The Science Behind Aloe Vera

The Science Behind Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has been used for centuries for its purgative effect, healing abilities, and beauty applications dating back to biblical times. Six references to aloe's uses can be found in the Bible. Indicators show it's probably the most applied medicinal plant in the world, being found in cosmetics, medicinal products, and food supplements across the globe. Aloe can be found in many products from pure 100% Aloe vera gel to personal care products such as cleansers, soaps, shaving gels, and lip balm. It is even found infused into facial tissues. Many swear by it for sunburns, scrapes, cuts, bug bites, minor infections and any other skin ailment that needs a soothing salve.

Where Does It Come From?

Aloe vera has been used for medicinal purposes in several cultures for millennia, including Greece, Egypt, India, Mexico, Japan and China. The name Aloe vera derives from the Arabic word "Alloeh," meaning "shining bitter substance," and "vera" meaning "true" in Latin. The true botanical name is Aloe barbadensis miller, and it belongs to Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae) family. It's a shrubby or arborescent, perennial, xerophytic (adapted to an arid environment), succulent that is pea-green in color. It grows mainly in the dry regions of Africa, Asia, Europe and America. In India, it is found in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Aloe vera has been used for medicinal purposes in several cultures for millennia, including Greece, Egypt, India, Mexico, Japan and China. The Egyptians called it "the plant of immortality." Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it in their regular beauty regimens. Greek scientists regarded it as the universal panacea 2000 years ago. Alexander the Great, and Christopher Columbus used it to treat soldiers' wounds. Early 1800's saw it in use as a laxative in the United States. The real turning point was when it was used to successfully treat chronic and severe radiation dermatitis in the mid 1930's.

All That and a Bag of Chips

The gel from this plant contains 75 potentially active constituents: vitamins, enzymes, minerals, sugars, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids, and amino acids. It has been shown to possess numerous activities including, anticancer, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiallergenic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, hepatoprotective (liver-sparing), antiulcer, and antidiabetic.

Look Closer

In order to understand how one plant can be beneficial in such a big way, it's worth taking a look at what those important constituents actually do.


Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, and E are antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals. Aloe also contains vitamin B12, folic acid, and choline.


Bradykinase helps to reduce excessive inflammation when applied to the skin topically. Aliase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, and peroxidase aid the breakdown of sugars and fats.


Minerals like calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc are essential for proper functioning of different enzyme systems in varying metabolic pathways, and some of these are also antioxidants.


Aloe provides glucose and fructose (monosaccharides) and polysaccharides such as acemannan and glucomanan. A glycoprotein called alprogen with anti-allergenic properties along with a novel anti-inflammatory compound (C-glucosyl chromone) was recently isolated.


Twelve anthraquinones can be found in Aloe. These are phenolic compounds, known as laxatives. Aloin and emodin are analgesic (pain relieving), antibacterial, and antiviral.

Fatty acids

The plant steroids cholesterol, campesterol, beta-sisosterol, and lupeol have anti-inflammatory action. Lupeol also lends antiseptic and analgesic properties.


Auxins and gibberellins help with wound healing and provide anti-inflammatory action.


Aloe vera also provides 20 of the 22 human required amino acids and 7 of the 8 essential amino acids. Aloe vera also provides 20 of the 22 human required amino acids and 7 of the 8 essential amino acids. It contains salicylic acid that possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The inert substance, lignin, when included in topical preparations, enhances penetrative effect of the other ingredients into the skin. Saponins, the soapy substances, form about 3% of the gel and have cleansing and antiseptic properties.

Put It to Use

Glucomannan and gibberellin interact with growth factor receptors on the fibroblast (which produces collagen and elastin fibers), stimulating activity and proliferation, encouraging more of the desired type III synthesis, and increasing the strength of the collagen network. This means that topical and oral application of Aloe vera has been shown to accelerate wound contraction and scar strength. Increased hyaluronic acid and dermatan sulfate has been found in granulation tissue of healing wounds, as well. Aloe puts a damper on the inflammatory response mechanism by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase pathway and reducing prostaglandin E2 production from arachidonic acid. C-glucosyl chromone, a novel anti-inflammatory compound, was isolated from gel extracts. A multitude of applications for moisturizing and anti-aging have been applied. Mucopolysaccharides help bind moisture into the skin. The stimulation of fibroblasts makes the skin more elastic and less wrinkled. Aloe is used to soften skin because of its cohesive effects on the outer layers of epidermal cells. Amino acids soften hardened skin cells and zinc acts as an astringent to tighten pores. Moisturizing effects have been studied in the treatment of dry skin from occupational exposure. Aloe vera gloves improved the skin integrity, decreased appearance of fine wrinkles, and decreased erythema. Multiple antiseptic agents can be found in aloe (lupeol, salicylic acid, urea, nitrogen, cinnamonic acid, phenols, and sulfur). These all contain antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. As a result of the antibacterial properties, aloe has an anti-acne effect. Aloe is used to soften skin because of its cohesive effects on the outer layers of epidermal cells. Alprogen inhibits the antigen-antibody-mediated release of histamine and leukotriene from mast cells, effectively quelling allergies. Anthraquinones are a potent laxative which increase water content in the intestines, stimulating mucus secretion and peristalsis (healthy intestinal muscle contractions). Antiviral and antitumor activity may be linked to both stimulation of the immune system and the anthraquinones, which inactivate some viruses such as herpes simplex, varicella zoster, and influenza. Acemannan has been shown to stimulate events initiating an immune attack resulting in necrosis and regression of cancerous cells in mice. Other studies show further potential for use as cancer chemoprevention.