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Aloe: Healer, Moisturizer, Beautifier
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Aloe and the Skin
Aloe has long been recognized for its beneficial effects as a topical skin application. In ancient times, it was used to protect against insect bites and to help relieve cuts, abrasions, and burns.
The earliest mention of the aloe plant dates back to 1500 b.c., where it is mentioned in the Papyrus Ebers. Alexander the Great used the herb to treat his soldier's wounds, and, reportedly took the Greek philosopher Aristotle's advice to conquer an island off the coast of Africa to ensure a stable aloe supply. Cleopatra used it to moisturize her skin, and some say, bathed in it. In 1 a.d., Dioscorides, the author of a Greek herbal, described aloe's uses. Today, numerous benefits are attributed to the aloe plant_the most apparent being what it can do for the skin. Aloe is said to help soothe wounds, sunburn, and frostbite and improve the appearance of the skin.
How aloe works has always been a question. The answer probably involves synergistic action among some 200 ingredients, and synergy is a hard thing to put a finger on. Some effects may be negated when one ingredient is isolated or eliminated, so we never really know which ingredients are responsible for which effects.
Still, progress is being made. Aloe's benefits can be attributed to its nutrients: The plant contains proteins (including seven of the eight essential amino acids); carbohydrates (including mucopolysaccharides); vitamins (including B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and folic acid); and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and copper. These nutrients, although beneficial individually, work synergistically to soothe, heal, moisturize, and regenerate your skin.
Scientific research into aloe vera began in the 1900s. The first "substantiated" ingredient found was aloin, which was used as a laxative and was the most commonly used laxative in western countries until World War II. In the 1930s, research began focusing on aloe's topical benefits. This interest was first aroused because of the growing use of X-rays. X-rays often inflicted X-ray dermatitis, serious burns that were characterized by painful skin ulcers that often never healed.
Two researchers, Dr. C.E. Collins and his son, Creston, began to investigate aloe as a means to cure X-ray dermatitis. They concluded that "[having] treated more than fifty cases of X-ray and radium burns with aloe vera leaf _ the results as a whole have been gratifying."
This initial research prompted more research. In 1937 and 1938, Dr. J.E. Crewe published articles in the Minnesota Journal of Medicine which confirmed the Collinses' study and pointed to new frontiers for aloe_such as helping relieve eczema, thermal burns, scalding, sunburn, minor injuries, and certain allergies, including poison ivy.
Research continues. During the early 1990s, articles published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association pointed to aloe as having antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. A University of Texas research team discovered that aloe may penetrate injured tissue, relieve pain, dilate capillaries, and work as an anti-inflammatory.
Research also points to the value of mucopolysaccharides, one of the ingredients of aloe vera. Many studies suggest that the mucopolysaccharides are responsible for the wound-healing activity because they act as a growth factor. This growth factor contributes to wound-healing by stimulating fibroblasts (connective-tissue cells) to produce more collagen, which in turn increases the remodeling of the wound and fills in the wound area. Acting synergistically, aloe vera may keep the wound moist and at the same time allow oxygen to penetrate the wound, adding to regeneration.
What is perhaps most amazing is that aloe seems to promote only healthy cell growth: if a cell is cancerous, growth is not stimulated. Grindlay and Reynolds, in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (1986: 117-151) say, "Winters (1981) found that fresh A. Vera leaves contained lectin like compounds which enhanced the growth of normal human cells in tissue culture, but not tumor cells." This is further confirmation of case reports by El Zawahry, et al. (1973), which point out that aloe vera gel, while promoting the regeneration of normal tissue, does not have this effect in the growth patterns found in carcinogenic tissue.
Using aloe vera for skin care has a number of advantages. Aloe soothes, cools, and seals in moisture. According to Chuck Piper in an issue of Runner's World, "[Aloe's] application as a moisturizer is well documented. Its high water and mineral content make it ideally suited for use as a skin cream and it can be found in a number of commercial beauty aids and suntan lotions. Its softening powers have recently been found to be helpful in breaking down calluses and blisters as well. One [athletic] trainer even cured a severe case of athlete's foot through repeated applications of aloe vera over a 3-day period."
How do nutrients in aloe benefit the skin? Mucopolysaccharides help bind moisture into the skin; amino acids soften hardened skin cells; and zinc acts as an astringent to tighten pores. Dr. Albert T. Lenn, Ph.D., states in the Drugs & Cosmetics Journal (June 1977), "_ it is commonly believed that the moisturizing emollient and healing properties of aloe gel are due to the polysaccharides present."
For whatever reasons, aloe vera does benefit the skin. No matter whether you use aloe for its healing properties, as a moisturizer, or to make your skin look good and yourself feel good, you have made a smart choice. Take it from Alexander the Great or Cleopatra.
Baar, Karen. "New uses for aloe vera." Natural Health. November-December 1995.
Davis, Robert, et al. "Wound healing. Oral and topical activity of aloe vera." Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. November 1989.
El Zawahry, M. et al. "Uses of aloe in treating leg ulcers and dermatosis." Dermatoloy. January-February 1973.
Friedrich, Joan. "Skin care: protection from winter's chill." Better Nutrition for Today's Living. December 1990.
Murray, Frank. "Therapy and treatment with aloe vera." Better Nutrition for Today's Living. March 1994.
Piper, Chuck, and Baxter, Kevin. "Treating injuries with aloe vera." Runner's World. January 1983.
Roeder, Giselle. "Skin care and aloe vera." Total Health. June 1994.
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