What Is Aloe Vera? Benefits, Risks, Uses, and More

Although aloe vera is often touted as a sunburn treatment, research on this potential benefit is limited.

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There are more than 300 species of the aloe plant, but Aloe barbadensis (aka aloe vera) is the best known and is prized in the health and beauty worlds for its healing properties. (1)

The spiky succulent plant grows naturally in dry, tropical climates in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the southern and western parts of the United States. (1)

Many centuries ago, people realized the plant had more to offer than just being nice to look at. The gel and juice found inside aloe vera became a popular herbal remedy that was used to help treat everything from skin issues to digestive problems. (1)

Let’s take a look at the history of aloe vera and its potential benefits.

What Is Aloe Vera, and Where Does the Plant Come From?

Aloe vera has been known for its healing properties for at least 6,000 years. In the early days, the plant was known for being a “plant of immortality” and was presented to Egyptian pharaohs as a funeral gift. (2)

Over time, groups from many geographical areas have used aloe vera, including Indians, Chinese, Mexicans, and North Americans, too. (3)

Humans have long known about the plant’s healing benefits, and over the years have used aloe — which is also known as “burn plant,” “lily of the desert,” and “elephant’s gall” — to help treat wounds, hair loss, hemorrhoids, and digestive issues. (2)

These days, aloe has an entire industry behind it. Its juices are used in cosmetics and personal-care products such as moisturizers, soap, shaving cream, and suntan lotion. The aloe vera product that probably comes to mind most easily is the bright green gel that’s stocked on drugstore shelves. You’ve probably used it to soothe a nasty sunburn.

Aloe vera is also available in supplement form, which is said to offer the same possible benefits to the skin and digestive system as other versions of the plant. (2,3)

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