Seeking Aloe Vera Everywhere

April 5, 2010

6 Min Read
Seeking Aloe Vera Everywhere

by Devon Powell

Tissues. Toilet paper. Mattresses. Clothing. Beverages. Foods. Drugs. Dietary supplements. Gloves. Personal care items. Cosmetics. Toiletries.

Its hard to believe that humble, yet somewhat menacing-looking plant that sat on grandmothers windowsill or grew in her garden has such widespread usage. But there doesnt appear to be any shortage of innovation with this ingredient.

However, given its ubiquity on product labels, how many products contain efficacious amounts, or do they contact Aloe vera at all? This is a valid question given recent FDA scrutiny on label claims and concerns regarding economically motivated adulteration. Looking at the global Aloe vera supply chain and data from a 2009 survey of raw material suppliers conducted by the International Aloe Science Council (IASC), between 35,000 and 45,000 acres of Aloe vera were grown around the globe by IASC members, producing approximately 30 million to 50 million gallons of aloe vera juice from the estimated 700 million to 800 million pounds of harvested aloe vera leaves. Extrapolating from this data and other sources, IASC estimates total, global cultivation of aloe vera is between 60,000 and 90,000 acres.

The data confirms a lot of Aloe vera juice is produced; however, it doesnt reveal how much of it actually finds its way into products and whether those products can and do meet label claims. In fact, many suppliers believe, based on their sales, a lot of label claims are likely met by fairy dusting Aloe vera into products, rather than having any meaningful quantity of the ingredient. While there is no agreement on how widespread the practice may be, it is likely many companies have noted the Aloe vera appeal and include it on labels to attract consumers.

With a near dizzying array of products claiming to contain Aloe vera on the label, it can be hard to know whats really got aloe and what doesnt. It first helps to have an understanding about how the plant is processed. There are two primary forms of Aloe vera juice sold on the market in a variety of forms, from freeze-dried and/or concentrated powders, to fresh juicealoe vera leaf juice and aloe vera inner leaf juice. Many alternate terms turn up on labels, including gel, fillet and purified whole leaf.

Aloe vera leaf juice is made by taking entire Aloe vera leaves and grinding them up, typically using some enzymatic treatment (such as cellulase) to break down the rind and heavier-weight materials, and then filtering the resulting slurry, usually with charcoal filtration, to remove any other unwanted materials such as the aloe latex (a yellow, bitter-tasting exudate that is a powerful laxative).

Aloe vera inner leaf juice is made by removing the rind prior to processing, either by machine or by hand, and then rinsing away the aloe latex. The remaining, gelatinous inner-leaf material is then ground or crushed into juice.

According to IASC, the one thing that is absolutely necessary in order to call either of the above ingredients true Aloe vera is a string of sugars called Acemannan, or beta 1-4 acetylated glucomannan. This marker compound is naturally occurring in the plant, and is one of the only markers and means to potentially identify the ingredient analytically once processed or in a finished product. The IASC certification program utilizes a NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) methodology in order to verify whether finished products contain true Aloe vera. The organization sends inspectors to facilities around the world to ensure products are manufactured according to GMPs (good manufacturing practices) and to collect samples of applicants finished products and/or raw materials for analysis to ensure they meet IASC certification standards. Products that pass the analysis are then sampled randomly in order to ensure those standards are maintained.

IASC has been managing its seal-based certification program for more than 25 years, and certified products can currently be found in 120 countries, with a total of 430 finished products currently meeting IASC certification standards. A list of products passing certification is maintained on the IASC Web site, as well as a list of products that are no longer certified.

Devon Powell is the executive director of the International Aloe Science Council (IASC).

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