It’s time to move that tube of aloe vera gel in the back of your bathroom drawer to a prime spot in your medicine cabinet. This versatile plant's gelatinous leaves are good for much more than you think: They can help heal, disinfect, moisturize, and more. Here are a few unexpected ways to use aloe vera.
1. EXFOLIATING YOUR FACE
At one time, the Caribbean island of Aruba was the world’s largest exporter of aloe vera, and two-thirds of the tiny country was blanketed in aloe plantations. Then as now, aloe is used as a natural moisturizer that won’t clog pores. Making your own exfoliating scrub with aloe is easy: Mix one part baking soda (a teaspoon should suffice) to two parts aloe vera gel, which you can find in any drugstore or on Amazon. For a heavier-duty scrub, stir together a quarter-cup of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 tablespoon aloe vera.
2. CONDITIONING YOUR HAIR
Adding a dollop of aloe vera gel to your hair post-shampoo will keep your tresses soft, shiny, and flake-free. Aloe may help with seborrheic dermatitis, a skin condition that can cause red skin and dandruff, and massage therapists at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort will even rub aloe gel into their clients’ hair during body treatments [PDF]. After checking with a medical practitioner (always a good idea with any skin treatment), you can try pouring the gel directly into your hair, combing it in, and leaving it in for an hour before washing it out. Aloe vera shampoos and conditioners are also sold online if you don’t want to go straight to the source.
3. AIDING YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACT
Yes, you can eat aloe vera gel directly from the plant. At the Aruba Aloe Museum, a demonstrator will expertly skin the plant like a fish before allowing guests to take a nibble (it tastes like flavorless slime). If you want to grow and use your own, cut the leaves off close to the base of the plant with a sharp knife, let the bitter brown juice drain out, and then squeeze the gel from the leaf. The plant contains Vitamins A, C, E, and B12, plus folic acid, choline, zinc, and other nutrients. A few studies have suggested that aloe vera gel can reduce inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease, but more research is needed on that front. Ingesting aloe vera juice can also have a pronounced laxative effect, so sip with caution.
4. CLEANSING YOUR SKIN
Aloe contains the anti-oxidant minerals selenium, manganese, and zinc, which neutralize free radicals in the body—thereby helping to stave off some chronic diseases. While the science isn’t clear on whether you can absorb these minerals from aloe-based face washes, they won’t hurt. You can make your own cleanser by mixing 1 tablespoon of aloe vera gel with 1 teaspoon of almond milk. If even this simple recipe seems too messy, there are plenty of similar products on the market.
5. HEALING CUTS AND SCRAPES FASTER
Aloe is most famous for its use on sunburns, but it may also help heal cuts and scrapes faster with less chance of infection. A 2009 review in the journal Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia, which evaluated 40 previous studies, found evidence to suggest that aloe vera applied to the skin can treat frostbite, dermatitis, and other cutaneous wounds. Aloe does not protect you from getting sunburns, the authors write, so don't try to use it as a sunscreen.
6. BRUSHING YOUR TEETH
Aloe’s antibacterial qualities also make it a useful ingredient for toothpaste. A 2009 paper in the journal General Dentistry compared a commercially available aloe tooth gel to Colgate and Pepsodent toothpastes and found that the gel was equally as effective in killing several types of oral bacteria, although more study is needed. Aloe also contains anti-inflammatory compounds called anthraquinones. A small 2013 study tested how well aloe vera mouthwash treated gingivitis compared to a more invasive procedure and concluded that the mouthwash helped prevent gum inflammation. On top of that, aloe vera gel doesn’t contain abrasive ingredients so it may be suitable for those with sensitive teeth. Be sure to check with your dentist before switching up your oral care regimen.