As seen in Refinery 29 | May 2, 2022 | by Hilary Shepard
Aloe vera has long been touted for its skin-healing properties, and more specifically, its ability to provide instantaneous (and deeply soothing) relief for sunburnt skin. But recently, the cactus-like plant has become revered for doing more than just lessening the painful blow of an extended catnap under the sun: Aloe vera is being linked to improved hair health and appearance, with popular hair-care brands featuring it in shampoos, conditioners, masks, and styling products, and TikTok users turning to it as a natural remedy for lackluster strands, an itchy or dandruff-afflicted scalp, and even hair loss.
Aloe vera is a succulent that grows in arid, tropical regions. It has thick, sturdy leaves that contain clear, gel-like liquid. The plant has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. According to Danielle Keasling, celebrity hairstylist and Ulta Beauty Pro Member, aloe contains active ingredients — like folic acid and vitamins A, C, E, and B12 — that can promote a “multitude of hair and scalp health benefits.”
What does it do for hair?
Strong scientific studies highlighting the exact benefits aloe vera has on hair are still lacking, says Nazanin Saedi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University. However, she cites a study in which aloe vera was proven as an effective treatment for seborrheic dermatitis — aka dandruff — due to its antifungal and antibacterial properties. And while it might not be a magical elixir that’ll instantly produce longer hair, aloe vera can help strengthen it or reduce scalp itchiness. (You can chalk it up to aloe’s fatty and amino acids, oil-busting enzymes, and those aforementioned vitamins, notes Keasling.)
Jasmine Rilington, hairstylist, cosmetologist, and founder of The Glam Room, recommends using an aloe vera-laced mask a couple of times per week “or as needed” for maximum efficacy. For an easy, at-home solution, she suggests whipping up a mix of aloe vera and coconut oil (which has been proven to reduce hair damage), coating hair with it from roots to ends, and allowing it to sit for up to 10 minutes before rinsing it out with a mild shampoo. In addition to making hair feel “softer,” Rilington says including aloe in your mask routine can also help eliminate any dandruff you might be experiencing.
Remember: Before introducing aloe vera into your beauty regimen or applying it on your scalp, conduct a patch test by applying it on the inside of your elbow and waiting a few minutes to see if your skin reacts to it. “Some people can develop a rash or contact dermatitis if they are sensitive to aloe vera,” Dr. Saedi says.
Aloe vera is suitable for all hair types, says Dr. Saedi. When seeking out a formula, she suggests looking for hair-care products that contain 100% aloe vera. “You need to look carefully because many formulations dilute the aloe with alcohol and fragrances,” she says.
In case you were wondering, yes, aloe vera gel is also safe enough to apply raw, adds Keasling. But it’s probably best to opt for products that contain aloe vera as a key active ingredient because they’ll have a longer shelf life (due to stabilizers that safely preserve the aloe) and more powerful hair benefits in the long run.
“As long as it’s pure aloe vera,” Dr. Saeid says, “it is good for your hair.”