Aloe vera is a desert plant whose leaves contain a gel that’s best-known for its ability to heal damage from sunburns. However, it’s useful for far more than just soothing burned skin.
Aloe vera is rich in antioxidants, which makes it a great skincare agent for uses beyond just sunburns. It’s also got powerful anti-inflammatory powers inside the body, which helps it find use as a treatment for canker sores, ulcerative colitis, and more. Read on to find out more about the potential benefits, side effects, and optimal usage of this herbal plant remedy.
Aloe vera benefits
1. Aloe vera is rich in antioxidants
The thick leaves of the aloe vera plant, which usually grow between a foot and two feet in length, contain a slimy, thick gel containing most of the active compounds. This includes amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
The antioxidants in aloe vera belong to the polyphenol family and can help satisfy the body’s need for these important substances.
Antioxidants perform the vital role of neutralizing free radicals in the system; a constant intake of these compounds can contribute to maintaining the proper balance between antioxidants and free radicals to keep our physical engines running smoothly (1).
2. Aloe vera heals sunburn damage
Aloe vera may be best known for its value in treating burns and was first approved by the FDA for topical use in 1959.
It’s helpful in healing sunburn as well as first- and second-degree burns resulting from accidents and injuries.
The leaves can be sliced open and applied directly to affected areas; one strategy is to tape an opened leaf onto a small burn or wound with the gel facing down.
A review of data from four separate studies on the efficacy of aloe vera in treating burns showed an average reduction of 9 full days on healing time compared to results from using conventional medication (2).
3. Aloe vera can fight mouth ulcers and canker sores
Ulcers in the mouth, usually called canker sores, are a common health problem many people experience during stressful times in their lives.
These painful and unsightly sores form on the inside of the mouth, as well as on or near the lips; it generally takes between 7 and 10 days for the sores to heal.
When test subjects in a study with nearly 200 people who suffered from repeated outbreaks of canker sores applied aloe vera patches to the affected area, sores were smaller than usual, but healing did not occur faster than with corticosteroids used in conventional treatment (3).
However, another study indicated aloe vera not only sped up the healing process, it also reduced the amount of pain participants experienced from the ulcers (4).
4. Aloe vera could reduce plaque build-up in your mouth
When bacterial biofilms build up on the teeth, the incidence of gum disease and tooth decay increase.
Chlorhexidrine is the active ingredient often used in mouthwashes to reduce oral plaque accumulation; during a short trial lasting 4 days, the effects of aloe vera juice in controlling plaque for a group of 300 healthy people were measured against conventional products, with comparable performance results (5).
When other test subjects used aloe vera juice as an oral rinse over 2- and 4-week periods, similar results were noted (6).
Through killing both streptococcus mucans (a bacteria that promotes the formation of plaque) and candida albicans (a yeast that can cause various health issues when overgrowth becomes a problem), aloe vera can be helpful in maintaining better oral health (7).
5. Aloe vera leaves have been traditionally used as a remedy for diabetes
In some cases, it has been found effective in regulating blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity (8).
6. Aloe vera improves the absorption of both vitamin C and vitamin E
According to one study published in the journal Phytomedicine in 2005, aloe vera enhances the ability of your body to absorb both vitamin C and E (12).
In the study, a group of volunteers took a combination of vitamin C and vitamin E either alone or in combination of aloe vera extract or aloe vera gel. After each of the experiments, the researchers tracked the levels of the metabolized versions of vitamin C and vitamin E in the blood for several hours.
They were able to show that both aloe vera preparations (the whole leaf extract as well as the gel) were effective at increasing the body’s levels of both antioxidants.
7. Aloe vera gel might help with ulcerative colitis
Since aloe vera gel soothes irritated skin, it’s not a huge leap in reasoning to expect that it might help with tissue inside your body, too.
A randomized clinical trial published in 2004 by researchers in the UK tested this hypothesis by using aloe vera gel supplements to treat ulcerative colitis, a painful condition that causes swelling and inflammation in the digestive tract (13).
