6 Unexpected Uses for Aloe Vera That Go Beyond Sunburns

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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.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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Why Neatly Carve Your Meat When You Can Shred It Like a Bear With These Handy Meat Shredders?

It's bear-y satisfying.
It's bear-y satisfying.
BBQ Butler/Amazon

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Unlike animal claws, our spindly fingers aren’t particularly well-suited to ripping through large hunks of meat, even those cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection. Though the market has plenty of manual and electric knives to carve or slice it, shredding is a different beast entirely. A couple of forks can work in a pinch, and hand mixers have also proven useful. But the task really calls for a device of its own—something as sharp and resilient as bear paws.

Enter Bear Paws, the six-pronged, handheld shredders that’ll help you produce the most mouthwatering heap of pulled pork, barbecued chicken, or whatever other shredded protein you’re serving for dinner. The devices can handle temperatures as hot as 475°F, so you don’t have to wait for your meat to cool down before you start shredding.

Bear Paws can solve other culinary conundrums, too. When you’re cooking something especially large, it can be difficult to transfer it from pan or grill to platter; you can’t exactly pick up a searing-hot turkey with your hands, and trying to balance it between serving forks or spatulas seems ill-advised. Sticking a Bear Paw in either end does the trick. You can also stick one Bear Paw in the turkey (or watermelon) to keep it steady while you slice it with a knife, much like you’d do with a fork while cutting something smaller on your plate.

And after you’re finished, you can toss your Bear Paws in the dishwasher or wash them by hand—an especially easy task, since there aren’t any hard-to-clean holes, cracks, or hinges.

Bear Paws are available to purchase from The Grommet ($12) or Amazon ($13).