Weekly advice from our herbs and alternatives expert
(ISTOCKPHOTO)I was reflecting on the virtues of aloe vera when a new study popped up in my inbox. Aloe, in case youve never met one, is the spiky, cactus-like succulent and popular houseplant whose stalky leaves contain a clear gel thats used in countless personal care products and cosmetics.
Used for healing skin problems since the days of the pharaohs, aloe was a go-to treatment for poisoned arrow wounds and was favored by African medics way back when.
I cant vouch for its effectiveness against arrow wounds, but I can tell you that aloe might be worth a try if you have psoriasis, the chronic autoimmune disease that causes scaly, reddened skin eruptions.
Better than steroids?
According to a recent study, treatment with aloe led to a greater reduction in psoriasis severity when compared with a topical steroid cream.
The study, which was presented at the International Congress of Dermatology in May 2009, involved 80 patients, and has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Still, say the researchers, “Aloe vera can be considered a safe alternative treatment for mild to moderate chronic plaque psoriasis,” which is the most prevalent form of this bedeviling skin condition.
In the study, the volunteers all had scores of about 11 on a scale called the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI), which is considered the gold standard for assessing extensive psoriasis. The index measures the average redness, thickness, and scaliness of the lesions on a 0 to 4 scale.
Volunteers were randomly assigned to two groups. One groups lesions were treated with a 70% aloe vera cream, while the other group got topical steroid treatment (0.1% triamcinolone acetonide). After eight weeks, the PASI scores for the aloe group decreased by an average of 7.7 points and by 6.6 points in the steroid group.
Where to find aloe
You can buy 70% aloe vera creams and gels in health-food stores, or you can simply use aloe vera goo straight from the plant. To do so, just break off a leaf, split it open with a knife, and scrape off the gel.
Buy aloe plants practically anywhere live plants are sold. Theyre a terrifically hardy houseplant, and from personal experience, I can tell you that even gardeners with black thumbs have a hard time killing them. They just need sandy soil, a sunny window, and an occasional spritz of water. Be careful not to overwater your aloe; its a desert plant and appreciates dry conditions.
Good to know: Aloe isnt just for psoriasis. Use the gel to soothe minor burns and sunburn, insect bites, scrapes, and cuts.