Aloe vera is one of those ingredients that everybody and their mom, grandma, and great-grandma (you catch my drift?) swears by as the cure-all fix for beauty issues—like making your hair grow longer and healing breakouts. All of this hype has me thinking: No disrespect to your Nana, but can aloe vera really be the answer to all of our beauty problems? Curious to find out if the secret to great hair has been hiding in my kitchen plant all along, I asked dermatologist Nava Greenfield, M.D., from Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, NY and Michelle Blaisure, a certified trichologist from Bosley Professional Strength to find out the truth about aloe vera for hair.
What is aloe vera?
Aloe vera is much more than the cute plant you have sitting in your kitchen—it has been used among many different cultures throughout history to address a myriad of concerns. According to Blaisure, aloe vera is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. Dr. Greenfield adds that it also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it's commonly used for healing burn wounds and skin irritation.
Can aloe vera regrow lost hair or thicken hair?
Now that we know that aloe vera has all these great properties, what exactly does that mean for your hair? If you search around the internet, you might find stories from people who swear that it makes their hair thicker or grow faster. In reality, though, there are no actual studies on this, only personal anecdotes and traditional usage claims, Blaisure says.
According to Dr. Greenfield, there have been studies that demonstrated the beneficial effects of aloe vera on the skin, and it's possible that aloe vera could help hair growth by addressing inflammation. "There are many, many causes of slow to no hair growth, collectively referred to as alopecia," Dr. Greenfield says. It's possible that aloe vera can promote hair growth when the cause of the alopecia is an inflammatory condition.
More likely is that aloe vera contributes to healthy hair because it conditions and moisturizing the hair and scalp, says Dr. Greenfield. Proper hydration is a must for healthy hair and a skin barrier.
How do I use aloe vera on my hair?
Blaisure recommends using aloe vera on the scalp for skin benefits and on the hair as a mild cleanser to remove oils and make the hair soft and shiny. "Due to its gel-like texture in its raw form, aloe vera acts as a mild cleansing agent so it would be best to use on the scalp and hair then rinsed off since it may feel sticky if left on hair," Blaisure says. "As for hair types, look for conditioners for your hair type that contain aloe vera to get the benefits along with the smoothing or volumizing effect of the conditioner."
Dr. Greenfield says you can squeeze the gel out of the leaf of an aloe vera plant and apply it directly onto your hair and scalp, but if you're not into rubbing plant leaves on your hair (fair enough), you can also just use traditional hair care products (like conditioners, treatment masks, and leave-in conditioners) that contain aloe. "Products may contain the extract of aloe vera, which is a more potent version of the gel directly from the plant," Dr. Greenfield says. "Which formulation you use will depend on the type of hair you have and your reason for use."
How often should you put aloe vera in your hair?
How often you use aloe vera depends on what you're using it for, but, in general, Dr. Greenfield recommends applying a few drops of a liquid-based formula distributed evenly throughout the hair and scalp one to two times a day. Blaisure recommends rinsing after 30 minutes to an hour and following it with shampoo if your hair still feels sticky.
Does aloe vera have side effects?
As great as aloe vera is, it can cause irritation or allergic reactions in some people, says Dr. Greenfield. "If you find that your skin turns red, itchy, or scaly after using aloe, you should consult with your doctor and likely stay away from the product in the future."
What's the bottom line?
All in all, if you're not sensitive or allergic to it, aloe vera can be beneficial if your goal is to make your hair and scalp hydrated. Will it make your hair grow faster or any thicker? Eh, probably not. But if you also want to throw in a little aloe vera to your routine for added benefits, why not! Make your grandma happy.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.