Everything About Aloe Vera

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on June 13, 2024
7 min read

Aloe vera is a medicinal plant that grows in hot climates such as California, New Mexico, and the Caribbean. It contains more than 75 active ingredients, including enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, some of which could make it useful for treating diseases.

Some people use aloe vera gel as a home remedy to treat burns and other skin conditions and heal wounds. Aloe juice is also promoted as a natural remedy for diabetes, heartburn, and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). There is some research suggesting that it works for these and other conditions, but more research and higher-quality studies are needed to confirm these benefits.

Aloe vera comes as a gel that you can apply to your skin and as a juice or gel that you can drink. The leaf also contains a yellow liquid called aloe latex.

This plant-based remedy contains chemicals that reduce swelling in the skin, relieve redness and scaling, soothe itchy skin, and promote the growth of new skin cells. These properties make aloe vera useful for treating skin conditions such as:

  • Acne
  • Cold sores (herpes)
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Minor burns and sunburn
  • Psoriasis

When taken by mouth, aloe vera may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar and ease heartburn.

Aloe vera for acne

Pimples form when oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria clog up hair follicles, which then get inflamed and form small bumps. Aloe vera has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that might help with acne, but there hasn’t been enough research to confirm that it works. In one of the few studies that exist, the combination of aloe vera gel and the acne medicine tretinoin improved breakouts more than tretinoin alone, and with fewer side effects.

Aloe vera for burns

Aloe vera’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects make it useful for treating burns. Applying a layer of aloe vera to minor burns and sunburned skin might help the skin heal faster, and reduce redness, itching, and pain, research finds. Aloe also helps prevent burns from getting infected.

Aloe vera gel feels soothing on sunburned skin. It moisturizes while it heals, which may prevent you from peeling as much.

Aloe vera and cholesterol

This plant extract might help lower levels of unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and fats called triglycerides while boosting heart-healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Researchers think aloe vera works by reducing the amount of cholesterol that the intestines absorb.

Aloe vera for constipation

Aloe vera juice and aloe latex are promoted as a treatment for constipation. Aloe contains substances (such as barbaloin) that act as laxatives. Barbaloin increases the amount of water in the intestine, which could make poop easier to pass and help digested foods move more easily through the intestines.

Aloe juice and latex used to be in over-the-counter constipation drugs. But because aloe can cause painful cramps and other side effects, the FDA does not consider it safe to use as a laxative.

Aloe vera and diabetes

Some studies show that aloe vera juice may help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and prediabetes. Researchers say substances in aloe vera repair damaged cells in the pancreas that make insulin — the hormone that helps control blood sugar levels. Aloe might also lower blood sugar by helping the body’s cells respond better to insulin.

Some studies haven’t shown any effects of aloe vera on blood sugar. Plus the studies done so far have used different types and doses of aloe. Experts say we need more research to confirm whether aloe vera improves blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

Aloe vera for heartburn 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a painful condition where stomach acid travels up the esophagus and causes heartburn. Aloe vera may help with reflux by lowering inflammation in the esophagus and reducing stomach acid. One early study suggested that aloe vera syrup worked as well as reflux medications such as ranitidine (Zantac) and omeprazole (Prilosec) but with fewer side effects.

Aloe vera for IBS symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes symptoms such as diarrhea and belly pain. Studies have linked IBS to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Aloe may help with IBS by improving this balance, and by reducing inflammation in the intestines.

In one study, people with IBS who took an herbal supplement containing aloe vera and other ingredients for 4 weeks had less constipation, diarrhea, belly pain, and gas. Other people with IBS who drank aloe vera juice said some of their symptoms improved. Because a few studies have shown no benefit, scientists need to do more research on aloe vera for IBS.

The results of aloe vera studies for other medical conditions have been less clear.

One 8-ounce serving of pure aloe vera juice includes:

  • Calories: 10
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Calcium: 74 milligrams
  • Sodium: 60 mg
  • Potassium: 110 mg

Aloe vera creams, gels, and liquids contain different amounts. Some creams for minor burns have just 0.5% aloe vera. Others used for psoriasis may contain as much as 100% aloe vera. Oral supplements have no set dose.

The suggested amount to use varies by the product:

  • Leaf gel cap: 50 to 200 milligrams/day
  • Liquid: 30 milliliter 
  • Tincture: 15 to 60 drops a day mixed with juice or water
  • Topical: Apply three to five times a day

High oral doses of aloe vera extract or aloe vera latex can be dangerous. People who take 1 gram a day of aloe latex for several days are at risk for severe kidney damage and death.

These are not official doses. Ask your doctor for advice on how to use aloe vera and how much to take.

Talk to your doctor before using aloe vera.

Aloe vera gel is safe to apply to the skin. Taking it by mouth can also be safe if you use the right dose and only take it for a short time.

Aloe vera side effects

Topical aloe vera can irritate the skin and cause hives in people who are sensitive to it.

Taking high doses of aloe latex by mouth could cause belly pain, kidney damage, and an electrolyte imbalance. It may also increase cancer risk.

Side effects if you take aloe vera by mouth include:

  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Throwing up
  • Low blood potassium levels 
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Allergic reactions

Aloe vera can also stain the colon, making it hard for your doctor to see it clearly during a colonoscopy. Ask your doctor whether you need to stop using aloe vera before a colonoscopy.

Aloin is a substance in aloe vera that acts like a laxative and can irritate the gastrointestinal tract. If aloe causes gastrointestinal problems, you can look for aloin-free aloe vera products.

Who should avoid aloe vera?

Do not apply topical aloe vera to open or deep wounds. People who are allergic to garlic, onions, or tulips are more likely to be allergic to aloe. If you get a rash, stop using aloe gel.

Don’t use oral aloe vera if you have diabetes and you take medicine to lower your blood sugar. Aloe could lower your blood sugar too much. Avoid this supplement if you have nausea, belly pain, or diarrhea, as it could make these symptoms worse.

If you're pregnant, you shouldn't take aloe latex because it might increase the risk of early labor or miscarriage. It’s also not recommended for use during breastfeeding because it may cause diarrhea and other side effects in your baby. Aloe latex and whole-leaf extract aren’t safe for children under 12.

Aloe vera drug interactions

If you take any medicines, talk to your doctor before you start using aloe vera. It could interact with:

  • Blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Diabetes drugs
  • Digoxin, a drug that treats heart failure
  • Stimulant laxatives
  • Water pills called diuretics

Taking aloe vera gel by mouth may also reduce your body’s absorption of medicines that you take at the same time.

Aloe vera is a natural supplement that you can rub on your skin or take by mouth. It may be useful for conditions such as acne, high cholesterol, and diabetes, but the research so far is limited. Talk to your doctor before using aloe vera because it isn’t safe for everyone.

What does aloe vera do to the skin?

Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It may help reduce acne and treat minor burns and sunburn.

Can you eat aloe vera raw?

Yes. You can eat the gel from inside the leaf, but aloe latex may not be safe to eat in large amounts.

What can I do with aloe vera leaves?

You can make aloe vera juice to drink or rub the gel onto your skin.