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The Egyptians were the first to depict Aloe Vera in carvings + use it regularly. They believed it not only had medicinal properties and maintained beauty, but held spiritual significance as an immortal plant. Even after millennias of Egyptian power, Aloe continued to be cultivated in other parts of the world like the Middle East, Asia, and North Americas.
Not only has Aloe Vera aided people physically, but has been revered as god-like for its multiple uses. In modern day Aloe Vera has become synonymous with healing, and how it positively interacts with the body. It’s most popular form is a gel used to cool and heal sunburns, but can be found in many other products.
I’ve never had a negative view towards Aloe, and it’s in some of my other skincare products. Even my best friend was drinking it a few years ago and I tried it myself. Very… slimy.
There are many different forms that Aloe Vera comes in, but because of it’s long history it seems to be culturally/medically assumed to be completely safe and effective. I know I definitely assume a product is better if it has Aloe in it. Just do a web search, and almost every result you come across will brag about the 40+ benefits of using Aloe Vera (doctors and health enthusiasts included).
So why would Aloe be rated as cancerous on a health database?
The rating didn’t make any sense to me, and went against my perception of Aloe. What’s the reason behind the negative score? Is there some controversy behind a plant people have always assumed is good?
When using an Aloe product, the chemical Aloin is the real concern. The chemical Aloin is a latex-like barrier between the outer skin layer and the inner gel.
When Aloe is being extracted from the plant it is a non-decolorized form
(which is un-refined). When it has been processed it is turned into a de-colorized form, and has had most of the Aloin removed.
Aloin is a toxic substance to humans, and when ingested can cause an array of complex health issues. The leaf itself is never meant to be eaten directly, only 8-20g of plant material is considered lethal to adults. Short-term consequences are reactions like electrolyte imbalance, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, dehydration, ect. And long term exposure? It can lead to cancer.
In one study on the toxicology of whole-leaf Aloe extract, groups of rats were given drinking water with doses of 1-3% (non-decolorized) Aloe Vera extract. Of the rats exposed to the Aloe solutions all contracted cancer and hyperplasia of the intestines and lymph nodes. No cancers of the large intestine were seen in rats of the control group, nor any other rats in the facility.
There aren’t many studies on the direct affects of Aloin in the body, but another example of it’s potential risks is from the FDA. In 2002 the FDA required all stores to remove it’s supplies of Aloe laxatives because they didn’t provide the necessary safety data required for continual use. This is in part due to the lack of scientific data proving that Aloe Vera heals or does anything for that matter.
The point being, ingesting Aloe directly is risky if there is any amount of Aloin present, and just isn’t worth the potential benefits. Even another blog dedicated solely to Aloe (for human use) agrees that Aloin should be avoided.
The good news? The form of Aloe Vera used in consumer products is the de-colorized form (most of the Aloin has been removed).
The bad news? While the industry that process Aloe has a standard of 10ppm (parts per million) Aloin for ingested products, there is no labeling requirements for Aloin content.
Basically, Aloin doesn’t have the same kind of absorption when used on the outer layers of skin. But when given direct contact with inner organs it can cause damage.
It’s great that the standard for oral Aloe products is no more than 10ppm – anything higher is known to be harmful. But the refining process isn’t perfect, so the Aloin content in one product can differ wildly from another. Any portion would be unpredictable. One person could have little exposure over an extended period of time whereas another could have a lot in just a few months.
Despite all the information I came across swinging from good to bad the conclusion is simple. Keep on using all the topical Aloe Vera products you know and love. They’re perfectly ok to use due to the refining process that de-colorizes them, and the fact that you’re not orally ingesting it.
For Aloe Vera products you can ingest, I would recommend to stop using them altogether. There is no label required by the FDA, and they even state that it is “not generally recognized as safe or effective“. There are so many alternatives out there, and ones that don’t have a steep a risk as cancer over a period of exposure.
I’m not sure why the EWG Database chose to include information on non-decolorized Aloe. Especially since the kind of Aloe (non-decolorized) isn’t the form that the industry uses in the products EWG rates. My best guess is because EWG has another database that rates food, it would therefore make it relevant to have that rating. The database is big, therefore it probably shares information across platforms.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to be aware of the potential risks of any ingredient. But to include the information that doesn’t apply to a product, for the average user, is more confusing than helpful.
I definitely didn’t understand the difference between the forms of Aloe Vera until I did the research! So hopefully this is a quick, and easy way of deciding for yourself how to use your Aloe Vera products.
Besides, I can’t think of a better remedy for a sunburn than some Aloe Vera gel.
As always, be sure to reference the reviews of any product. Never take one person’s word as law because everyone is different! You’ll have different skin needs or desires which can be re-affirmed by other’s experiences.
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