Initial Posting: 2/15/15 Last Update: 1/2/16
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Summary: What You Need to Know About Aloe Products
- Be very careful when you select and use an aloe product! Aloe products differ by the type of aloe, part of the aloe leaf used, and amount of purification (See "What It Is"). What's more, ConsumerLab.com found that many products don't contain what they claim (See "What CL Found")
- Aloe vera "gel," as well as aloe vera "juice" which has been purified (or "filtered"), are the safest forms of aloe and are often applied to the skin or consumed as a liquid in small amounts for potential therapeutic purposes (See "What It Does").
- Whole aloe vera leaf (as well as Aloe ferox leaf) contains aloe "latex" which, if consumed, can cause a significant laxative effect (See "What It Does"). These compounds have also been shown to cause cancer in some animals (See "Concerns and Cautions"). The FDA has banned the sale of all aloe products as over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, although they remain legal as dietary supplements.
- See the top choices of products "Approved" by ConsumerLab.com.
What It Is:
Aloe vera (typically labeled as Aloe barbadensis) is a short-stemmed cactus-like plant with thick and fleshy leaves. The inner part of the leaf contains aloe "gel" which includes a compound called acemannan.
The outer portion of the leaf, beneath the skin, contains a different array of compounds including aloins (including the compound "emodin"), or aloe "latex." Products made of whole aloe leaf or unpurified aloe leaf juice will contain these compounds. Filtration and other purification processes can reduce the amount of latex from aloe leaf juice. This purification is sometimes referred to as "decolorization" as it removes the yellowish latex. Products made of purified aloe vera leaf, or of aloe vera gel (described above), will contain very little latex. While most aloe products are made with Aloe barbadensis, be aware that other species may be used, such as Aloe ferox, which contains more latex, although this should be noted on the label.
What It Does:
Aloe vera juice (containing latex) can relieve constipation due to its action as a stimulant laxative (see Concerns and Cautions).
There is some preliminary, but insufficient evidence for the use of aloe for ulcerative colitis (100 ml aloe vera gel twice daily for 4 weeks) (Langmead, Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2004) and diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (50 ml decolorized aloe leaf extract taken four times daily for one month) (Davis, Int J Clin Pract 2006). Preliminary evidence suggests that oral administration of aloe vera gel might be effective in reducing blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes and in lowering elevated blood lipid levels. Taking aloe orally has also been proposed as a treatment for osteoarthritis, due to aloe's potential anti-inflammatory action (Cowan, BR J Community Nurs 2010). However, there have been no large, long-term, randomized, controlled clinical studies with aloe gel for these uses.
Although aloe vera gel is often used after sunburn or other burns, the evidence is mixed as to whether or not it helps. It has also been applied to the skin of patients receiving radiation therapy, but has not been effective in reducing redness, itching, or peeling.
Some preliminary evidence suggests that a cream made with 0.5% aloe (as opposed to pure aloe gel) may be effective for treating genital herpes lesions. There is mixed evidence for this cream in treating psoriasis. Several studies have evaluated topical aloe in wound healing and, again, the results have been mixed; in fact, one study suggested that aloe can actually impair wound healing.
An ointment made of aloe may reduce symptoms of seborrhea (red, scaly skin eruptions), and some studies have shown benefits using aloe gel to relieve symptoms of lichen planus, a skin condition characterized by itchy, flat, scaly patches.
See the Aloe article in our Encyclopedia for more details about clinical studies with aloe.
Quality Concerns and What CL Tested for:
Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests supplements for quality prior to sale. In order to help consumers identify products of better quality, ConsumerLab.com purchased and tested aloe supplements, gels, and liquids to determine whether they contained the labeled and expected amounts of acemannan (expected to be 5% of the dry weight of aloe vera gels and aloe vera 200:1 extracts, and 2.5% of the dry weight of aloe vera leaf juice), as well as aloins and emodin, which should only be found in appreciable amounts in products made from the whole aloe leaf or its juice. Products were also tested for potential contamination with lead, cadmium, and arsenic.
See How Products Were Evaluated for more information on testing.
(1/2/16) A CL member informed CL that the company which distributes one of the products which failed to be approved (as it contained little to no aloe vera gel) is claiming that the product "is 100% aloe vera gel." Not according to our findings. We found many other compounds in the products, such as synthetic polymers, but no detectable amount of a key aloe compound.
(3/23/15) The findings have been updated for one of the products which failed to be approved for having less aloe compound than expected from its label. After further review, ConsumerLab.com believes the product may contain the expected minimum amount of compound. However, it remains "Not Approved" because the type of aloe it contains is not the type listed on the label.
For details, see the Update in the full report.