Aloe Barbadensis leaf extract, commonly known as Aloe vera, has been used for centuries for its health, beauty, medicinal, and skin care benefits. It is a succulent with bright yellow tubular flowers and thick green leaves that have jagged, spiny edges. Aloe vera is a type of plant that has adapted to dry desert conditions by storing water in its leaves as a gel-like sap.
The many functions of the Aloe vera plant have been known for quite some time, tracing back 6,000 years to early Egypt, where the plant was depicted on stone carvings. In 1820, Aloe vera was officially listed as a skin protectant by the U.S. pharmacopeia. In 2009, a systematic review summarized 40 studies that involved using aloe vera for dermatological purposes. The studies also showed that aloe vera effectively treats psoriasis, dermatitis, frostbite, burns, and inflammation.
If you’ve ever used Aloe vera gel for a sunburn, you know that it is a slightly tacky green substance that has a cooling effect on the skin. This gel is obtained from the inner part of the aloe plant leaf. There is also a yellow latex found just under the plant’s skin, which is typically taken orally for constipation.
Recently, there has been controversy over the use of Aloe vera in personal care products. According to an article by Allure, Aloe vera is now on Proposition 65, a California state law that regularly updates a list of chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products that are known to cause cancer. Prop 65 only calls out “non-decolorized, whole-leaf extract,” which is “the liquid portion of the aloe vera leaf and is a natural constituent of the aloe barbadensis Miller plant,” according to the American Herbal Products Association.
How aloe barbadensis leaf extract benefits the skin
Aloe Barbadensis leaf extract can soothe skin and serve as an anti-inflammatory. The benefits provided by Aloe vera are due to the 75 active phytochemicals found in this plant. Phytochemicals are natural chemical compounds that are produced by plants to help them grow and survive, such as vitamins, minerals, enzymes, lipids, sugars, salicylic acids, and amino acids. In fact, Aloe vera provides 20 of the 22 human-required amino acids and eight of the eight essential amino acids.
The phytochemicals found in Aloe vera have been extensively studied for their dermatologic benefits. For example, Aloe vera exhibits strong anti-inflammatory activity due to the enzyme bradykinase. By inhibiting the inflammatory mediators thromboxane B2 and prostaglandin F2, bradykinase helps to reduce excessive inflammation when applied to the skin topically.
Aloe Barbadensis leaf extract is also able to protect your skin from the damage of free radicals. This is because the plant contains aloin, which can block up to 30 percent of the ultraviolet rays when applied to the skin’s surface. Additionally, Aloe is rich in vitamins C and E, which are antioxidants that protect the skin from the damaging effects of environmental free radicals, such as UV exposure, pollution, and chemical irritants.
Vitamin C also plays a role in the synthesis of collagen, the protein that gives your skin strength and durability. Thus, applying skincare products with vitamin C can make your skin more firm and smooth. You can also find beta carotene in the Aloe vera plant, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Beta carotene is just one of the four carotenoids that demonstrate vitamin A activity in humans and also acts as an antioxidant.
Lastly, the Aloe vera plant contains glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), a class of sugar molecules, that help bind moisture into the skin. GAGs are also naturally found in human skin with a primary role of supporting the proteins collagen and elastin in the dermis. Collagen, elastin, and GAGs form the majority of an important support system called the extracellular matrix (ECM). GAGs readily absorb water, which creates the fluid that fills the space between the collagen and elastin fibers in the dermis, giving it turgidity. Therefore, the GAGs found in Aloe vera are what make this natural ingredient an excellent addition to a skin moisturizer.
The safety of Aloe Barbadensis has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel evaluated the scientific data and based on the available information concluded that Aloe Barbadensis leaf extract and the compounds containing Aloe Barbadensis were safe for use as cosmetic ingredients.
References: Indian J Dermatol. 2008; 53(4): 163–166, Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013 Jun; 30(3): 170–177, Livestrong, “What Is an Aloe Barbadensis Leaf?”, 2017, NCCIH, “Aloe Vera”, Dr. Axe, “Aloe Vera Benefits”, G Ital Dermatol Venereol. 2009 Feb;144(1):85-91, Allure, “Why Aloe Vera Is Controversial Right Now, According to Experts”, 2018, AHPA, “CA Proposition 65: Listing of Aloe Vera, Non-Decolorized Whole Leaf Extract”, 2016, Wikipedia, “Phytochemical”, Radiant RG-Cell Cosmeceuticals, “Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice”, Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 143–146, Truth In Aging, “Glycosaminoglycans”, CIR, “Aloe Barbadensis leaf extract”