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When you think of aloe vera, it's likely that you immediately remember those surprise sunburns from vacations of your youth. You know the ones—when a grown-up tried to warn you to put on more sunscreen, but you were either having too much fun, couldn't be bothered, or were determined to arrive back to school with some sort of sunlit glow. (I fell into every category, depending on the year and destination). This mistake would undeniably result in angry, red, and irritated skin, a painful reminder that vacation was over.
That's when you started rummaging through the medicine cabinet looking for a bright-green drugstore cooling gel to slather on. Since then, aloe has become known as more than a sticky, neon solution (no, that's not its actual color), and its alternate uses have become more varied and widely known. People use it as an acne treatment and to soothe upset stomachs and expedite the digestion process. It can even be used to treat dry and damaged hair. The latter is what we're currently interested in, which is why we enlisted the help of three hair experts to tell us more about this under-the-radar and all-natural hair salve. Hint: It's as easy to use as it is effective.
Type of ingredient: Hydrator and anti-inflammatory
Main benefits: Moisturizes and hydrates dry hair, helps hair growth, tames dandruff
Who should use it: In general, aloe vera is suitable for all hair types, but dry, thick, and dehydrated hair might benefit more from it.
How often can you use it: Aloe vera can be used one to two times per week as a mask, or two to three times per week as a conditioner.
Works well with: Aloe vera can be used with most, if not all, other hair ingredients.
Don't use with: There are no known ingredients that can interfere with aloe vera.
What Is Aloe Vera?
"Aloe vera has been used for thousands of years in many cultures for its hydrating benefits to skin and hair," shares Chelsea Scott, a hair expert and the founder of Truhair. Just like it soothes and hydrates skin while providing healing vitamins and nutrients, it can similarly boost the health of your hair.
These near-magical healing powers are all thanks to aloe vera's chemical makeup. It has vitamins A, C, and E, which are all antioxidants that neutralize damaging free radicals. It's also a naturally occurring source of vitamin B, which you may recognize from various hair, nail, and skin beauty supplements. Minerals like calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, and magnesium are also present, along with various fatty acids.
Benefits of Aloe Vera for Hair
Jana Blankenship, founder of Captain Blankenship, has formulated many of her namesake products with aloe vera because of its moisturizing and gentle effects. "It also acts as a great leave-in conditioner and leaves your hair all smooth and shiny," she says. "We use aloe vera in many of our own haircare products, including our Mermaid Sea Salt Hair Spray ($24) and Golden Waves Shimmer Spray ($28)."
- Promotes hair growth: Aloe is rich in vitamins and minerals; vitamin b21; vitamins C, A, and E; and folic acid.
- Eases itchy scalp: You can use aloe directly on your scalp to help ease itch. It has moisturizing and hydrating properties, and it can be a miracle salve for a dry scalp during the winter, which is when people seem to struggle the most with itchiness and dandruff.
- Controls dandruff: Blankenship explains that the value of aloe vera goes beyond moisturizing dry hair (though, to be honest, we're already pretty pleased with this major benefit). "It is naturally antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory and helps control dandruff."
- Moisturizes dry hair: Scott specifically calls out the plant's natural enzymes as some of the most important for hair. "It is made up of proteolytic enzymes," she explains. "These enzymes help to moisturize both the scalp and hair. Aloe vera has the ability to attract and lock in moisture, which is especially beneficial for extremely dry, brittle hair."
Hair Type Considerations
Aloe vera is safe for all hair types, including hair that's been color-treated or relaxed. Nunzio Saviano, owner of Nunzio Saviano Salon in NYC, says to "treat it as you would coconut oil" when applying it to your hair. In other words, apply it, comb it through, and rinse it out. Just note that it can leave behind a residue on the hair, so thorough rinsing is necessary. Saviano also tells us that aloe vera can stimulate hair growth, making it a worthy treatment for people with thinning hair.
However, adds Scott, "If you have fine, thinning hair, aloe vera can be heavy, and you could lose body and volume." So if you do have thin hair, make sure to rinse it out long before styling. Or, you can purchase hair products that are infused with aloe vera for easier application and removal. "There is a great [shampoo] called Jason Aloe Vera Shampoo ($11), and 84% of the formula contains the aloe vera ingredient," Scott recommends.
How to Use Aloe Vera for Hair
You can add aloe vera-infused haircare products into your routine to reap these benefits, or you can go straight to the source: the plant itself.
- Use it directly on the scalp: Simply slice open the spindly stalks of an aloe vera leaf to reveal the gooey, cooling, nutrient-rich goodness that's inside. You can then apply it straight to your hair as a deep-conditioning treatment.
- Add it to your shampoo and conditioner: "You can purchase pure aloe vera gel and add 1 teaspoon to your current shampoo in the shower and massage it in," Scott says. "You can also add it to your favorite conditioner, comb through root to end, and leave on for 30 minutes as a deep treatment."
The Final Takeaway
Just like coconut oil, aloe vera is a versatile and customizable DIY beauty ingredient. Whichever way you choose to incorporate it into your hair routine, know that you're getting moisturizing, growth-inducing, nourishing, anti-inflammatory, and anti-dandruff benefits. As Saviano puts it, "the benefits of using aloe vera are great. It just takes a little more maintenance." For a healthy head of hair, we'd say it's worth it.