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Asian Skincare Ingredient 101: Aloe & Aloe vera

The Story of Aloe and Aloe Vera and How It's Used in Skincare

Aloe vera is both a widely-known and widely-used plant: if you ask someone on whether they've tried it before, there’s a good chance they've applied aloe to treat a cut or scrape in the past. Others may have had aloe-based drinks before.

Aloe falls into a unique category as a plant. It’s considered a “home remedy” and a staple in traditional medicine, but also an ingredient frequently used in both pharmaceutical and skincare products.

Few plants are so legendary in this regard. Medicinal use of aloe traces back to ancient times. The exact timing of its first usage is unknown but carvings in Ancient Egypt suggest it could have started as early as over 6,000 years ago.

Aloe Growing In The Wild

Aloe remains extremely popular today and while its efficacy is disputed, its complex anatomy contains up to 75 active vitamins, enzymes, minerals, fatty acids, and more. Why is this succulent plant so cherished? And why does it remain popular today for its sale and cultivation? In this article, we will look into aloe’s history, its use in skincare, and its efficacy. We will also explore why Aloe and Aloe vera have become a staple part of Asian beauty in particular.

Name and Definition

Aloe Vera, native to the Arabian Peninsula, is a species of the Aloe genus. Although there are over 500 types of aloe, Aloe vera is the most well-known: the terms “Aloe vera” and “Aloe” are often used interchangeably (however, there are a few other Aloe species with similar properties to Aloe vera).  Aloe is a succulent - a family of plants with thick and fleshy structure that is adapted to withstand dry conditions by storing water (cactus falls within a sub-group of succulents).

Aloe vera means “true aloe” derived from the Arabic word for “aloe” and the Latin word for “true.” Unlike other plants that have common names (for example “Job’s Tears”), Aloe vera takes its scientific name for everyday use: Aloe refers to the genus and “vera” refers to the species. Aloe is also known as:A. barbadensis Mill., Aloe indica Royle, Aloe perfoliata L. var. vera and A. vulgaris Lam, Chinese Aloe, Indian Aloe, True Aloe, Barbados Aloe, and Burn Aloe.

Field of aloe plants.A field of aloe plants.

Historical Background of Aloe vera

Early stone carvings suggest that Aloe vera was ingested in Ancient Mesopotamia to cleanse the body of illnesses. In Ancient Egypt, aloe was both consumed orally and used externally to treat the skin. In Christianity, the Bible makes several references to Aloe for treating injuries. 

It is believed that the popularity of Aloe vera spread to the rest of the world via the Silk Road trade route that connected the Arabian Peninsula and the West all the way to China and the East. By the 17th Century, Aloe vera was introduced to China and it became a staple part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Aloe is related to the concept of "heat" in TCM and is used to remove excess “heat” from the body to restore balance.

Aloe in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Plants are the most commonly used ingredients for Traditional Chinese Medicine.
 

In today’s world, the Aloe vera industry is massive with a market size of Aloe vera products estimated at $1.6B USD in 2018. Aloe vera is farmed in many countries, including: India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Egypt, Brazil, and the United States.

How Aloe is Used in Skincare

Aloe is used in a wide variety of topical products, including natural skincare products, pharmaceutical products, and cosmetic products. Certain parts of the plant is selected for topical use. Aloe has a layered structure with the inner part containing water, vitamins, amino acids, and other compounds, while the middle part is made of latex.

 Aloe has a layered structure with the inner part containing water, vitamins, amino acids, and other compounds, while the middle part is made of latex.A closer look at the inside of an aloe leaf.

When processed for skincare, manufacturers typically use the inner gel for its skin-soothing, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing properties. This makes it a popular choice in a variety of skincare formulations.
 

Aloe for Skin-Soothing

Perhaps best-known is the use of Aloe vera as a soothing or healing agent. Aloe vera contains Glucomannan and other ingredients that help stimulate production of collagen. Aloe vera may protect the skin from UV radiation. When Aloe gel interacts with skin, an antioxidant protein is produced. However, the precise mechanism of action is not yet known. 

Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties: it lowers the activity of an enzyme called Cyclooxygenase (COX). Inhibiting COX reduces inflammation and pain. It’s the same enzyme targeted by drugs like ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). 

Aloe for Moisturizing 

Aloe’s anatomy is specialized to succeed in dry environments. Its cell walls are composed of polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are long chains of sugar molecules found in plants that can also help our skin retain its water content (for example, hyaluronic acid and collagen are also polysaccharides). Although polysaccharides make up the cell walls of other plants, some researchers believe that polysaccharides in Aloe have unique properties that can stimulate cell growth and even seal wounds. 

Fresh Aloe Vera Cut On A Table

One study looked into the efficacy of Aloe vera to treat dryness and cracking of factory workers’ hands. It concluded with a positive outcome for the group treated with Aloe vera with reduced wrinkling, reduced reddening, and reduced dryness and cracking. 

Aloe and Aloe Vera in Asian Skincare

Aloe and Aloe Vera is used by skincare companies from all over the world but it has a special place in Asian Skincare. Part of it is because of Aloe’s connection to Traditional Chinese Medicine where it is seen as a purification agent of the skin and body. Another reason is because of different skincare routines and goals are popularized by different regions.

Aloe in Korean Beauty Products

Korean skincare is known for its 10-step regimen, which may sound over-the-top, but it shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as a checklist. Rather, step has a purpose and products are chosen deliberately to accomplish certain things. On some days, soothing products may be required to calm the skin. But one non-negotiable step of the regimen is to use sunscreen and studies indicate that Aloe vera may help protect the skin against UV radiation.

Korean products with aloe available at Glowie Co:


COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream, one of our best selling sunscreens.

Aloe in Taiwanese Beauty Products

Aloe and Aloe vera are frequently used in Taiwanese beauty and skincare. Taiwan is well-regarded for its sheet masks. Although sheet masks are also part of the 10-step Korean skincare regimen, the logic behind Taiwanese beauty is a bit different. Rather than focusing on such a large number of steps, Taiwanese brands are known to combine multiple benefits into a single product. That way, a skincare routine can become simplified into just a few products. Sheet masks are great at combining these benefits. Aloe is typically positioned here for soothing as well, but its multi-benefit nature (anti-aging and moisturizing) seems to fit in harmony with the ensemble of ingredients found in sheet masks. 

Taiwanese products with aloe available at Glowie Co:

Conclusion

Aloe and Aloe vera, with its long history, is here to stay with its popularity increasing year over year. More rigorous studies are required to hone in on its mechanism of action and its efficacy. Despite this, many consumers have had great success integrating aloe into their skincare routine. It could just be that there is truth in the value of aloe that transcends the lore. 

Sources

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