If spa treatments were romantic comedies, aloe vera would be the girl next door. She’s a natural beauty, wholesome and content to let some of the flashier flowers and fruits take top billing as the new “it” ingredients. Although unassuming, aloe vera, also called aloe barbadensis or simply aloe, has qualities that do wonders for the skin. The plant is often called “the beautician” because of its beauty benefits, “the family doctor” and “the century plant” because it promotes long life and good health, and even the “plant of life.”
“When people think of aloe, they think pure, organic, soothing, calming, healthy, and beautiful,” says Lisamarie Jaconi, esthetics educator for Naturopathica. “It’s important that ingredients used in spa treatments and products evoke feelings of harmony and balance, one of the many reasons why clients visit spas. Aloe contains a message of healing.”
The succulent plant, grown in subtropical and tropical locations, has been used for thousands of years to heal a variety of conditions, especially burns, wounds, and skin irritations. Aloe was one of the most frequently prescribed medicines throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries and remains one of the most commonly used herbs in the U.S. today, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. It’s available commercially in ointments, creams, and lotions, and aloe gel is included in everything from high-end cosmetics to drugstore brand after-sun lotions.
Although it has been widely cultivated for its healing and medicinal properties, the process by which aloe vera is harvested is extremely important, says Jaconi. The gel of the aloe plant, when exposed to oxygen for four hours or longer, oxidizes, rendering it worthless. After harvesting, it must be stabilized through a cold-temperature process to retain its nutrients.
Aloe is made up of 99 percent water, however, aloe gel also contains glycoproteins and polysaccharides. Glycoproteins speed the healing process by minimizing pain and inflammation, while polysaccharides stimulate skin growth and repair. Vitamins C and E in aloe gel improve the strength of the skin tissues and pack a powerful, hydrating punch to dehydrated or aging skin. Aloe is also effective on oily and acne-prone skin. It’s antimicrobial, destroying the bacteria that cause acne, while its anti-inflammatory properties reduce redness and help skin heal quickly.
Naturopathica sources its aloe from an aloe barbadensis farm in Texas, says Jaconi, and most Naturopathica treatments incorporate aloe. The company’s Naturopathica Holistic Health Spa (East Hampton, NY) uses aloe as the base in its glycolic peels, like those used in the Phytoactive Facial ($160, 60 minutes). “Aloe vera helps protect the cell membrane from damage while also acting as a penetration enhancer to allow the AHA to penetrate deeply into the skin,” says Jaconi, adding that the key to the plant’s greatness is its versatility. “Aloe vera can and will address all skin conditions.”
The plant is, in a word, revitalizing, which makes it the perfect ingredient in the Jurlique Revitalizing Facial ($115, 60 minutes), offered at Coral Spa at Trilogy (La Quinta, CA). “Aloe leaf juice works in conjunction with the papaya and pineapple enzymes in the Resurfacing Enzyme Peel,” says Lisa Polley, director of education and business development at Jurlique. “The enzymes dissolve keratin protein while the aloe juice helps soothe and soften the skin, preparing it for extractions.” Jurlique incorporates aloe vera extract in more than 20 of its products. “Aloe is cooling, hydrating, and provides a comforting slip to the skin when used alone or in serums, creams, and moisturizing gels,” says Polley.
Because of its active compounds, aloe vera is commonly used to treat minor burns. Spas can promote after-sun treatments with aloe in the summer or year-round in tropical locations. “Aruba is a sunny island all year, so it is inevitable for guests to get a bit of a sunburn from time to time and look for a way to soothe and moisturize,” says Karin Cofino, spa director of Hyatt Regency Aruba’s newly renovated ZoiA Spa. While ZoiA incorporates locally grown aloe into the majority of its treatments, two of its most popular are the Aruban Sun Rescue ($130, 60 minutes), which is a healing, hydrating aloe body wrap or facial, and the Aloe Recovery Wrap ($145, 60 minutes; $215, 90 minutes). “Aloe vera is an additional cooling agent that not only helps soothe the skin but also works as a moisturizer,” says Cofino.
The Beaufort Day Spa (SC) pairs aloe with dilo nut oil in its Pure Fiji Dilo Skin Rescue Wrap ($85, 45 minutes), a body wrap specially suited for guests with sunburns, skin irritations, or dull, dry skin. “We use dilo oil with our aloe as it intensifies healing,” says Suzie Sommer, vice president of marketing at Pure Fiji. “It also offers a glide and leaves skin soft and smooth.”
Aloe’s cooling nature also makes it the perfect addition to a waxing treatment. Plus, its refreshing scent isn’t overly sweet or floral, which makes it well suited for men’s skincare treatments. Highlight aloe’s anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, and market it as a featured ingredient in a men’s massage.
While negative effects or allergic reactions to aloe vera are rare, aloe is a member of the same family of plants containing onions, garlic, and lilies. People who are allergic to these, or cacti and other plants in the cacti family, could potentially be allergic to aloe vera. Most spa guests, however, will welcome aloe’s healing gel. Whether looking for a soothing treatment after the hot summer sun, the windy winter slopes, or anything in between, let the “family doctor” work its magic on your clients.