Tests conducted on the aloe vera gels sold by some of America's biggest retailers failed to detect any trace of the ingredient you would most expect to find in a product calling itself aloe vera gel. Bloomberg says the lab it hired to test aloe vera products from Walmart, Target, and CVS couldn't find the three chemical markers associated with the plant, but it did find maltodextrin, a much cheaper product sometimes used in place of genuine aloe. Tests on aloe vera gel from another retailer, Walgreens, found just one of the markers, malic acid, which experts say isn't enough to confirm the presence of the plant. The products all listed the plant at the No. 1 or No. 2 ingredient, after water. The FDA has never levied a fine for using fake aloe, putting retailers on what Bloomberg calls an "honor system."
Aloe gel supplier Fruit of the Earth has disputed the finding, and CVS and Walmart both say they are standing by their suppliers. Target declined to comment, citing pending lawsuits, one of which states: "No consumer would have purchased the product had they known it contained no aloe vera," per CBS News. Aloe vera has been used as an ointment for thousand of years. Joe Barrie of AloeCorp, one of the the biggest suppliers of aloe vera powder, tells Bloomberg that some competitors are selling for half of his lowest price, suggesting that what they're selling isn't aloe. He says it can take more than 200 pounds of aloe leaves to make a single pound of the powder. "Aloe is all harvested by hand," he says. "It’s an involved process and it’s not cheap." (A study of herbal supplements found a disturbing lack of herbs.)