As a child, my family had an aloe plant in our balcony and my parents taught me that rubbing aloe on my skin will make it softer and more beautiful. Today, aloe vera is found commonly in skin care products and is often marketed to have a myriad of effects. In this article, I set out to explore what exactly is aloe vera, it’s scientifically proven effects, and how to use it properly for the desired benefits.
What is aloe vera
Aloe vera (L) Burm. f. (Liliaceae) is a plant with long, thick leaves. When the leaves are cut apart, a clear, almost gooey flesh is revealed. This clear gel from the leaves of the aloe vera plant is harvested, processed, and added into most aloe products today.
Aloe vera gel is not to be confused from aloe vera juice, usually a brown-yellow liquid excreted from the leaves and is used in drugs that treat occasional constipation. 
Claimed benefits of aloe vera gel
Anti-inflammatory and treatment of burns
Clinical cases of aloe vera gel exist to treat 1st and 2nd degree thermal and radiation burns. Aloe vera has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity in a number of studies due to the presence of several plant sterols. For everyday use, aloe vera gel is also used to treat minor wounds. As aloe gel is also found to help accelerate tissue healing and wound repair. [2,3] It is worthwhile to note however, that most studies used fresh aloe gel as opposed to creams or powders. We will discuss more about this.
There are no definite claims of the effect of aloe vera against acne. However, aloe vera gel does have some anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. This helps to improve the general skin condition and reduce acne caused by infection or contamination. Take this claim with a grain of salt though as most studies are in vitro and examines different anti-bacterial properties. [4,5]
Nature aloe vera gel contains 99.5% water. The other 0.5% contains polysaccharides, amino acids, lipids, sterols, tannins, and enzymes.  Of the various polysaccharides, mucopolysaccharides helps retain moisture in the skin by creating a protective barrier. So aloe vera gel can be an effective moisturizer, however, it needs to be used correctly.
Using aloe vera
So you’re sold on aloe vera. There are several things you should look for when choosing and using an aloe vera product.
First, studies suggest that aloe vera gel is the most effective when used fresh. So if you are looking to reap the full benefits of aloe vera, get an aloe vera plant and cut off a leaf whenever you’re looking for some gel. From personal experience, these plants are no hassle and quite fun to have! Quoting the World Health Organization:
At present no commercial preparation has been proved to be stable. Because many of the active ingredients in the gel appear to deteriorate on storage, the use of fresh gel is recommended.
Preparation of fresh gel: harvest leaves and wash them with water and a mild chlorine solution. Remove the outer layers of the leaf including the pericyclic cells, leaving a “fillet” of gel. Care should be taken not to tear the green rind which can contaminate the fillet with leaf exudate.
For example, I am currently using the Vaseline Lip Therapy – Aloe at night to help prevent my lips from drying out. The ingredient list is only 3 items: petrolatum, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, and aroma. While the aloe smells nice (or is it the aroma?!), I know that I can’t rely on the aloe extract as a lip moisturizer and all the magic happens due to petrolatum.
If you’re too lazy (like me!) or doesn’t use aloe often to justify an entire plant, you can look for pure aloe products to maximize your chances of getting the proper benefits.
Jason Soothing Aloe Vera 98% Gel – this product is mentioned in several articles on aloe vera. Since natural aloe vera is 99.5% water, having a 98% gel is a good bet that you will get as much as of beneficial ingredients as you can. However, the ingredient list does list Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice which makes me question whether it’s just fuzzy nomenclature or if they are actually referring to the real juice…
Ultimate Aloe Gel* – a product that I am using currently. Contains 100% whole leaf aloe vera concentrate. I have used it as a moisturizer for a long time and it really stabilized my skin. Right now it’s still my first treatment for acne when I scratch my face to make sure nothing is infected and the acne heals quickly.
Soothing & cooling after sun moisturizer – I wish I knew about this earlier. This summer I went biking for 6 hours without applying sunscreen wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. After a day, my entire arms, legs, and neck was red from sun burnt. To alleviate the pain, I picked up an aloe gel from the local drugstore and it was amazing! The gel feels cool and moisturizing on the skin and just disappears when I massage it in. I can’t find the exact product I bought in China, so I am linking the Banana Boat gel that looks similar but I have not used.
Another popular product is the Nature Republic, Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera 92% Soothing Gel, you have probably heard or read a lot of it on other blogs already. Because I haven’t used this product personally, I won’t cover it here.
It is not safe to orally ingest aloe vera gel! Do not confuse it with aloe vera juice.
 “WHO Monographs On Selected Medicinal Plants – Volume 1: Aloe”. Apps.who.int. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.
 Maenthaisong, Ratree et al. “The Efficacy Of Aloe Vera Used For Burn Wound Healing: A Systematic Review”. Burns 33.6 (2007): 713-718. Web.
 “WHO Monographs On Selected Medicinal Plants – Volume 1: Aloe Vera Gel”. Apps.who.int. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.
 Nejatzadeh-Barandozi, Fatemeh. “Antibacterial Activities And Antioxidant Capacity Of Aloe Vera”. N.p., 2017. Print.
 Athiban, PrakashP et al. “Evaluation Of Antimicrobial Efficacy Of Aloe Vera And Its Effectiveness In Decontaminating Gutta Percha Cones”. Journal of Conservative Dentistry 15.3 (2012): 246. Web.
*FYI, we may get a small benefit from the sale of this product. Love Wendy. Get more details here.