Q: Can aloe vera help heal burns, wounds, and canker sores?
A: It's hard to say. The gel inside aloe leaves has been used for thousands of years to treat wounds, burns, and other skin conditions. Some studies have found that pure aloe helps, some that it has no effect, and a few that it may even delay healing. Most of the human studies, however, were small, had no control group, or had insignificant results.
Nearly all commercial aloe creams and lotions actually contain so little pure aloe that they couldn't have much effect (they are simply moisturizers). Some contain other chemicals of questionable usefulness. Even if you use pure aloe, there are more than 300 species, with different chemical compositions and thus possibly different effects.
Aloe contains active chemicals that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties in test-tube research. And there are several theories about how aloe might speed healing—by improving blood flow to the damaged area, improving collagen formation, or keeping the wound moist and protected, for example.
One compound in aloe has been patented as a drug ingredient called acemannan hydrogel. The FDA has approved it as a topical product for use on canker sores and other oral wounds and irritations, as well as for dry socket (a condition that can occur after a tooth extraction).
If you find that the gel from a fresh-cut aloe leaf soothes a minor burn, go ahead and use it. Or look for a product that is 100% aloe. Remember, however, that the best immediate first aid for a burn is cold water, not an ointment or cream.
See also: Wound Care Essentials