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Aloe vera is a species of aloe grown primarily in northern Africa. Arab doctors began using the plant more than a thousand years ago, and it is still used in some countries as a complementary hospital treatment in burn units. It's used in products to treat many different types of skin conditions, as well as in beauty products. Aloe vera is also taken as a health supplement.
In the beginning, aloe vera was used primarily to treat burns and infections. Because the leaves of the plant are made primarily of water combined with essential oils, enzymes and amino acids, aloe is extremely useful in treating skin conditions such as eczema, allergies, and cuts and burns. In fact, many of the natural products containing in the plant are geared to the health market. This includes gels and creams to treat minor burns, bath oils to reduce skin inflammation, and sprays to reduce sunburns and stings. An injectable treatment using this plant has recently been approved to treat fibrosarcoma cancer in dogs.
Extracts from this plant are also used in beauty products, especially moisturizers, soaps, and lotions for people with dry skin. Some facial creams now use it to treat dry skin conditions, especially in sensitive areas such as the eyes. Current research shows that the extracts can reduce skin pigmentation, stimulate the production of collagen, and help with acute cases of acne. This makes aloe a popular ingredient in face creams and other personal products.
Aloe vera is also popular as a food supplement. The juice is widely used around the world to soothe digestive tract irritations, facilitate digestion, and clean the small intestine and colon. It can also be used as a purgative, although it can cause cramping, and to treat serious conditions such as Crohn's disease. Food supplements come in the form of juices, drinks, capsules, and gels. Experts doubt the efficacy of capsules to treat internal problems, and juices may be too diluted to have any effect on the body. Most recommend that people take extracts of the plant, as they can be added to teas or taken by the spoonful.