Aloe Vera or Aloe Barbadensis extract is often the first thing that you see listed on the label of an organic cosmetic. This can be for many reasons, not least because this is one very skin-friendly botanical with a long history of skin success.
This species of succulent isn’t native to Australia (where I am writing), in fact it was only brought into the country in the late 1970′s according to my google searchings (by a lady called Jennifer McDougall from here: http://aloeveraaustralia.com.au/about-us.html). It soon started to thrive in the water rich soil of Queensland and production in that region continues to this day.
As far as my daily work is concerned I am most often requested to use Aloe as a soothing agent in leave-on skin products such as moisturisers, serums and balms although I have never really looked into the evidence to support this claim and so I thought that it was time that I did!
A quick look at the structure and chemistry of Aloe shows us why this plant is such a good moisturising agent – it’s the polysaccharides or sugars that predominate. These sugars are hygroscopic (water-loving) and paired with the fact that these sugars form a strong meshed structure they are both substantive and moisturising to the skin. Folk law attributes many more healing properties to these polysaccharides but I can’t find much to substantiate this. I reckon that the sugar matrix may be responsible for what I’ll call ‘the raincoat effect’ i.e: You put on a raincoat in a storm and you stay warm and dry, a warm and dry body is less likely to catch a cold and so you stay well. The raincoat isn’t anti-viral or anti-bacterial, it merely protects and preserves what you have already. Aloes moisture mesh protects and preserves the skin so that it can remain (or return to) optimum condition.
But that isn’t all that Aloe has got, within the gel reside a banquet of vitamins, amino acids, trace minerals and enzymes not all of which will be skin-soothing/ healing but some will. So that paired with the excellent moisture barrier potential does seem to put Aloe into the running for a well deserved skin care golden globe.
Of course in skin care we don’t JUST rely on solid scientific evidence to justify an ingredients use, there is the history, the mystery, the look, feel and smell to consider and when the ‘big picture’ looks as good as it does for Aloe it would be rude not to include it!
But what about its legendary cooling power? Well, I think that is down to two things, Aloe can remain hydrating at low levels which means that it doesn’t leave the skin that sticky (rather like hyaluronic acid but cheaper) which means that you can rub it all over without feeling uncomfortable. Plus its hygroscopic nature means that along with the aloe you attract (and spread what is bound) water to the skin’s surface and moisture on the skin feels cold (that’s one reason why we sweat) = cooling and soothing!
Anyway, I love Aloe and will continue to use its soothing and moisturising power both in my formulations and directly onto the skin thanks to the lovely little plant friend of mine that sits right by the kitchen sink.
Have fun and if you want more info these links below are useful.
National Toxicology Program: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/aloe_vera_508.pdf
Aloe Vera Uses: http://www.dpdotcom.com/freebie/Aloe%20Vera%20Extract.pdf
More about the author: Amanda Foxon-Hill is a consultant Chemist and Science Communicator with over 12 years of experience in the global cosmetics industry. She is a peer-reviewed writer, after dinner speaker and lecturer with the Institute of Personal Care Science. Read more from this author