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That aloe vera gel might not actually include any aloe

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The aloe vera plant is known for its ability to heal sunburn and other skin ailments, but customers who bought aloe gel might now have reason to feel even more burned.

Store-branded aloe gel sold at Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT) and CVS (CVS) appears to lack one essential ingredient: aloe vera, according to a new study from Bloomberg News, which commissioned lab to test the products. While all of the products listed aloe vera juice as either their first or second ingredient, none of them included the three chemical markers that signify the presence of aloe vera, the report found. 

The findings come amid increased questions about whether more government oversight is required for cosmetics and body-care products, although the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act bars companies from mislabeling ingredients. Cosmetic products and ingredients don’t require approval from the Food and Drug Administration, other than for color additives. 

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Questions about such products are regulated were raised last year in the case of Wen Hair Care, a shampoo line that has sparked lawsuits  after some customers suffered rashes and hair loss. As for the supposedly aloe-less aloe products, customers have already filed lawsuits that allege false advertising and negligent misrepresentation, among other problems. 

“No consumer would have purchased the product had they known it contained no aloe vera,” alleges one of the lawsuits, which was filed in August against Target

Citing pending litigation, Target said it was unable to comment on Bloomberg’s report. 

Walmart isn’t planning to remove the aloe gel product from its shelves, spokesman Randy Hargrove said. “We hold our suppliers to high standards and are committed to providing our customers the quality products they expect. We contacted our supplier, and they stand behind the authenticity of their products,” he said. 

The retailer’s supplier, aloe maker Fruit of the Earth, said it disputed Bloomberg’s findings. “We have also had tests conducted on the raw aloe material used in our gel products, which show the presence of the alleged marker (acemannan) that Bloomberg reported finding no evidence of,” general counsel John Dondrea wrote in an email. He 

CVS also defended the quality of its aloe gel. “We are committed to bringing high quality products to consumers, and maintain ongoing contact with suppliers to ensure that they meet our high standards,” the company said in a statement. “We have reviewed with the supplier, and they have affirmed the product’s authenticity.”

The aloe vera market is a bright spot for drug stores and other retailers, with the U.S. market for aloe products growing 11 percent in the last year to $146 million, according to Bloomberg, which cites market researcher SPINS LLC. 

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If there is no aloe vera in the products, as Bloomberg alleges, what’s actually inside the bottles? The testing found maltodextrin, which the report notes is a cheaper ingredient that is sometimes used as a filler in aloe products. The aloe vera gel samples tested by Bloomberg found no trace of acemannan, malic acid and glucose, the three chemical markers for aloe. Walgreens’ aloe gel included malic acid, but lacked the other two, Bloomberg noted., a company that conducts independent tests on health and nutrition products, said that its testing found that only about half of aloe products contained satisfactory levels of aloe, with many having only a small amount or none at all.

Aloe vera users have one way to make sure they are applying the real deal: Use an actual aloe vera plant. Many consumers keep one in their home, and cut a leaf on the succulent when they want to rub some gel on a cut or burn. 

Even so, it might be best to take its healing properties with a grain of salt, since the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health notes that there’s not enough evidence to conclude whether it’s as useful as devotees of the plant believe.

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