Soaking in hot water feels great and leaves your skin feeling soft. But can bottled thermal water in beauty products still soften your skin? In other words, is it the heat in the bath that helps your skin — or the water itself?
Believe it or not, thermal water itself does have some skin-nourishing qualities, even though it may not be the magic cure-all it’s sometimes said to be.
Here’s what thermal water is, what it does and doesn’t do for your skin, and where you can find thermal water in over-the-counter skin care products.
Whether it’s a tried-and-true skin care regimen, how often you wash your hair, or the cosmetics you’re curious about, beauty is personal.
That’s why we rely on a diverse group of writers, educators, and other experts to share their tips on everything from the way product application varies to the best sheet mask for your individual needs.
We only recommend something we genuinely love, so if you see a shop link to a specific product or brand, know that it’s been thoroughly researched by our team.
Thermal water is water taken from natural springs. It contains minerals that have been shown to enrich the skin.
“It offers a variety of benefits on the skin, such as calming and anti-inflammatory effects,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s department of dermatology, and consultant to skin care brand La Roche-Posay.
Soaking in thermal water baths is known as balneotherapy. (It’s different from hydrotherapy, which is soaking in plain tap water.) The benefits of balneotherapy are thought to come in part from the composition of the water itself.
In balneotherapy, various minerals have been shown to penetrate and benefit skin. The most common soluble minerals include calcium, bicarbonate, silicates, iron compounds, sodium and magnesium salts, sulfur compounds, and metals, along with trace elements like selenium.
There are various categories of thermal baths, including sulfate, bicarbonate, chloride, and sulfide. A spring’s location plays a role in a thermal water’s effectiveness, since each source has its own unique physical properties and chemical composition.
The idea of bathing in hot spring water has been around for centuries; it even inspired the modern-day spa as you probably know it. Hot spring baths are an important cultural tradition across the world, from Japan to Ecuador to Iceland.
“Thermal baths have been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years,” says Zeichner. “Many of the natural thermal springs are rich in minerals like sulfur, which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.”
Since their introduction, studies have suggested numerous health benefits of thermal baths. Thermal baths have historically been used to ease symptoms of conditions like:
Research suggests bathing in hot mineral water impacts the body’s immune and hormone systems, which may lead to anti-inflammatory, pain relieving, and antioxidant effects.
“Thermal spring water has been shown to help inflammatory conditions like eczema and rosacea,” says Zeichner.
Selenium-rich water, for example, has been used for decades in balneotherapy for eczema and psoriasis, he says, while the Dead Sea’s high levels of magnesium salts have been shown to be effective in treating psoriasis.
Some relatively promising benefits of thermal water include:
- Hydrate skin. Some research suggests that using thermal water on skin can make it feel more soft, supple, and comfortable.
- Reverse UV damage. The minerals in thermal water appear to have antioxidant properties that some studies suggest help neutralize free radicals and possibly reduce sunburn risk.
- Reduce inflammation. Thermal waters have been shown to calm irritation from harsh skin treatments like retinoids and reduce skin inflammation in eczema.
- Balance the microbiome. A 2018 study by Zeichner suggests thermal water helps balance the microbiome (or levels of healthy and unhealthy bacteria that naturally live in your skin) and reduces inflammation in people with skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
Some spas claim that thermal baths treat a range of health conditions, such as chronic digestive diseases, constipation, diabetes, gout, and liver problems.
Though thermal water likely does have benefits for the body, there’s no definitive scientific evidence proving these benefits. That’s especially the case when thermal water is applied from a bottle as a skin care product.
Steam baths were traditionally recommended as a treatment for gout. Some research suggests that hot baths may improve circulation and lower blood sugar levels in obese people with diabetes. These benefits are thought to be due to the hot temperatures.
There’s also some evidence that drinking mineral water may help keep your bowels moving and relieve symptoms of digestive diseases. Once again, that doesn’t mean applying thermal water to your skin or even sitting in a bath will have the same effect.
Zeichner recommends thermal spring water skin care products to his patients for their anti-inflammatory and skin soothing benefits. “The water can be used in the form of a spray or mist or as an ingredient in a moisturizer,” he says.
- Avène Thermal Spring Water. “It’s rich in minerals and silicates along with probiotics that help balance the natural collection of microorganisms on the skin,” says Zeichner.
- Vichy Volcanic Water. The water in Vichy’s products is sourced from French volcanoes and contains anti-inflammatory minerals. “The water has a neutral pH close to that of the skin,” says Zeichner.
A couple of other products to try:
Note that these brands — which are French pharmacy staples — specialize in thermal water, which means they offer a number of other products containing the ingredient, such as cleansing gels and body creams.
Thermal baths have been around for centuries. Research suggests they can have anti-inflammatory, pain relieving, and antioxidant effects that may be especially helpful for people with inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Thermal water itself is sourced from natural springs and contains a variety of minerals, such as selenium and magnesium, that can hydrate skin, reverse UV damage, and balance the microbiome, especially if you have inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
While thermal water may have several impressive benefits, keep in mind that it isn’t a magic cure-all for everything that ails you.
Colleen de Bellefonds is a Paris-based health and wellness journalist with over a decade of experience regularly writing and editing for publications including WhatToExpect.com, Women’s Health, WebMD, Healthgrades.com, and CleanPlates.com. Find her on Twitter.