Naturally . . . a trip to France to take a bath

The French brand Avène has a spa in the south of France dedicated to skin treatments

The lake in Avène, in the south of France

The lake in Avène, in the south of France

 

This summer, I was invited to go to France to take a bath. So I went.

I had heard of the French pharmacy skincare brand Avène, but I knew nothing about the thermal spring water upon which it was built.

People have been going to Avène, a picturesque village in the south of France, to bathe in its water since 1743, when the first spa opened there.

In 2015, I was expecting a chic French spa where I’d be plied with cucumber water and lulled into a semi-comatose stupor with a slew of extravagant treatments, while nature sounds played on repeat in the background.

Instead, I encountered a hydrotherapy centre treating some serious skin conditions.

AveneToday, adults, children and infants from across the globe visit Avène’s Hydrotherapy Centre, nestled at the foot of the Cèvennes mountains in the pretty Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park, for treatment for a number of conditions including eczema, psoriasis, scarring, burns, post-cancer sequelae, scalp conditions and rare disorders such as ichthyoses.

The water, which has been shown to soothe and calm irritation and reduce inflammation, makes a 40-year journey through the aquifer before it arrives at the centre, where it is used for a range of daily treatments, including a 20-minute thermal bath, underwater massage, multi-jet shower and face spray. It all feels great, but this is treatment, not pampering.

The water’s therapeutic benefits, which are backed by a number of clinical studies, are attributed to its calcium/magnesium ratio, low mineral content, neutral pH and the presence of silicates, trace elements and microflora.

During our visit, we are shown a number of before and after photos. The results range from substantial improvements to completely healthy looking skin.

Anyone can apply for the three-week treatment at the centre (€470-€596), once they have a doctor’s prescription. French patients receive funding from the Sécurité Sociale. The UK equivalent, the NHS, has also paid for patients to attend.

Whether it’s the unique make up of the water, its habitual use, the gorgeous, stress-free setting of the centre, or a combination of the lot, Avène certainly sees results.

But a trip to a spa in the south of France isn’t on the cards for everyone. If you want to give it a go at home, you can try out the Avène skincare line, the core ingredient of which is the thermal spring water, bottled at the source. It’s available at Boots, Lloyds and other pharmacies in Ireland.

The extensive product line, which caters for all ages and skin types, can be difficult to navigate. The Skin Recovery Creams are for very sensitive skin; the Tolérance Extrême range for even more sensitive, allergy-prone skin; and the XeraCalm A.D range for those who tend to have eczema, or itching and dryness.

If you suffer from acne – and according to a recent study commissioned by Avène, 66 per cent of women in Ireland do – look out for the Cleanance range, which reduces sebum production, gently exfoliates to prevent clogged pores and includes a patented active prodrug that targets bacteria.

There are also anti-ageing and sun care ranges. A number of the products come with a special nozzle to keep contaminants out of the tubes. This ensures contents stay sterile and negates the need for preservatives. They’re free from parabens, fragrance and alcohol too.

Since being introduced to the line, I’ve developed an obsession with the Eau Thermale Avène Spring Water Spray (€9 for 150ml), which is simply pure, thermal water. I spritz my face and body with it before applying moisturiser (it spreads easier this way, which can help if you have easily irritated skin) and I use it to set make-up.

It also comes in a handy 50ml spray for €4 which is perfect for freshening up on the move.

kharris@irishtimes.com

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