Aloe vera – does it really cause cancer?
Jun. 30, 2020
Find out the story behind why a certain form of aloe vera was included in Californian state law as a toxic substance and why it’s still safe to use aloe vera skincare products.
It’s summer time and the sun’s out, so I’m going to talk about something that we’ve all used before – aloe vera. Oh aloe. It’s cooling, it’s white and angelic, and its name even sounds like a Greek goddess. But poor aloe vera has been wrongly caught up in a controversy that’s caused it to have bad rep. So I’m going to come out and clarify the facts for why aloe vera is a SAFE ingredient to use and why there’s no reason to stop using it in your lotions, toners and creams.
The succulent plant that produces aloe vera gel is native to North Africa, Southern Europe and the Canary Islands and was already in use as a medicinal ingredient in ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. Because the plant grows in dry climates, it’s developed the ability to store a lot of water in its leaves. This high water density combined with the mix of complex carbohydrates found in the leaves makes the aloe plant very effective at moisturizing the skin and relieving pain. Recent studies have shown that ingesting aloe vera orally can even improve digestive health, significantly mitigating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition, it can promote oral health, with participants in a study showing lower levels of plaque, gingivitis and candida when using aloe toothpaste. What’s more, a compound in the plant’s leaves, aloe emodin, shows promise as a potential treatment for breast cancer.
And of course, the plenitude of health benefits extends to topical use on the skin too. That’s why you’ll find aloe vera in lotion, cleansers, toners, soap or even cosmetics. It’s known for its soothing, moisturizing and cooling properties, and is often used to treat burns, including sunburns. Being less irritating and harsh than many face acids, aloe vera is also preferred by some as an acne treatment. In fact, a study done in 2014 found that when treating mild to moderate acne, combining conventional acne medication with aloe vera gel produced a significantly better result than using acne medication on its own or a placebo. Participants in the study showed lower levels of inflammation and fewer lesions during the period of the eight week study.
For a very long time, aloe vera was happily used and regarded as a safe, soothing ingredient by all. But controversy hit in 2015. Although the FDA only prohibits or restricts 11 substances from cosmetic use (and aloe vera is not one of them), in 2015, the Californian state added “aloe vera, non-decolorized whole leaf extract” to its list under Proposition 65, or Prop 65 for short. Officially referred to as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, this state law lists out carcinogenic or toxic ingredients and requires companies to provide a “clear and reasonable” warning on products that contain any of the ingredients found on the list, even if they’re only present at trace levels.
Ok wait a minute, if aloe vera is on the list, that must mean that aloe vera is very bad then, doesn’t it? No it doesn’t – it’s actually more complicated than that.
Unpurified, unfiltered aloe (which is what “non-decolorized” refers to) contains high concentrations – up to 1000 times greater than the industry standard – of a chemical known as aloin, which was shown to cause cancer when fed to rats.
However, aloe vera found in products we consume and put onto our skin is very much safe and does not cause cancer, because commercially used forms of aloe vera are purified and filtered. Whether natural or processed, you will find aloe vera under many different guises, such as: decolorized aloe, aloe vera latex, aloe vera gel, aloe vera gel extract, aloe water etc. So you can rest assured and keep using aloe vera as after sun or in your normal skincare routine.
The unfortunate thing about this confusion due to Prop 65 is that some brands are fearful that the safe, purified version of aloe vera found in our skincare and cosmetics products will be misunderstood as being dangerous, and therefore steer clear of using this ingredient in their product line. It would be a most unfortunate thing if mis-knowledge and marketing were to drive out what is a great ingredient that’s been used for centuries. So here I am defending the ground for aloe vera. If you’ve used aloe vera and also vouch for it, please help me spread this post by commenting below and forwarding this to anyone who’ll find this useful.
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