It’s no wonder traditional, plant-based beauty cures are popular in South Africa—the country is home to around 30,000 flowering plant species[1], many of which have medicinal properties.

One of the most compelling, which you probably haven’t heard of, is a spiky succulent with striking red-orange flowers that resemble furry flames. It goes by a few telling names: Cape aloe, which refers to where it comes from, bitter aloe, which explains the taste, and aloe ferox, AKA “fierce” aloe in Latin—which hints at the power in its leaves.

Here’s what you need to know about why LXMI uses Cape aloe in products made to nourish and protect your skin—like our Creme du Nil and the Kigelia Bustier Mask—naturally.

Cape Aloe’s Origin Story

Okay, so aloe is a plant you’re definitely familiar with. The version you’re used to is aloe vera, which has been used[2] for medicinal purposes in global cultures around the world for thousands of years. You’ve probably spread the gel from inside its leaves on your sunburned skin at some point and felt its cooling magic. It also contains antibacterial and antifungal compounds and is used or wound healing and moisturizing.

Most of what we know about aloe—when it comes to both traditional uses and Western science—is specific to aloe vera, but there are actually more than 300 species of the popular plant. Cape aloe is is one of those, and it’s indigenous[3] to South Africa’s Cape coastal region, from the Western Cape province to the southern parts of KwaZulu-Natal in the east. (Fun fact: Plants that grow in harsh environments like in deserts and on rocky slopes are often super powerful, since they contain all kinds of components that protect against the elements.) At LXMI, we get ours from a South African company called Makuti Herbs.

While the plant is similar to aloe vera in many ways, the chemical composition of the gel from its leaves (which is the part of the plant used in skin-care) does differ[4], and the Cape aloe has most reported[5] antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Why Cape Aloe Is Great for Your Skin

Don’t worry, while all of those “anti” designations might sound negative, they’re definitely all good things.

Like its cousin aloe vera, Cape aloe’s gel is hydrating and cooling, two properties that make it great for moisturizing and calming dry, irritated skin. And the research that has been done on the nutrients it contains is seriously impressive. A 2007 study[6] found the gel was rich in polyphenols, many of which are antioxidants. (Quick review: antioxidants protect your skin against molecules called free radicals, which are responsible for all kinds of skin damage.) The same study found the gel had high antioxidant capacity (AKA those skin-saving molecules will go to work for you) and contained plenty of fatty acids, specifically, linoleic acid, which research has shown[7] can help combat signs of aging like dryness, skin atrophy, and wrinkles.

Finally, indigenous peoples in South Africa like the amaXhosa used Cape aloe to accelerate wound healing, and in 1967, a surgeon stumbled upon the reason the plant might work for that purpose: he found that the gel sped up the production of cells related to the production of collagen.

Given collagen’s massive role[8] in keeping your skin healthy and firm as you age, that’s a pretty exciting promise. In other words, that doesn’t qualify as fierce, we don’t know what will.

[1] Lall, N., & Kishore, N. (2014). Are plants used for skin care in South Africa fully explored? Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 153(1), 61-84. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.02.021

[2] Surjushe, A., Vasani, R., & Saple, D. (2008). Aloe vera: A short review. Indian Journal of Dermatology, 53(4), 163. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.44785

[3] O’Brien, C & Wyk, B.-E & Van Heerden, Fanie. (2011). Physical and chemical characteristics of Aloe ferox gel. South African Journal of Botany. 77. 988. 10.1016/j.sajb.2011.08.004.

[4] O’Brien, C & Wyk, B.-E & Van Heerden, Fanie. (2011). Physical and chemical characteristics of Aloe ferox gel. South African Journal of Botany. 77. 988. 10.1016/j.sajb.2011.08.004.

[5] Chen, W., Wyk, B. V., Vermaak, I., & Viljoen, A. M. (2012). Cape aloes—A review of the phytochemistry, pharmacology and commercialisation of Aloe ferox. Phytochemistry Letters, 5(1), 1-12. doi:10.1016/j.phytol.2011.09.001

[6] Loots, D. T., Westhuizen, F. H., & Botes, L. (2007). Aloe feroxLeaf Gel Phytochemical Content, Antioxidant Capacity, and Possible Health Benefits. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55(17), 6891-6896. doi:10.1021/jf071110t

[7] Cosgrove, M. C., Franco, O. H., Granger, S. P., Murray, P. G., & Mayes, A. E. (2007). Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(4), 1225-1231. doi:10.1093/ajcn/86.4.1225

[8] Quan, T., & Fisher, G. J. (2015). Role of Age-Associated Alterations of the Dermal Extracellular Matrix Microenvironment in Human Skin Aging: A Mini-Review. Gerontology, 61(5), 427-434. doi:10.1159/000371708

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