By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
Thermal water cures have been around since the Roman Empire but, lately, they have a, forgive the pun, hot trend.
Whether it’s spraying water on your face or going to immerse yourself in a luxury spa, lately people have been turning to water for a solution, or at least temporary relief from many ailments. Skin conditions, sore bones, amongst others. Although they are coming back into style, they’re far from new. People have been soaking in these waters since the Roman imperial period.
What exactly is thermal water? What magical substance does it contain? Well, that depends on the thermal water, but it is generally defined as having natural minerals and being suitable for therapeutic use. Thermal water is usually infused with certain minerals and trace elements, and has a particular temperature and flow that have verified results on certain skin disorders.
Thermal spring waters can be classified into five major categories, depending on their composition: bicarbonate, sulfate, sulfide, chloride, and weakly mineralized trace metal. They can be cold (less than 20°C or 68°F), warm (20°C–30°C or 86°F), or hot (up to about 100°C or 212°F).
There is currently a controversy as to whether thermal water is actually a cure for various illnesses or simply a cunning marketing scheme.
Recent studies show that it is definitely beneficial, and, depending on your condition, can be part of a treatment program, although not always a holistic solution, in and of itself.
Are Thermal Spas a Hoax?
Avene thermal water, a spray-on product coming from spring water in France, is a new beauty trend.
Many say that it provides them with relief from eczema and other skin conditions. Others say that it is simply water in a spray can.
What's the truth here? It turns out that there are other products being marketed as thermal water, such as Evian, that don’t actually contain the same minerals.
Scientists have tried to reproduce the natural spring water artificially, but it hasn’t worked. For some reason, the only water with the right chemical makeup comes directly from those springs.
In 2015, a comparative study was conducted on thermal spa waters (including Avene and La Roche-Posay) and 2 natural mineral drinking waters.
Dr. N. Zoller of the department of dermatology, venereology, and allergology at Goethe University, Germany, wanted to find out if either or both reduced skin inflammation.
After tests, it was shown that both types of water reduced inflammation, but that thermal water had a stronger effect.
Notably, trace elements such as selenium and zinc were necessary to achieve positive results.
In a 2013 article, Sophie Seite from La-Roche Posay pharmaceutical laboratories, explained that selenium, while toxic in large quantities, is extremely beneficial in trace amounts. Selenium is antioxidant and protects against toxic heavy metals.
A test conducted in 2012 by R. Martin and researchers at the La-Roche Posay Thermal Care Center studied a skin microbiome of patients with psoriasis.
Between July and September, they studied 54 people with psoriasis vulgaris. After administering a 3-week selenium-rich water balneotherapy treatment, including high-pressure showers, baths, facials, body spray treatments, and consumption of the water, they looked at the lab results.
The experiment showed conclusively that the thermal waters were in fact an effective treatment for psoriasis.
Straight from the Springs Is a "Cure" for Eczema
People have reported some pretty great side-effects of soaking in the Avene Springs in France, too. But the director from Avene spas clarifies, “We don’t claim the water will cure eczema. Treatment is designed to help people decrease the need to use steroids to control the condition.”
However, those who have gone to the spa have experienced significant relief. According to an article from Dianne Spencer from The Daily Mail, one little boy who visited, Ryan, had visibly reduced inflammation after just a 20-minute spa bath.
When he continued treatment, including steroid cream, one 20-minute bath, and two 10-minute showers incorporating Avene water, most of his symptoms subsided.
Notably, since he did have severe eczema, he had to continue using cream; the Avene water alone wasn’t a cure. However, the additional hydrotherapy dramatically improved his condition.
Kill My Pain
Thermal spas are also a great help for those in chronic pain. Warm water is always nice therapy, but what makes this water better than any other?
According to a study from Dr. M. Branco at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, the answer is probably sulfur.
Dr. Branco's goal was to test the effectiveness of both sulfurous and non-sulfurous waters for the treatment of knee osteoporosis and chronic knee pain. His study included 140 patients of both genders, with an average age of 65.
It turned out that both waters were effective, but the sulfurous ones had longer-lasting effects. Sulfur seems to be the solution, once again.
Do Thermal Spas Help Skin Conditions?
So far, we’ve looked at skin. We’ve looked at pain.
Many skin conditions cause pain, and spring water can help diminish that, as well. MP Goldman, from LaJolla Spa MD in California, compared the benefits of two thermal spring waters after a photodynamic therapy process.
This kind of therapy is designed to treat keratoses, superficial cutaneous carcinoma, photodamage, and/or acne.
In this case, he studied 25 patients, suffering from either acne or photodamage. They were administered either Avene thermal spring water (ATSW), which contained a low mineral content, and a high-mineral content spring water.
The study continued for 15 days, and patients reported a pain reduction on days 2, 4, and 7. In 83% of cases, people wished to continue with the treatment.
The conclusive results were that ATSW low-mineral content spring water was better at reducing post-procedure inflammation than the high-mineral content spring water. In this case, quality over quantity.
Use Thermal Water to Clear Things Up
Namely, your nostrils. Those with allergies and breathing problems often turn to spas as a source of relief. In 2014, Sarah Keller, from the University Hospital of Cologne, Germany, studied thermal water applications in the treatment of upper respiratory tract diseases.
After studies on 840 patients, she found that thermal water, especially the sulfurous kind, cleared up mucous significantly, as well as improved nasal flow.
Sometimes, you don’t have to immerse your whole body to get the right effects.
As you’ve seen, given the sprays, many people can take water on-the-go. This is also the case with those with allergies.
A 2011 study by Michele Miraglia del Giudice, from the University of Naples, tested Ischia thermal water (water coming from the island of Ischia) nasal aerosol on children with seasonal allergic rhinitis.
A total of 40 allergic children from the ages of 6 to 14 years old were tested with the treatment, for 15 days a month, 3 consecutive months.
The first group was administered with thermal water aerosol, and the second with a 0.9% NAcl isotonic solution. All were given cetirizine (a non-sedating antihistamine), as well.
The thermal water turned out to be effective as a natural treatment.
Bottom Line on Thermal Water?
Look at the ingredients in the thermal water you buy or soak yourself in. Search studies about whether it will have a specific effect on what ails you. As always, check with your doctor if you are being treated for a specific condition before you decide to treat it yourself with thermal water.