It’s commonly recognized as a bit of eye-catching greenery, but its benefits run deeper than its decorative appeal: Aloe vera, or “true aloe,” as the name translates, is a wellspring of nutrients. One of hundreds of aloe species in the lily family, this succulent’s thick, pointed leaves protect a middle layer of bitter yellow latex (harvested primarily for use as a laxative) and, beneath that, a fleshy gel that boasts amino acids, lipids, sterols, and a veritable alphabet of vitamins and minerals. According to the National Library of Medicine, some of these elements appear to kill bacteria and increase circulation in the blood vessels in the skin; more research is necessary to say for certain, but current findings suggest that aloe gel may help speed the body’s healing process.
Additional scientific analysis might be required to determine its efficacy, but that hasn’t stopped businesses from mining aloe vera’s inner riches for everything from pharmaceuticals and burn-care remedies to makeup and dietary supplements. Aruba Aloe, one of the only companies in the world to grow and harvest its own plants, was an early pioneer in the field of aloe-based cosmetic goods. Its first crops were planted in 1890, and today the company manufactures 70-plus skin-, sun-, and haircare products, with new formulas in development every year. “Aloe vera thrives in very hot and dry climates on a variety of soils, as long as the soil is not continuously moist—hence its successful growth in Aruba,” says creative director Zena Neme.
The island’s optimal conditions prompted the landscaping team at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino (Palm Beach) to plant a small aloe garden so that the hotel’s ZoiA Spa would always have the skin-saver on-hand. “Aloe is a core component in our wellness approach, so we are developing a plan that permits us to use our own resources,” says spa manager Ady Toro, who hopes to incorporate home-grown aloe into the treatment menu by the end of the year. In the meantime, the Aloe Devotion Facial ($145, 60 minutes) uses locally reaped aloe gel in combination with algae, lavender oil, and other active botanicals to repair, calm, and nourish the skin. “Aloe is great for soothing relief, making it the perfect ingredient to treat sun-damaged skin,” says Toro. Boldijarre Koronczay, president of Éminence Organic Skin Care, agrees. “Aloe’s superior healing qualities—its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action, as well as its ability to promote cell growth—make it ideal for after-sun care,” he says.
Given its widespread reputation as a sunburn curative, aloe vera is unsurprisingly integral to spa menus in many warm-weather locations. “Aloe-based products are very popular with our clients in sunny destinations year-round and during the summer in other areas,” says Koronczay. As part of The Modern Facial ($190, 80 minutes) at The Spa at the Modern Honolulu, Éminence’s Aloe Mint Hydrating Cream Gel revives overexposed skin. “Being in Hawaii, guests love enjoying the sunshine and hanging out at our pool, but they tend to forget how strong the sun is here,” says spa manager Makiko Braxton. “Even though they apply sunscreen, it is very easy to get too much exposure. This facial helps to calm, soothe, and cool the skin instantly while preventing it from dehydrating and peeling—no one wants that during vacation.” Back on the mainland at the Spa Desert Springs at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort (Palm Desert, CA), the Healing Aloe Wrap ($75, 30 minutes; $135, 60 minutes) has been a client favorite for more than 25 years. “Due to our warm, dry desert conditions, we sell 50 to 60 of these hydrating treatments per month and more in the summertime,” says spa director Dawn Ferraro. “It’s perfect for after sun.”
No one-trick pony, the plant’s palliative properties alleviate discomfort from myriad other complaints, as well. “Aloe naturally provides relief for common issues such as cuts, scrapes, and abrasions, minor burns, insect bites, eczema, and psoriasis,” says Mark Smith, director of sales and marketing for Zim’s, whose pharmacist went with “old-school trusted ingredients” when concocting the brand’s Advanced Crack Creme with Hydrocortisone, which also features aloe and arnica. Aloe is even purported to promote hair growth and treat thinning hair, according to global beauty and nutricosmetics expert Paula Simpson. “The antibacterial, pro-circulatory, and anti-inflammatory properties of aloe are key factors in encouraging a healthy scalp and hair,” she says. “And it has also been clinically shown to effectively treat dermatitis and dandruff.” It’s used to that end at the Radisson Aruba Resort’s Larimar Spa, where an aloe-and-aromatherapy scalp rub caps off the signature Aloe Vera and Rum Massage ($185, 80 minutes).
Aloe vera dovetails nicely with any number of traditional treatments, thanks to its inherent healing and strengthening qualities. Ciaté chose the plant for its pedicure-worthy Coconut & Kukui Foot Oil for just those characteristics, says founder and CEO Charlotte Knight. “Aloe contains antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, which improve the skin’s firmness, and it slows down inflammation and eases swollen joints,” says Knight. At The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, Amala’s aloe-based Rejuvenate products are used for their calming, cooling results in the Advanced Firming Facial ($165, 60 minutes), an anti-aging procedure that includes aroma-point stimulation to strengthen and brighten the skin, a scalp massage to target energy points, and an application of a firming complex to restore a youthful look to the skin. “Aloe deeply moisturizes the skin, stimulates healthy cell renewal, and aids in the healing process, especially for sensitive skin,” says says Amala founder Ute Leube. It also plays well with others at AJ’s Millennium Spa (Beachwood, OH), where master esthetician Zeinab Othman relies on the aloe-laced Refining Treatment Cleanser from Vertere Skin Care for multiple facials, from the Express Facial ($50, 15 minutes) to more elaborate affairs involving fruit-acid enzymes, oxygen, or caviar. “Aloe has wonderful anti-irritant properties,” says Bethany Hilt, Vertere’s founder, president, and CEO. “It’s also a great water-binding agent and an antioxidant with more than 200 nutritional substances.”
From simple to more complex treatments, the quintessential cure for a sunshine overdose adds a universally soothing, healing note to any spa menu. The early Egyptians called it the plant of immortality; modern-day spa-goers might simply describe it as a multitasking miracle-worker. But any way you slice it, aloe vera is a timeless classic.—Maya Stanton