Aloe vera – Nature’s best after-sun moisturizer
With the arrival of summer, comes longer days, warmth, and the sunshine. We, as humans, have evolved in sunlight and have depended on its life-giving properties since time immemorial. Moderate sun exposure offers us a boosted immune system, an uplifted mood, and even a stronger heart—so it is good to get out and enjoy the summer sun. Too much sun, however, can cause premature aging of our skin characterized by wrinkles, a leathery texture, and an uneven complexion as well as, if we are not careful, nasty burns. A good way to help maximize the undeniable health benefits the sun gives us, and to help avoid the damage, is to moisturize regularly our skin with one of Nature’s best remedies, the gel of the aloe vera plant (often called Ghrita-Kumari in India).
For thousands of years, throughout much of the world, aloe vera has been used for medicinal purposes. The restorative powers of aloe appear in Sumerian clay tablets dating back to 2100 BCE, the Rig Vedas of ancient India, the Bible, and the ancient 1st century CE ‘De Materia Medica (Herbal medicine encyclopedia),’ written by the physician Dioscorides. In the Ebers Papyrus of ancient Egypt, written some 4000 years ago, aloe is referred to as ‘the plant of immortality’ and is said to be good for burns and skin rashes, as well as many other health complaints. Apparently, Cleopatra was a fan of using aloe as part of her daily beauty regime.
Modern studies show that aloe vera has a remarkable ability to repair and restore the integrity of individual skin cells, especially after exposure to the sun’s UVA rays, which may prove preventive for some types of skin cancer. Aloe applied directly onto burns, improved the average healing time by a third, from 19 days to 12. It helps hydrate our skin, increasing its water content, allowing it to be softer and more elastic, giving our skin a refreshed and healthier appearance.
In my clinic, I will often recommend patients use aloe vera as a safe moisturizer, one for which also reduces inflammation, for such conditions as rosacea, acne, psoriasis, and eczema, especially when other petroleum or oil based moisturizers can be too thick and occlusive. Just ensure that the aloe is as pure as possible (it is not hard to find products containing 99+% aloe gel in most health food stores).
Some people have reported allergic reactions to aloe, noticing such things as itching, redness, burning, and stinging sensations. It is always a good idea to apply some aloe to a small area first, just to ensure you and family members can tolerate it well.
When I first studied herbal medicine, back in 1991, my teacher, Dr. Terri Willard, was a big fan of aloe vera. He recommended keeping a bottle of pure aloe vera gel in the fridge, ready to pull out whenever anyone had a burn. I have followed this advice for over 25 years now, using it on myself, and family members, to help soothe acute wounds or to moisten our skin after a day in the sun. I even use it regularly as an after-shave.
I have my mother and, in turn, her mother (my Nana), for my earliest exposure to aloe vera. When I was a young child, there was always a plant, or two, around the house, which was used whenever I had a burn, be it from the stove-top or the sun. My mother would remove one of its green, dinosaur looking, leaves, peel away the thick outer skin to reveal a moist and fleshy gel substance, which she would then rub on my skin. I can still remember the instant cooling effects my mother’s aloe plant offered me, a feeling that is hard to forget.
Dr. Erikson is a Registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine who focuses entirely on the natural treatment of skin disease. He may be reached by phone at 778.886.1180, or through his website at drerikson.com.