Does Aloe Actually Work?

Aloe might not actually help that burned finger…

It is Fall and the baking season is upon us! Ready your sugar and spices and prepare for an onslaught of cakes, bread and warm, gooey cookies. If you’re anything like me, you may also want to keep an aloe plant nearby. Inevitably, my finger or  arm will stray too close to a searing hot cookie tray and I’ll receive a painful burn. A little bit of aloe goo helps mitigate the damage … or does it?

Aloe vera is a fleshy evergreen plant that originates from the Arabian peninsula and thrives in tropical and arid climates. It is also a successful houseplant and likely has been since Ancient Egypt 6,000 years ago. The Ancient Egyptians, who used aloe as a medicine, beauty lotion and embalming agent, called it the “Plant of Immortality.” Over the centuries, this spiky plant has been used to treat burns, wounds, gastrointestinal problems, hemorrhoids, frostbite, hair loss, muscle pain . . . the list goes on. These days, most people will not hesitate to rub aloe all over a burn or cut, but does it do any good?

Well, when applied on the skin it certainly doesn’t hurt, but there is no good evidence to suggest that aloe has any effect on healing skin conditions. It won’t grow your hair back or sooth your muscle pain. Aloe vera juice does have anti-microbial properties, which is probably why it has been used effectively in the past to treat wounds. Taking aloe orally is ill-advised. Unprocessed aloe extracts are toxic, functions as a natural laxative and have been linked to certain cancers. For minor burns, run the affected area under cool water and cover with a wet compress until the pain eases. And don’t take medical advice from Ancient Egyptians! We’re talking about a people who drilled holes in skulls to relieve headaches, packed wounds with honey and dung and believed ingesting mercury was the key to a long life.

Brian Rutter, PhD, is the cofounder of Thing in a Pot Productions and a postdoctoral researcher in plant biology at Indiana University. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive our “Things About Things – Odd Facts About Plants” and video production tips in your inbox every month!

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