Aloe Vera. Aloe Vera Gel. Aloe Vera Juice. Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice. There are even more names here for this nearly ubiquitous ingredient found in both skin and hair care formulations. Many people swear by it claiming all kinds of benefits for aloe including things like being good for burns, wound healing and even hair growth! But as a formulator you have to wonder, does aloe vera really do anything when delivered from a topical cosmetic formula?
Before I got into the cosmetic industry I had the impression that aloe was something you should use on burns because it can make the injury feel better and help with healing. In fact, my mother used to keep an aloe plant for this reason and the idea was drummed into my head for years. But when I got into the cosmetic industry and learned about claims ingredients I began to get a bit skeptical. Especially when I learned that we were putting Aloe in our shampoos at a level of 0.1% of a 1% solution. Therefore, the actual amount of aloe in that shampoo was 0.001%. With the rest of the formula SLS and Lauramide DEA it didn’t seem reasonable that the Aloe was doing much of anything (except getting people to buy the product).
Of course, just because the Aloe wasn’t doing anything in a hair care product when used at really low levels that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t do anything in a product when used at a higher level or when used in a leave-on formula like a skin lotion. So, I was still left with the question, does Aloe Vera do anything when delivered from a topical cosmetic product?
Go with your gut
My gut feeling has been that it doesn’t. I generally discount claims about any folkloric ingredient as they are almost overwhelmingly non-scientific and non-verified. Just because an ingredient has been used for some purpose for thousands of years doesn’t mean that it actually has the claimed effect. Which also means that just because my mother put Aloe on my burns when I was a kid doesn’t mean that it was having much of an effect beyond a placebo, psychological one. But despite my skepticism I’ve remained curious.
Aloe Vera research
It turns out I’m not the only one. Researchers have been investigating the effectiveness of aloe for years. Here is an article I stumbled on published in the British Journal of General Practice (medicine) which does a systematic review of all the clinical trial research done on aloe vera. And here is what they found…
Ten clinically controlled research studies were found in published literature. They ignored all the studies that were not controlled which is what you would want to do if you are looking at what science has to say about a subject. There were only a set number of claims they could find data about.
1. Wound healing - It was unclear whether wound healing was promoted by using aloe. Some studies suggested it was, other larger studies said it wasn’t.
2. Genital herpes - It could be effective for treating this condition
3. Psoriasis - It could be effective for treating this condition.
Of course, in all cases the researchers concluded that there was not sufficient data to make any firm conclusions.
I looked through the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and couldn’t find any real research done on looking at the effectiveness of aloe. Other sources about aloe similarly resulted in little data to support many of the claims made by supporters of aloe.
Does aloe do anything in a cosmetic?
As far as I could find…not likely. Based on the best science about the subject there is no real good reason to include Aloe in your formulas except for the purposes of making a claim. And if you’re using it as a claims ingredient you don’t have to add more than 0.001% to do that. If you’re putting in more than that, you’re probably wasting money.