skin conditions and weren't able to find any evidence that it actually promoted healing, or that there were any other notable benefits. The British Journal of Dermatology and The British Journal of General Practice claim that "whether aloe vera gel promotes wound healing is unclear." On top of that, most skincare products with aloe vera gel contain such a small amount, it would be difficult to actually measure any direct benefits.

Is your head spinning yet?

The bottom line on aloe vera is that there isn't enough clear evidence to support the claim that aloe vera gel is really a natural miracle natural product. Is aloe really capable of healing sunburns or turning back time when mixed into a moisturizer? No one can really say for sure.

But definitely, steer clear of any products that list "non decolorized whole leaf aloe vera extract" as an ingredient. Even if it's a product you won't be ingesting, it isn't worth the risk.

The best use for your aloe vera plant according to NASA, is to let it thrive indoors where it's capable of removing toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene from the air.