New plant, who dis? Ok, not quite so new but it feels like now the “plant of immortality” a.k.a. aloe vera is hotter than ever. Case-in-point: You may have been one of 6.5 million followers who were transfixed by DIY beauty vlogger Farah Dhukai’s viral video demonstrating how aloe is the perfect low-cost hair mask. She even calls it “one of my personal hair care secrets.”
And, according to experts, her claim isn’t that far off: Aloe has a similar pH level to your hair’s natural pH level, a high water content, and is filled with vitamins and minerals. Penny James, a salon owner and trichologist, co-signs Dhukai’s obsession, citing aloe contains 75 active ingredients like “essential amino acids and minerals like copper and zinc that have been clinically proven to help with healthy hair and hair growth.”
The transformative gel helps aid in soothing a dry (or sunburned) scalp and easily transforms into a multi-purpose styling product. “As a conditioner and detangling agent this, again, would be beneficial for the strength of the hair shaft and hopefully stimulate growth,” adds James (more on if that claim stands up, later).
But, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows—Stephen Ko, a cosmetic formulator likes to level set about the plant’s proposed benefits. “Aloe has been traditionally seen as a soothing, healing, antimicrobial, and moisturizing ingredient,” he explains. “However, controlled scientific studies haven’t shown results that backup how it’s marketed.” Read on for everything else you need to know about using aloe for hair.
Aloe vera is best used as a conditioner
For most of us, aloe vera is better known for its soothing skincare benefits rather than its haircare properties—but it’s no secret that it’s a powerful plant. According to Chaz Dean, WEN Hair + Body Care founder, aloe contains proteolytic enzymes which help repair dead skin cells on the scalp. “It acts as a great conditioner and leaves your hair smooth and shiny,” he explains. “It also helps promote healthy hair growth, prevent itching on the scalp, reduce dandruff, and condition your hair.”
Recently, more and more hair care companies have been tapping into aloe as a star ingredient. “Often, aloe is included in formulas because it is a recognizable and marketable ingredient,” explains Stephen Ko, cosmetic formulator. “Aloe vera contain polysaccharides which can form a film on the skin or hair, which may provide some styling and water-binding properties,” he adds.
Aloe’s uses are pretty endless.
Chimere Faulk, hair stylist and creator of Dr. Locs, notes that there are several ways to use both raw aloe vera as well as aloe vera gel. She suggests mixing raw aloe vera with your favorite carrier oil as a hydrating deep conditioner or simply mixing it in with your current conditioner for an extra kick of moisture.
“Anything raw and made solely from home without preservatives will need to be kept in the refrigerator to keep aloe vera from going rancid,” she cautions.”This is also why I recommend washing raw aloe vera gel out after having it in your hair for a few minutes up to a few hours.”
Another drawback? Pure aloe vera gel can form a film on the hair, so those with very fine and dry hair may find it gives their hair too much of a “crunchy” texture, explains Ko.”I think it’ll depend on your hair type, curly or straight, coarse or fine, dry or oily on how well it will work for you. Aloe vera doesn’t contain cationic moisturizers that many conditioners use, so most of if will be rinsed off in water. [However] it might work for some people as a leave-in conditioner.”
Aloe can potentially help with scalp irritation.
By nature, aloe vera is naturally anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antibacterial. By helping moisturize the scalp, it effectively helps prevent or reduce overall dandruff. “Aloe will work to hydrate the skin, though less so than other ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin,” adds Ko.
Dean also makes the case that those with oily scalps or dry, brittle hair will glean those most benefits for using products containing aloe vera. “Although moisturizing, aloe vera can be very heavy, so I would recommend cleansing the aloe vera out of hair diligently before using other styling products, especially if your hair is thin.”
Board-certified dermatologist Michelle F. Henry, M.D. says if dandruff is just due to dry scalp then, yes, aloe can help. “However, [aloe vera alone] will not treat more severe dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis,” she adds. Don’t anticipate results overnight.
“[According to a 2014 study], aloe vera only has mild effects in terms of improving skin irritation measured by redness,” cautions Ko. “While it is true that aloe vera contains antimicrobial chemicals like salicylic acid, they’re at too low of a concentration to be effective.”
The jury is still out on aloe for hair growth.
Claims of aloe vera’s ability to increase hair growth are a bit shaky—there’s not much clinical evidence this is actually true. Ko shares one chemical found in aloe—Aloenin—was shown to slightly speed up hair regrowth in mice, but the experiment used a concentrated extract of Aloe arborescens. “Plus, working on mice doesn’t mean it’ll work on humans.”
Henry acknowledges, “Aloe is a soothing humectant that is deeply hydrating and has anti-inflammatory properties. [However] Aloe does not stimulate hair growth. It might feel like your hair is longer because it increases the hair moisture levels, it may help retain growth, and prevent brittle locks which are prone to breakage,” she explains.