Aloe vera gel is widely known for its soothing, cooling skin care applications, but somewhat lesser known are its benefits to the hair and scalp. While not common, some hair care products like shampoos, conditioners and styling solutions contain aloe vera gel and other byproducts of the aloe vera plant, and even pure gel squeezed straight from an aloe leaf can be used in your hair care routine.
Aloe vera gel has natural antibacterial and fungicidal properties, according to "Aloe Vera the New Millennium: The Future of Wellness in the 21st Century" by Bill C. Coats and Robert Ahola. Various fungi and the spread of bacteria caused by excessive sebum oil production in the scalp can cause dandruff, so using aloe vera gel shampoo or even massaging pure aloe vera gel into the scalp can improve this condition. Aloe vera gel also has proteolytic enzyme characteristics, meaning that it can break down proteins, including dead skin cells. This helps the gel to serve as an exfoliant on the scalp, sloughing away dead skin so that it doesn't appear later as dandruff. It is also naturally antipruritic, or capable of reliving itching, so it may help you avoid dandruff caused by irritation from frequently scratching an itchy scalp.
According to "Aloe Vera: Nature's Soothing Healer" by Diane Gage, aloe vera gel is a powerful hair conditioner that nourishes hair strands from root to tip. At the scalp level, aloe vera is used in combination with other botanical ingredients in medicated herbal shampoos to open the pores, which helps exfoliate follicles and condition hair right at the root. Coats and Ahola attribute this ability to lignin, a botanical chemical compound that helps give aloe vera leaves their firm texture. The gel also has a similar chemical composition to keratin, the primary protein in hair cells, which allows it to more easily penetrate hair along the entire length of the shaft, according to Gage. Once the gel has penetrated the hair shaft and follicle, its combination of essential amino acids gives it strength and luster.
If you have or desire dreadlocks, the long, matted locks often associated with the Rastafari culture, aloe vera can be instrumental in starting or maintaining your hair. According to "Going-Natural: How to Fall in Love With Nappy Hair" by Mireille Liong-A-Kong, aloe vera gel is a suitable substance for use in dreadlock twisting, a process called "locing." For this purpose, aloe vera gel can either be purchased in its pure form in bottles or extracted directly from the leaves of the plant, but if the latter is chosen, it is worthwhile to strain the gel through a coffee filter to make sure that no pieces of the plant become intertwined in the locks by accident. Working on one lock at a time, you can saturate the hair in aloe vera gel, causing individual hairs to mat and twist together, and force the lock to take shape through a combination of twisting, braiding and rolling the hair between the hands.