It is found in many consumer products including beverages, skin lotion, cosmetics, or ointments for minor burns and sunburns. There is little scientific evidence of the effectiveness or safety of Aloe vera extracts for either cosmetic or medicinal purposes. Studies finding positive evidence are frequently contradicted by other studies.
Aloe vera is a stemless or very short-stemmed plant growing to 60–100 cm (24–39 in) tall, spreading by offsets. The leaves are thick and fleshy, green to grey-green, with some varieties showing white flecks on their upper and lower stem surfaces. The margin of the leaf is serrated and has small white teeth. The flowers are produced in summer on a spike up to 90 cm (35 in) tall, each flower being pendulous, with a yellow tubular corolla 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in) long. Like other Aloe species, Aloe vera forms arbuscular mycorrhiza, a symbiosis that allows the plant better access to mineral nutrients in soil.
The species has a number of synonyms: A. barbadensis Mill., Aloe indica Royle, Aloe perfoliata L. var. vera and A. vulgaris Lam. Common names include Chinese Aloe, Indian Aloe, True Aloe, Barbados Aloe, Burn Aloe, First Aid Plant. The species epithet vera means "true" or "genuine". Some literature identifies the white-spotted form of Aloe vera as Aloe vera var. chinensis; and it has been suggested that the spotted form of Aloe vera may be conspecific with A. massawana. The species was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 as Aloe perfoliata var. vera, and was described again in 1768 by Nicolaas Laurens Burman as Aloe vera in Flora Indica on 6 April and by Philip Miller as Aloe barbadensis some ten days after Burman in the Gardener's Dictionary.
A. vera is considered to be native only to the south-west Arabian Peninsula. However, it has been widely cultivated around the world, and has become naturalized in North Africa, as well as Sudan and neighboring countries, along with the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, and Madeira Islands. It is also naturalized in wild areas across southern Spain, especially in the region of Murcia, being the only place in Europe where it has been found naturalized.
The species was introduced to China and various parts of southern Europe in the 17th century. It is widely naturalized elsewhere, occurring in temperate and tropical regions of Australia, South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and southeastern US states. The current distribution may be the result of human cultivation.
Aloe vera has been widely grown as an ornamental plant. The species is popular with modern gardeners as a putatively medicinal plant and for its interesting flowers, form, and succulence. This succulence enables the species to survive in areas of low natural rainfall, making it ideal for rockeries and other low water-use gardens. The species is hardy in zones 8–11, and is intolerant of heavy frost and snow. The species is relatively resistant to most insect pests, though spider mites, mealy bugs, scale insects, and aphid species may cause a decline in plant health. This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
In pots, the species requires well-drained, sandy potting soil and bright, sunny conditions. Aloe plants can burn under too much sun or shrivel when the pot does not drain water. The use of a good-quality commercial propagation mix or packaged "cacti and succulent mix" is recommended, as they allow good drainage. Terra cotta pots are preferable as they are porous. Potted plants should be allowed to completely dry before rewatering. When potted, aloes can become crowded with "pups" growing from the sides of the "mother plant". Plants that have become crowded should be divided and repotted to allow room for further growth and help prevent pest infestations. During winter, Aloe vera may become dormant, during which little moisture is required. In areas that receive frost or snow, the species is best kept indoors or in heated glasshouses.
There is large-scale agricultural production of Aloe vera in Australia, Bangladesh, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, China, Mexico, India, Jamaica, Spain, where it grows even well inland, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, along with the USA to supply the cosmetics industry.
Although there is little scientific evidence of the effectiveness or safety of Aloe vera extracts for either cosmetic or medicinal purposes, the cosmetic and alternative medicine industries regularly make claims regarding the soothing, moisturizing, and healing properties of aloe vera. There is no good evidence aloe vera is of use in treating wounds or burns, nor that topical application is effective for treating genital herpes or psoriasis. A 2014 Cochrane review found insufficient evidence for using aloe vera topically to treat or prevent phlebitis caused by intravenous infusion.
Aloe veragel is used commercially as an ingredient in yogurts, beverages, and some desserts, but at certain high doses, its toxic properties could be severe when taken orally.
Aloin, a compound found in the exudate of some Aloe species, was the common ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) laxative products in the United States until 2002 when the Food and Drug Administration banned it because the companies manufacturing it failed to provide the necessary safety data.Aloe vera has potential toxicity, with side effects occurring at some dose levels both when ingested or applied topically. Although toxicity may be less when aloin is removed by processing, Aloe vera that contains aloin in excess amounts may induce side effects.
Aloe vera juice is marketed to support the health of the digestive system, but there is neither scientific evidence nor regulatory approval to support this claim. The extracts and quantities typically used for such purposes appear to be dose-dependent for toxic effects.
Aloe vera is used on facial tissues where it is promoted as a moisturizer and anti-irritant to reduce chafing of the nose. Cosmetic companies commonly add sap or other derivatives from Aloe vera to products such as makeup, tissues, moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens, incense, shaving cream, or shampoos. A review of academic literature notes that its inclusion in many hygiene products is due to its "moisturizing emollient effect".
Under the guidelines of California Proposition 65, orally ingested non-decolorized aloe vera leaf extract has been listed by the OEHHA, along with goldenseal, among "chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity".
Use of topical aloe vera is not associated with significant side effects. Oral ingestion of aloe vera, however, is potentially toxic, and may cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea which in turn can decrease the absorption of drugs.IARC studies have found ingested non-decolorized liquid aloe vera is a possible carcinogen when eaten or ingested by humans.
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