Photo: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
The sheer number of products geared toward skincare could make a girl positively dizzy. Even if you decide to go organic, you still have several different choices to contend with. Two commonly found options are aloe vera and witch hazel. Both of these all-natural, plant-based topical ointments have healing properties -- but are used for different skin conditions. Knowing how each plant heals and when is the proper time to use them is the best way to help you decide whether or not you should add one or both to your medicine cabinet.
You've passed bottles of aloe vera on the shelf at your local drugstore hundreds of times. But did you know this clear-gel substance comes from the plant of the same name? Aloe vera, a tropical plant, is a succulent, meaning it can hold huge amounts of water. If you open the plant's large, tough leaves, you'll find aloe gel on the inside. Though aloe gel is made mostly of water, it also contains glycoproteins and polysaccharides. These two fancy-sounding terms are what make aloe useful for stopping pain and stimulating skin growth. You can mine aloe directly from the plant or purchase it at the store. Aloe is sold in the form of a gel, cream or ointment.
Like aloe, witch hazel also comes from a plant by the same name -- although it's no tropical beauty. Instead, this little deciduous bush grows all over North America. To reap the medicinal benefits of this plant, its bark, leaves and twigs have to be ground up or distilled and mixed with alcohol to form a water. These parts of the plant have a high concentration of tannin, making them potentially useful as an astringent, as well as healing skin inflammation. A gal doesn't need to grind or distill this plant herself. Witch hazel is readily available in your local drugstore in the form of toner or astringent water. It's also used as an ingredient in soaps, creams and deodorants.
Aloe's Pros and Cons
Because of its reputation for being a fierce warrior when combating pain and stimulating skin growth, aloe vera is often used to soothe and help heal burns. That said, the University of Maryland Medical Center advises using it only for minor burns and never applying it to open wounds. They also recommend aloe for skin afflictions like genital herpes and psoriasis. DrSylvi.com suggests using aloe for acne. According to the site, aloe-vera sap relieves discomfort associated with acne, while aloe pulp keeps skin free of bacteria. Soaps, creams and lotions that use aloe as a main ingredient can also help reduce oil secretion, preventing further breakouts. Aloe is generally thought of to be safe on your skin, unless you have an aloe allergy. That said, it's still a good idea to check with your dermatologist before you try a new product.
Witch Hazel's Pros and Cons
Witch hazel is commonly used as a treatment for acne because of its astringent properties. But don't run to the drugstore thinking all of your pimple problems are solved. According to the Yale University publication "Alternative Medicine and Natural Therapy," there's no concrete evidence that this all-natural product actually helps clear skin. The article "Witch Hazel Hamamelis Virginian," by Stephen Foster, claims this plant is helpful in healing skin irritation, hemorrhoids, bruises and relieving mild pain. Know though, it's possible for witch hazel to cause minor skin irritation. Before you decide to use it, consult your dermatologist.