How to distinguish between good and bad Aloe vera products

Answer Desk

Aloe Vera is used in everything from toothpaste to supplements and this holiday weekend, lots of people who are suffering from a sunburn may turn to an Aloe-based product to help make that burn feel better.

But, the use of Aloe Vera is not regulated by the FDA and consumers don’t always know if the Aloe product being purchased has enough of the compound to do any good.

Take the Aloe leaves available for purchase at a local supermarket.

Even though it’s got Aloe gel inside that leaf, using it to treat sunburn or grinding up the pulp to drink as a supplement won’t do you any good because that plant has gone too long between harvest and use.

“After about six hours from harvest, all of the nutrients in the Aloe Vera plant are dead — there’s nothing,” said Heather Florio, the COO of the Hillsborough based Desert Harvest Aloe Products.

To avoid that problem, the Aloe at Desert Harvest’s Caribbean plantation is processed on site within minutes — before the Aloe becomes useless.

Even though Aloe grows in a hot environment, heat can ruin it once it’s harvested. 

“Heat will kill all the active ingredients in the Aloe Vera plant,” said Florio.

To prevent that, Florio’s firm freeze-dries the Aloe being used to create supplements.

If you are buying Aloe products, you need to avoid products which leave in a substance called Anthraquiones. They are latex-like chemicals between the gel and the rind.

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“The Anthraquiones are what makes it sticky and hard,” said Florio.

Some studies also say those Anthraquiones in the Aloe leaf might be carcinogenic and are banned in Aloe products sold in California.

But, beyond the California regulation, there are no other oversights on the use of Anthraquiones or anything else used in Aloe products.

The FDA  told CBS 17 in an email, “the law does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information, including adverse events, with us”

And the agency says it “does not does not have the resources to sample and analyze all cosmetics on the market.”

However, non-profit Environmental Working Group does keep tabs on cosmetics which contain Aloe as well as other skin care products.

So, how can you tell if the Aloe product you buy actually has Aloe in it — and if it’s had those bad chemicals taken out of it?  One way is the ingredient list on the label.

“Aloe should be the first ingredient. If not, question why,” said Florio. She says the law requires ingredients to be listed in order from most prominent to least prominent.

For supplements, make sure the ingredients don’t include ‘inner leaf gel’ or ‘juice capsules.’

“Those are the cheap way to scrape off the gel, not worry about the Anthraquiones and leave all the nutrients behind,” Florio says.

  Right now, Aloe Vera products are a $1 billion industry and expected to grow by another billion in the next 5 years.

So if you’re going to spend your money on Aloe products — do your homework to make sure you aren’t wasting it on something that won’t work.

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