Is adding Aloe Vera into a formula worth the risk?
If you look carefully on the beauty aisle shelves you will find Aloe Barbadensis on the INCI listing of what seems to be every skincare product you get your hands on. This is largely due to the rise of the Certified Organic market. The fact that Aloe can be grown organically then powdered into granules ready for re-constituting in your formulation water thus giving you an instant 70-85% organic content in your product has made it a ‘must add’ ingredient. The fact that this trend has spread outside of the organics market is not surprising given its prominence on the label and the competitiveness of the industry as a whole – if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me 🙂
But is it worth it?
If you are reading this from the perspective of ‘customer’ then yes, why not. Aloe is full of lovely, ‘skin happy’ making minerals and moisture binding sugars (and if there’s one thing that makes skin look younger quicker its moisture), it is all natural and when filleted and prepared well is unlikely to do any harm – people generally aren’t allergic to Aloe. Also as it is often shipped as a highly concentrated powder it is economical, not dirt cheap but definitely affordable and as adding it probably won’t break the banks of most cosmetic product shoppers then again, why not?
For brand owners in terms of final product marketability then YES, Aloe has great INCI presence and the public are switched on to it being a good thing. Many people have aloe plants at home and know of its soothing and hydrating properties so in that regard alone I can see why people would go for it.
But if you are reading this as a formulator you, like me will know that Aloe has a dark side or two…..
Firstly the mineral salts that we talked about above might be OK for the skin but they can cause havoc in your emulsion. Salts are charged particles and increasing the ionic strength of your water phase is not always a good thing. I’ve run stability experiments on an emulsion using anything from 0% 200x strength Aloe powder all the way to 0.5% – at 0.5% of 200x strength aloe powder we are left with all the water being the equivalent of single strength aloe or fully reconstituted. In the formula that I tested (which was a pretty standard non-ionic formula, oil in water) I found that the samples with no Aloe were less stable than the samples with 0.3% Aloe but the sample with 0.5% aloe was the least stable of all. The experimental work I did went on to ‘fix’ the issues with the higher levels of aloe but the fixes didn’t come without cost both in terms of dollars and in terms of the overall organic percentage of the formula – relevant for Certified Organic or Made with Organics claims but less so for regular cosmetics
The second BIG thing to take into account is that the potential micro issues when adding Aloe are not insignificant. When you add Aloe to a formula you are basically turning your H2O into a sugary soup and as such it is not surprising that microbes love it as much as your average skin care addict does! Sugars in the Aloe broth can even ferment and send your pH plummeting as your product turns from cream or toner to vinegar. Of course all of this can be managed and avoided but only if you recognise the heightened risks, plan for them and then test your end result. Nobody should put an Aloe (or other botanically enriched) formula on the market without a PET – In Australia this isn’t as strict a requirement as it is in the EU just in case you were wondering.
Formulators and those in brand development should also consider that while you can’t necessarily replace the goodness of aloe with one other thing there are a few other ways to skin this cat. Glycerin is a natural humectant that has the added benefit of helping to bind up free water thus making a formula LESS likely to come under attack from microbes if formulated well. Glycerin can go some way to replacing the natural sugar hydration part of Aloe.
The mineral salts of aloe might be best replaced with something like Sodium PCA – an equivalent to the skins ‘natural moisturising factor’ but less likely to feed microbial growth because of its simpler construction.
And something like bisabolol or allanoin might be good additives for the skin calming and soothing properties.
I’m sure there are more options besides this too but you get my point, we have other options.
So what is the final verdict?
Aloe is a good thing both physically in what it can do for the skin and emotionally in terms of how we feel about seeing it on an INCI label. However, in order to bring out the best in our Aloe-inclusive formulations we need to plan for it being there and make sure we test our final formulations to save them coming back and biting us.
Risks can be managed.
Avoidance gets boring.