When I was a kid, we always had an aloe plant growing in the front widow. There was good reason for this. My parents’ home was heated exclusively by a wood-burning furnace and fireplace. At a very young age I learned to cut and stack firewood, start a fire, and keep it going throughout the night. With fire tending, comes the inevitable burn. Sometimes you thought you had cleared the top of the furnace door, but then the quick singe and…ouch—a burn! My mother always said the same thing when I burned myself: “Go break off a piece of the aloe plant and rub it on your arm.” Sure enough, this worked to soothe and heal these types of minor burns and, amazingly enough, I don’t have any scars! The plant was quite odd looking with leaves of various lengths from the frequent use, but it was hardy and always regenerated itself after its healing sacrifices.

So, what’s in this magical little plant? Aloe vera, also known as Aloe Barbadensis, is a medicinal plant that provides a gel and liquid. Although it can be ingested and has dietary benefits, I will just discuss the topical uses here. Aloe is a cactus plant with hundreds of varieties. Native to North Africa, this plant grows nicely as a houseplant anywhere there is enough sunshine and a warm-enough room temperature. It is most widely known as a topical treatment for burns, but also has been studied for its healing qualities for dermatitis, herpes, psoriasis, and as a moisturizer. This plant is rich in vitamins A, C, E and B vitamins, in addition to containing many active enzymes, minerals and beneficial sugars. Those compounds alone make it highly nutritious for the skin, but aloe vera gel also contains two active plant hormones: auxin and gibberellins. These plant hormones promote growth and provide wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce skin inflammation, allowing the skin to heal quickly and with minimal scarring. There’s a whole lotta punch in little squeeze of gel from the leaf an of aloe plant!

In our skincare line, we use Aloe Barbadensis in several products, from soothing post-treatment and sensitive-skin gels to moisturizers and mineral sunscreen products. Aloe complements many of our formulas beautifully because it offers moisture, soothes and heals. These qualities are very important for those with sensitive skin, acne and after laser, peel or other treatments, as well as for those who are simply looking for added moisture. Aloe is a fabulous multi-tasking ingredient.

Thankfully, I now live in a modern home, with a convenient dial to turn on the heat. It’s funny how easy it is to forget what a blessing these modern conveniences are, but I will never forget my childhood home with its challenges and the valuable lessons I learned from those experiences. I have not had a burn in many years, yet I still have an aloe plant sitting in my sunny window. When my boys come to me with some sunburn, a bee sting, rash or other skin irritation, I respond the same way as my mother years ago: “Go break a piece off of the aloe plant and rub it on your skin.” There’s something so simple and soothing about the aloe plant—convenient comfort straight from nature.

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.