6 Unexpected Uses for Aloe Vera That Go Beyond Sunburns

iStock
iStock

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.

What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
jessicacasetorres/iStock via Getty Images

Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
Sedan504/iStock via Getty Images

And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

10 Thoughtful Gifts for DIY Enthusiasts

Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

It can be tough to find the perfect gift for the people who make everything themselves. Why not give them the tools and supplies they need to create works of art with their own personal touch? Check out these gift ideas for every DIY enthusiast on your list.

1. Prismacolor Premier Hand Lettering Advanced Set; $15

DIY Prismacolor Hand Lettering Set on Amazon
Amazon

With this set of high-quality pens and pencils, your artistically minded giftees will have the tools to add a personal flourish to letters, signs, greeting cards, and more. The kit includes two graphite pencils, seven illustration markers, two dual-ended art markers for bold lettering, an instruction guide, and—perhaps most importantly—an eraser.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Beanie knitting kit; $55

A knitting kit
We are the Knitters

Have a friend who loves knitting, but hates buying supplies? Surprise them with this knitting kit that comes complete with knitting needles, a unique pattern, and your choice of yarn. You can purchase beginner, easy, intermediate, or advanced knitting kits to create everything from hats and sweaters to blankets and wall art.

Buy It: We Are Knitters

3. Olfa Rotary Essentials Kit; $40

Olfa Rotary Essentials Kit on Amazon
Amazon

Perfect for paper crafters and scrapbookers, this kit includes two rotary cutters (in 45-millimeter and 18-millimeter sizes) and a self-healing mat. These tough tools will cut paper as well as leather, cloth, vinyl, film, photos, wallpaper, and more.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Miniature library; $20

Mini books
Uncommon Goods

Recreate your bookshelf in miniature form with this adorable kit from Uncommon Goods. The set comes with 20 illustrated miniature books that you can actually read (the selection includes titles like Thumbelina and The Snow Queen), plus 10 blank books you can write and illustrate yourself. Best yet, the set comes with a miniature bookcase, so you don’t have to worry about where to store your tiny library.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

5. Impressart Metal Stamping Kit; $113

ImpressArt Metal Stamping Kit on Amazon
Amazon

This slightly intimidating kit contains everything a crafter needs to stamp impressions into metal jewelry or objects. Along with the 1-pound hammer and small steel anvil, the Stamp Straight Tape helps you make impressions in a straight line and keep letters evenly spaced. The stamps themselves feature the letters of the alphabet (upper and lower case kits are available) and special characters.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Make Your Own Hot Sauce Kit; $35

Make Your Own Hot Sauce Kit from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Your bestie will be weaned off Sriracha when he concocts his own sauce with dried guajillo, chipotle, and arbol peppers. The kit contains the essentials (like gloves and bottling materials), plus all the ingredients needed for six custom-made bottles of the hot stuff.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

7. Solar Photography Kit; $15

Solar Photography Kit and photo examples from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Popularized in the 1840s by Anna Atkins, the first female photographer, solar photographs (also known as cyanotypes thanks to their blue color) use sunlight to develop images on chemically treated paper. Just lay a photo negative or object on the paper, place it in the sun for a while, and voilà. This kit includes six sheets of photosensitive paper, a light-proof storage envelope, and instructions. Fabric kits are also available.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

8. Southern Bourbon Stout Beer Brewing Kit; $20-$45

Southern Bourbon Stout beer brewing kit from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Why fight the drunken hordes at your local craft brewery when you, or your gift recipient, can brew your beer in the comfort of your home? This artisanal kit includes the hardware—a fermentor jug, racking cane, funnel, and more—and malt extract, specialty grains, fresh hops, and yeast to make one gallon of homemade brew. This particular formula relies on oak chips soaked in bourbon (booze not included) to add woodsy vanilla notes to your beer.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

9. Cavallini Flora and Fauna Rubber Stamp Set; $25

Cavallini flora and fauna rubber stamp set from Amazon
Amazon

Create woodland scenes on mail art, gift cards, holiday decor, and more with these rubber stamps on wood blocks. Vintage designs include an owl, songbird, deer, dogwood flower, and other forest friends. The stamps come in an attractive tin with a high-quality black ink pad.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Molecular Gastronomy Kit; $50-$65

Gastronomy kit for kitchen
Uncommon Goods

This kit encourages people to play with their food. Get this for the friend who loves to experiment in the kitchen and wouldn’t mind turning honey into jelly-like cubes or strawberries into delicate foam. The set comes with four different food additives (20 sachets), three pipettes, and a variety of other kitchen ingredients. For $16 more, you can purchase a molecular gastronomy book that can help guide you through recipes.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

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