The Ultimate Beauty Food: Aloe Vera

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Summer. Sure, there's sweat and humidity, but the season can dry you out, too. With sunburns, chlorine, and the office AC, I find that you might need more than just your standard lotion to keep everything dewy. This is why, when it's hot, I use aloe vera for everything. Every morning, I drink it as part of a wake-me-up tonic. Then I'll use it as a gel mask on my face and apply it to my hair before washing it. Hydration is best when it comes from the outside in and inside out, you know?

To refresh your memory, aloe vera is a succulent, known for its medicinal uses. Aside from being a powerful antioxidant and naturally antibacterial, it moisturizes the skin without making it oily, which means its good for any type of skin. It absorbs really fast and I find it actually plumps fine lines, too. It also softens dead skin cells and helps their removal, leaving your skin smoother and brighter. It's a great remedy for any irritation or redness in the skin. Know how to use it right and it can do magic for your gut, too.

To do just about anything with aloe, you'll need:
- aloe gel from 1/2 plant (slice plant open and use the inner gel—more on this later)
- a few drops of lemon juice
- coconut oil, for when you make the face and hair masks

I always recommend using aloe gel straight from the plant (I buy mine at Whole Foods), but prepackaged aloe juice works too. George's Always Active Aloe is my favorite.

Now, how cut your aloe:
- Trim the base first, and place it in a glass of water overnight so that it releases the bitter flavor.
- Discard the water the next day.
- To cut the aloe, slice the edges (that's where you see the pointy teeth) from each side of the leaf lengthwise. Then cut off the top flat flap of leaf, slice the inner gel, and finally cut off the bottom leaf, so that you're just left with the gel. If you end up with any green parts attached to the gel, just trim them off with a pairing knife!

Now, you're ready to mix up whatever you need.

To make the tonic:
In a glass add the gel, a few drops of lemon and water. Drink it first thing in the morning. Easy peasy.

To make the face mask:
In a bowl, mix aloe gel with a few drops of lemon (really, only three or fewer). Lemon juice is a natural exfoliant and toner that helps remove layers of dead skin and fade pigmentation and acne scars. Rub the mix on your face and neck and leave it on for 20 min. Then rinse and follow with a moisturizer.

I like to apply it using the pieces of gel directly on my skin and spend some time massaging them on my face. But, if you don't like the texture of the gel, you can blend it first. Alternatively, you can also use cotton eye pads. If you feel any type of stinging, don’t worry; remove the mask and dilute with a little of water. Or don't use any lemon at all if you're sensitive.

To make the hair mask:
In a blender, add aloe gel with a few drops of lemon and 1 tbsp of coconut oil. The vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in aloe vera along with the saturated fats in coconut oil nourish the hair follicles and promote hair growth and a healthy scalp. Put mix on hair for 30 minutes before washing. To wash it out, begin to shampoo before your hair gets wet in the shower. This should help remove the coconut oil effectively from your now very soft hair!

—Fernanda de la Puente

Fernanda is a writer, chef, and nutrition coach based in New York City. For more of her work, visit her site CómoComo.

Read our interview with Fernanda from back in 2013 this way.