In the study, 44 patients with ulcerative colitis were randomly assigned to take either 100 ml of aloe vera gel per day or a placebo for a period of four weeks. The researchers found that, compared to the placebo group, the patients receiving the aloe vera supplement were more likely to experience remission, and had significantly better scores on their ratings of symptoms.
8. Aloe vera could help with constipation
Aloe vera has also been used successfully to treat constipation. Just beneath the prickly outer skin is a layer containing a yellowish substance called latex. The latex is rich in barbaloin.
However, concerns about the safety of aloin when used frequently as a laxative resulted in discontinuation of aloe vera latex as an over-the-counter remedy in 2002.
Aloe vera side effects
Aloe vera could affect liver function. Some trials indicate liver function may be negatively impacted by long-term use of aloe vera juice taken internally (18).
A case report published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science in 2010 describes a series of three separate cases of women, all of whom reported to the hospital with signs of possible liver failure (19).
After diagnostic tests determined that all of the women had signs of liver toxicity, the medical team realized that the women had been taking aloe vera supplements.
After discontinuing the supplements, levels of liver enzymes returned to normal and the women recovered. The authors of the case study cautioned that aloe vera should be considered an agent that is potentially toxic to the liver.
Aloe vera could also disrupt calcium levels. According to a review study published in 2019 in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health C by researchers for the National Center for Toxicological Research, aloe use has been associated with low calcium levels, kidney failure, and hypersensitivity reactions (20).
Aloe vera dosage
Start on the low end at around 50-100 mg of aloe vera per day. Aloe vera has been studied at a wide range of doses, ranging from as small as 50 mg to as large as 1000 mg per day.
Generally, doses in scientific research have been on the lower end of this spectrum, and given the potential for aloe vera to cause side effects, there’s an even stronger case to stick to the low end if you choose to use aloe vera gel, especially at the beginning.
Aloe vera benefits FAQ
Q: Are aloe vera supplements safe?
A: Compared to other supplements, aloe vera does not have quite as good of a safety record. It is known to be associated with several cases of liver toxicity, and some research on mice suggests that aloe vera could be carcinogenic. Aloe vera could also cause low calcium levels, diarrhea, skin hypersensitivity, and problems with kidney function as well, according to a scientific review of its toxicity (21).
On the other hand, several small clinical studies do suggest that aloe vera could be a beneficial supplement for certain conditions, so you’ll have to weigh the possible benefits and side effects to gauge whether aloe vera is a good supplement for you.
Q: How much aloe vera juice should you drink daily?
A: When it comes to dosing, aloe vera is a little tricky. A safe place to start is 100 ml, but some research has used quite a lot more.
However, because aloe vera is not necessarily devoid of side effects, a lower dose is likely a better place to start anyways.
Q: How do you use aloe vera?
A: If you are using aloe vera for sunburn, all you need to do is apply it liberally to the burnt area several times per day.
However, if you are taking an aloe vera supplement, you’ll want to take your desired dosage either in capsule or liquid form, perhaps blended into a smoothie or protein shake if you don’t like the taste of aloe vera juice.
There isn’t much in the way of data on when to take aloe vera during the day (i.e. whether it’s better to take in the morning versus the evening), or whether doses should be split up.
For now, it’s best to stick with what scientific research has done, if you are choosing to take aloe vera: taking a dose once per day.
Q: Should you take aloe vera when you are pregnant?
A: There are many supplements that are fine to take while pregnant, but aloe vera is not one of them.
Given the potential connection between aloe vera supplementation and the development of kidney or liver problems (plus the risk of carcinogenic effects, at least in studies on animal models), it’s too risky to take a chance with aloe vera during pregnancy.
The effects of aloe vera on an unborn child are not well-explored from a scientific perspective, so it’s far better to play it safe with aloe vera.
Related: Our best aloe vera picks
Aloe vera is an herbal plant remedy whose potential uses go far beyond just healing sunburn. It’s rich in antioxidants, and appears to have potent anti-inflammatory capabilities inside the body.
These properties mean it’s been studied as a treatment for canker sores, ulcerative colitis, glucose control, and more.
However, there are also some safety concerns, especially when it comes to high dosage use over long periods of time, so make sure you know both the potential benefits and potential harms before incorporating aloe vera into your supplementation routine.