The aloe vera plant has a rich history in the realm of natural healing. Native to the Caribbean, Latin America and South Africa, the aloe vera plant produces a clear, gelatinlike substance that soothes burns and relieves skin conditions such as psoriasis when used topically. Despite its helpful reputation, the aloe vera plant can be toxic in certain circumstances.
Just below the outer skin of the aloe vera plant’s leaves is a layer of yellow juice. This juice, also known as the plant’s latex, contains a natural chemical called aloin. Aloin is a type of anthraquinone glycoside, which according to North Carolina State University may irritate your skin if you have an allergy to latex. The skin irritation or allergy associated with latex is known as contact dermatitis, which produces a localized rash.
The ingestion of aloe juice or latex may irritate the intestines when taken orally. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, aloe vera latex contains powerful laxative properties. Use of the aloin latex as a laxative may result in severe cramping and purging of the intestines. Misuse of aloin may lead to excessive electrolyte loss and has subsequently been banned by the Food and Drug Administration for use in over-the-counter laxative medications as of 2002.
Children and Pets
Always display the aloe vera plant out of the reach of young children and animals. The University of Wisconsin lists aloe vera as a toxic plant and reports that aloe vera latex consumed in large quantities can lead to diarrhea. Serious bouts of diarrhea in young children and animals may result in loss of electrolytes and dehydration. If you suspect the ingestion of aloe vera latex by a young child or animal, it is important to call your local poison control center and seek medical attention immediately.
When applying aloe vera gel to the skin, don't cut off the tip of a leaf and squeeze out the gel. This practice releases the toxic aloin along with the gel, resulting in irritation. Instead of squeezing, cut the aloe leaf at the base of the plant, slip on a pair of plastic, non-latex gloves and fillet the aloe vera leaf with a sharp knife. Once the aloe vera leaf is opened into two halves, scrape the top layer of clear gel from the leaf using a butter knife. Leave behind the lower layer of gel, closest to the skin. Store the gel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and toss out the rind.