Remember back in the day, when aloe vera shampoo wasn’t a thing? Yeah, neither do we. This wonder plant has been around for thousands of years, and is said to be able to cure everything from glaucoma to sunburns, depending on whom you ask. No longer considered a “trendy” ingredient in hair care—it’s been touted as a moisturizing supplement in shampoos and conditioners for decades, not to mention its many, many years as a purported medicinal and cosmetic agent—most of us are well aware of the countless claims made of its myriad of benefits.
But how many are true? “If you use aloe vera as a marketing ingredient versus a functional ingredient, it’s a huge difference,” Unilever R&D expert Leon van Gorkom says. So is aloe vera shampoo simply just another part of the botanical hype in hair care? Read on as we separate the truth from the fake news:
Aloe Vera Shampoo: The Thousand-Year Moisturizer
We asked Leon’s help to determine precisely how aloe vera got its stellar rep, and if this still holds true when synthesized in a hair care format.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about aloe vera these days, even saying that has potentially toxic side effects.
Leon: We use aloe vera in some shampoos; we don’t really use a lot. Toxicity always depends on whether you use too much. If you look at aloe vera gel—the pure gel you get if you cut the leaf open—that gel is 99 percent water. The 1 percent [is] solids; a lot of those ingredients that are in there are sugar derivatives that give it that gelatinous nature.
Why do you think aloe vera is such a sought-after ingredient?
Leon: Aloe vera has been used for thousands of years for its wound-healing properties and its moisturization properties. It’s great if you have a burn: It dissipates the heat and forms a protective layer—if you have a burn, most of the complications arise from the heat not getting out so you have to get rid of the heat, but its also [about preventing] the bacteria from getting into the wound. So if you have an aloe vera gel that’s sort of a gelatinous material [on the affected area], it keeps away the air and the bacteria.
As for that 1 percent of solids, there are so many molecules in there that I’m sure there are some that can have antimicrobial benefits.
We’ve all heard about that hair hack of rubbing a cut aloe vera stem into your scalp to stimulate hair growth. Is there any truth to this, or for that matter, will aloe vera shampoo contribute to hair growth?
Leon: I have not seen any conclusive evidence that it does. But if your scalp is in relatively healthy condition (and most scalps tend to be in healthy condition), there is very little that a shampoo or conditioner contributes to that. For example, seborrheic dermatitis will not necessarily result in hair loss; you get hair loss because you start scratching your scalp all the time because it itches. It’s physical irritation. Let’s say your scalp was in very bad condition—aloe vera would then help make the scalp in a better condition, so you could foreseeably say that it might have some benefits.
Okay, but what can aloe vera shampoo claim to do?
Most of the claims would be linked to moisturization; the sugars in the aloe vera gel would gel with water, so if you had that penetrating into your hair you would get some moisturization. It all depends on what concentrations you use.
*If you’re a fan of aloe shampoo and love its moisturizing, emollient effects, you can check out TRESemmé Botanique Nourish & Replenish Shampoo, which is infused with coconut milk, coconut oil and aloe vera that, when used as a system, gently cleanses hair while nourishing dry strands. For an revitalizing shower experience, try Suave Essentials Aloe & Waterlily Shampoo, which is infused with a blend of aloe and vitamin E and has a fresh, sweet scent of aloe and waterlily.