Aloe vera, or Aloe barbadensis, is a thick, short-stemmed plant that stores water in its leaves. It is best known for treating skin injuries, but it also has several other uses that could potentially benefit health.
This article lists eight potential health benefits of aloe vera. It also covers some of the risks associated with use.
The cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food industries use aloe vera extensively, and the plant has an estimated annual market value of $13 billion globally.
Aloe vera is known for its thick, pointed, and fleshy green leaves, which may grow to about 12–19 inches (30–50 centimeters) in length.
Each leaf contains a slimy tissue that stores water, and this makes the leaves thick. This water filled tissue is the “gel” that people associate with aloe vera products.
Antioxidants are important for health. Aloe vera gel contains powerful antioxidants belonging to a large family of substances known as polyphenols.
These polyphenols, along with several other compounds in aloe vera, help inhibit the growth of certain bacteria that can cause infections in humans.
Aloe vera is known for its antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties. This is part of why it may help heal wounds and treat skin problems.
People most often use aloe vera as a topical medication, rubbing it onto the skin rather than consuming it. In fact, it has a long history of use in treating sores, and particularly burns, including sunburn.
The United States Pharmacopeia describe aloe vera preparations as a skin protectant as early as 1810–1820.
Studies suggest that it is an effective topical treatment for first and second degree burns.
For example, a review of experimental studies found that aloe vera could reduce the healing time of burns by around 9 days compared with conventional medication. It also helped prevent redness, itching, and infections.
The evidence for aloe vera helping heal other types of wounds is inconclusive, but the research is promising.
Tooth decay and diseases of the gum are very common health problems. One of the best ways to prevent these conditions is to reduce the buildup of plaque, or bacterial biofilms, on the teeth.
In a mouth rinse study of 300 healthy people, researchers compared 100% pure aloe vera juice with the standard mouthwash ingredient chlorhexidine.
After 4 days of use, the aloe vera mouth rinse appeared to be just as effective as chlorhexidine in reducing dental plaque.
Another study found similar benefits of aloe vera mouth rinse over a 15- to 30-day period.
Aloe vera is effective in killing the plaque-producing bacterium Streptococcus mutans in the mouth, as well as the yeast Candida albicans.
Studies have shown that aloe vera treatment can accelerate the healing of mouth ulcers.
For example, in a 7-day study of 180 people with recurrent mouth ulcers, applying an aloe vera patch to the area was effective in reducing the size of the ulcers.
However, it did not outperform the conventional ulcer treatment: corticosteroids.
In another study, aloe vera gel not only accelerated the healing of mouth ulcers, but it also reduced the pain associated with them.
Aloe vera may also help treat constipation.
This time it is the latex, not the gel, that provides the benefits. The latex is a sticky yellow residue present just under the skin of the leaf.
The key compound responsible for this effect is called aloin, or barbaloin, which has well-established laxative effects.
However, people have raised concerns about safety with frequent use. For this reason, aloe latex has not been available in the U.S. as an over-the-counter medication since 2002.
There is some preliminary evidence to suggest that topical aloe vera gel can slow the aging of the skin.
Reviews also suggest that aloe vera could help the skin retain moisture and improve skin integrity, which could benefit dry skin conditions.
Read more about aloe vera’s effects on the skin here:
For example, a review of eight studies found that aloe vera could have benefits for people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes due to its effects on glycemic control.
However, the quality of the existing studies is not ideal, so scientists do not currently recommend using aloe vera for this purpose.
Aloe vera is a safe remedy with few known side effects.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says that topical use is likely safe.
That said, the oral use of aloe vera may cause stomach cramps or diarrhea due to its laxative effects. There have also been some reports of liver damage associated with long-term aloe vera supplement use.
The NCCIH also reports that non decolorized whole leaf extract of aloe vera seems to be associated with cancer risk in rats.