Aloe vera is commonly known as Aloe, burn plant or lily of the desert. Early records of the use of Aloe vera appear in the Ebers Papyrus from the 16th century BC in which ancient Egyptian remedies and magical formulas are listed. Aloe vera was known as the ‘’plant of immortality’’ and was presented as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. This species is used widely in the traditional herbal medicine of many countries. In Ayurvedic medicine, Aloe vera is called kathalai and is used as a multipurpose skin treatment.
Cleopatra massaged aloe gel into her skin as part of her daily beauty routine. Aloe was used in ancient Israel to wash and prepare the dead for burial and Egyptians used aloe in embalming. When Columbus set sail for America, he wrote in his diary ‘’All is well, aloe is on board’’. Aloe vera is still popular today and is cultivated around the world as a crop for its colourless jelly-like leaf parenchyma known as ‘’aloe gel’’. It is used for a variety of purposes in food and beverages, food supplements, herbal remedies and cosmetics.
Aloe vera contains many active ingredients which influence its therapeutic properties including vitamins A, B1,B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, E, folic acid, choline, a host of minerals, amino acids and mucinous polysaccharides. It contains uronic acids which aid in detoxification, and fatty acids (natural plant steroids) which are anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. Aloe contains enzymes and antraquinones which are natural pain killers and antimicrobial agents, as well as salicylic acid which is both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. The presence of saponins account for its natural cleansing and antiseptic properties.
Aloe vera may be effective when used topically in the treatment of wounds and is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne and eczema. It has been used to promote healing of first to second degree burns. Studies have shown that aloe’s antibacterial and antifungal activities may be useful in treating minor skin infections such as sunburns, boils, benign skin cysts, and tinea corporis.
Aloe vera gel is used extensively in skin products such as lotions, facial creams, cosmetics and sunblocks. It encourages skin rejuvenation due to its antioxidant properties, relieves arthritic pain, improves blood circulation and reduces scarring and itching. Aloe has a moisturising effect and has a similar pH to human skin so it can be used on sensitive skin.