Overview

Aloe, a plant, produces two substances used in health care products — clear gel and yellow latex.

People primarily use aloe's clear gel topically in creams and ointments to treat burns, the skin condition psoriasis and even acne. Some also take the gel orally to treat certain conditions. Aloe latex, a laxative, has been taken orally to treat constipation.

While aloe gel is generally safe when used as recommended, oral use of aloe latex poses safety concerns. In fact, taking 1 gram a day of aloe latex for several days can cause kidney damage and might be fatal.

Evidence

Research on the use of aloe for specific conditions shows:

  • Burns and wounds. Application of aloe gel appears to shorten the duration of wound healing for first- and second-degree burns. Aloe gel might also promote wound healing.
  • Acne. Research suggests that aloe gel, applied in the morning and evening in addition to the use of the topical prescription acne medicine tretinoin (Retin-A, Atralin, others), might be more effective in reducing acne than using a topical prescription alone.
  • Psoriasis. Aloe extract cream might reduce redness, scaling, itching and inflammation caused by mild to moderate psoriasis. You might need to use the cream several times a day for a month or more to see improvements in your skin.
  • Herpes simplex virus. Applying a cream containing aloe extract might help lesions heal sooner.
  • Oral lichen planus. Research suggests that twice-daily application of aloe gel for eight weeks might help reduce symptoms of this inflammatory condition that affects the inside of the mouth.
  • Constipation. Whether oral use of aloe latex is effective at treating constipation is unclear. While it acts as a laxative, aloe latex can also cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Our take

Green light: Generally safe

Generally safe

Aloe gel is generally safe and can be effective in treating skin conditions such as burns and psoriasis.

However, avoid using aloe latex orally. Unprocessed aloe latex contains chemicals that appear to have the potential to cause cancer, and processed aloe latex might have cancer-causing compounds. Taking 1 gram a day of aloe latex for several days can cause kidney damage and might be fatal.

Oct. 17, 2017