Aloe is one of the oldest medicinal plants to be used by people.
From vast African savannahs, it had spread throughout the continent and eventually, centuries later, reached in the South of Europe. The Egyptian pharaohs believed that the juice of aloe can prolong life and they used to drink it as a longevity potion. The same juice was used to treat wounds, burns, and skin sores—successfully, according to the extant papyri. Aloe was valued very highly in the ancient world. Legend has it, that Alexander the Great conquered the island of Socotra only to seize its famous aloe plantations. Aristotle, Dioscorides and Pliny have mentioned aloe as a remedy for many diseases. Historians believe aloe to have been used in medicine for over 3000 years.
Aloe hadn’t been discovered in Europe until much later, however in the X century English doctors were already using it first to treat skin diseases, and then for neuralgia, head ache and even tuberculosis. In the Soviet Russia aloe was massively popularised by ophthalmology professor V. P. Filatov, who used it as an immunosuppressant — an agent suppressing the rejection of transplanted eye cornea.
In reality however the house plant is not quite the same aloe that has been used in medicine for centuries and was later adopted by cosmetology. What people grow on their windowsills is candelabra aloe, Aloe arborescens—it looks like a small tree. And the pharaohs had the real thing — true aloe, or Aloe vera (barbadensis). True aloe doesn’t have a tree-like trunk, it looks like a sprout. What makes aloe so unique is the fact that it’s incredibly rich in various biologically active substances with beneficial effects — from faster wound healing to antibacterial action.
Aloe juice and cells contain over 200 components: all known vitamins, many minerals, amino acids, enzymes, anti oxidants and polysaccharides.
The moisturising effect, valued so highly by cosmetic professionals, is attributed to polysaccharides, the long chains of sugar molecules. The polysaccharide film covers the skin and draws water molecules, at the same time preventing the evaporation of moisture already present in the upper layers of the skin.
Aloe extract acts like a healing bandage — it moisturises the skin while still letting it breathe, and the flavonoids heal and restore the skin. This is why aloe is such a well-known burn remedy — under the protective films burned skin heals faster. Not only does the film that aloe forms on the skin surface enable the skin’s recovery, but the substances in aloe extract have a regenerating effect as well. It turned out, Egyptian priests had been right all along, aloe does slow down the ageing process.
Sure, it is impossible to stop ageing entirely, but you can postpone it. With age our skin’s ability to synthesise new proteins, collagen and elastin, noticeably decreases. However, the substances in the cells of aloe leaves make the skin cells re-establish the syntheses of collagen and elastin, and with regular use intensify it further. The result is a thicker, more elastic and visibly younger and healthier looking skin. The natural aloe extract is particularly good because it is recognised by the skin as its own, since its ingredients are related to the agents present in a healthy skin at birth. Aloe practically never causes allergic reactions, even people whose skin is irritated by almost anything usually display a perfectly normal reaction to aloe-based solutions.
Bitter aloe or Aloe ferox is also used in cosmetics. This species contains more phosphorus, iron, calcium, magnesium, and most importantly copper and zinc. Copper is a ‘healing mineral’, and zinc is a sort of ‘mineral antibiotic’. Bitter aloe extract acts like a natural antibiotic—it destroys and stops the activity of many pathological bacteria, including streptococci and staphylococci. In ancient times it was used to cleanse the soldiers’ festering wounds, and now it is added to the cosmetic solutions for acne treatment and for problem skin. Some cosmetologists say, that if all of their potions had been taken away, and only aloe left, they’d still be able to practice — that’s how diverse the effects of aloe are and how helpful it is for various cosmetic problems.
The only things, perhaps, that would be hard to achieve with its help are wrinkle correction and skin bleaching. As for treating skin dryness, hypersensitivity, oiliness and acne, as well as recovery after all sorts of injuries, aloe is absolutely indispensable.