Source: Best Health magazine, September 2015
The road is like a ribbon of grey through the French countryside, more grosgrain than silk, I think as I lurch from side to side in the van delivering me to my destination, still an hour away. Oh, how I wish I’d taken the Gravol offered at the outset of my three-hour journey to Avène.
In an attempt to forget my nausea, I focus on the beauty that reveals itself in spectacular fashion with each new curve in the road: hills that are verdant with spring’s victory over winter, interrupted occasionally by clusters of century-old villages where red geraniums spill from the sills of their stone houses.
Every so often, patches of poppies blow in the wind, just as I imagine they’ve done for the hundreds of years that people have been making this pilgrimage to Avène, the mecca of thermal spring waters, nestled at the foot of the Cévennes Mountains in Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park in southern France.
I’ve come to discover what the French have known for centuries: the healing powers of water. Here, they don’t just ingest it; they immerse themselves in it.
Since the first thermal spa opened in 1743, patients have been taking the plunge to treat conditions such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, scarring and skin damaged by chemotherapy. Annually, 2,800 people make the trek in search of relief. The program lasts three weeks and includes a range of therapies, such as baths, massages and workshops.
The treatments may vary, but the water never has. Its composition is largely unchanged since its discovery, says Bertrand Selas, manager of the Avène Water Research Centre. Made up of calcium, magnesium and bicarbonate, it has a neutral pH and is rich in trace elements.
But it is the advent of modern science that has helped uncover an ancient secret: the presence of a microflora called Aqua Dolomiae. According to Aline Poucet, a biologist and product manager for XeraCalm A.D, the molecules in this microflora help soothe skin and fight inflammation.
Just as certain microflora are key to balanced gut health (think of how yogurt helps digestion, for instance), others are important to skin health, helping cells work harder to regain balance and build immunity.
Most of us will never travel to Avène to take the waters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t experience its effects. In addition to the Avène Hydrotherapy Centre, there is also a manufacturing facility that produces the world’s supply of Avène skin care products.
It’s here that I saw how the spring water is packaged. Well, I didn’t actually ‘see’ it. To preserve its integrity, the water is automatically pumped from the source into sterile cans without ever coming in contact with the light of day or human hand.
What does that mean, exactly? You get all the first-hand benefits of the water, no topsy-turvy drive through the mountains required.
The Healing Powers of Water
Here are a few Eau Thermale Avène products to try.
XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil, $27, is a soothing way to cleanse skin, even during eczema flare-ups.
Micellar Lotion $28, is a gentle way to clean your face without soap, oil or alcohol.
Hydrance Optimale Hydrating skin tone perfector, $38 (pictured above), is a tinted moisturizer that helps conceal imperfections while quenching dryness.