Almost 19,000 kilometres away from Auckland city there is a tranquil, tiny village called Avène. It's here you’ll find thermal spring water that has extraordinary benefits for the skin. Editor Trudi Brewer shares her journey to a Hydrotherapy Center like no other.
Like stepping back in time, the tiny medieval village of Avène is surreal. Located in one of the most picturesque parts of southern France, it's an hours drive from Montpellier airport surrounded by untouched nature. It's a sleepy town, that's home to only 80 people, and sits in the heart of the Occitanie region, in the Haut Languedoc National Park. It's unspoiled, yet on the world map, not because of the views across the Cévennes hills, to the eastern Pyrenees mountains - but for the rare spring water that runs through this region.
How the thermal spring water from Avène was discovered
The legendary Avène Thermal Spring water was discovered quite by chance. The story goes, back in 1736, the Marquis of Rocozels who lived close by a natural spring had a prized horse who contracted a skin disease. Concerned it would infect his other livestock, he turned the horse lose to live in the valley by the spring. A few months of drinking and rolling in the waters of that spring, the locals noticed the horse had recovered. Word quickly got around that this water had healing powers, and the interest in the springs health benefits grew, by 1743 the Marquis opened public baths to treat people with dermatitis and other skin complaints. The first global attention came when in 1871, the spring water was bottled and exported to America, where it was used to treat the victims of the Great Chicago Fire. Fast forward a century to 1975, and a local French pharmacist, Pierre Fabre purchased the spring and the land around it, building a state of the art Hydrotherapy Center, dedicated to healing the sick. Fabre, was inspired by the spring, and to further understand it's secrets, he opened a Water Research Center in 2007, which is still operating today.
The village of Avène in France and Avène’s Hydrotherapy Center Images BeautyEQ
The benefits of this skin-softening water
Today around 3000 people visit Avène’s Hydrotherapy Center for treatment of severe skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, burns, post-cancer, and scalp conditions, as well as rare skin disorders such as ichthyoses. Pumped directly from the ground, it's the base to all the Avène treatments at the centre. From daily thermal baths, underwater hydro massage, multi-jet showers and misting, for the face, hand, mouth, and scalp, as well as a cold compress, and drinking. So how does it soothe the skin? Avène thermal spring water is rainwater from both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic oceans. Filtering through the mountains on its journey to Avène, it trickles through 300 million-year-old dolomitic rocks, 3000 meters underground. As it runs over the rocks, it is enriched with silicates, magnesium, calcium, and microorganisms known as ‘aquaphilus dolomiae’. This natural action gives the water potent anti-inflammatory, antipruritic, and immunomodulatory properties, which is why it provides instant relief for so many irritating skin conditions.
Editor Trudi Brewer and style director Louise Hilsz at the Avène Hydrotherapy Center.
The Avène skincare range
Created by Pierre Fabre in 1990, all the eponymously named products in the Avène skincare range are infused with the thermal spring water. Made on-site in a plant near the Hydrotherapy Center, the products are born from need rather than marketing spin. You don't have to have sensitive skin to benefit from this hydrating, natural skincare line. However, if your skin is sensitive, the Tolérance Extrême is ideal for allergy-prone skin. While the XeraCalm range is designed for anyone suffering from eczema, itchiness and dehydrated skin. TriXera Nutrition Cleanser and Lotion are the perfect daily skin combination for the entire family, and, for anyone who suffers from breakouts or acne the Cleanance range, reduces the oil (sebum) production in the skin, and gently exfoliates to keep blocked pores and redness at bay.
There are 55 products available here in New Zealand, these are free from parabens, artificial fragrance, and alcohol. The jewel in the crown is the natural Thermal Avène Spring Water. The water in each spray can come directly from the underground spring; it’s then packed and wrapped and sent around the world. One can is sold somewhere in the world every second, 24 hours a day. It makes the ideal toner, (always massage the water into the skin), helps skin creams and serums absorb faster, soothes sunburn and shaving rash, and a spritz on the skin anytime is the ideal way to instantly hydrate your complexion - brilliant for travel.
Editor Trudi Brewer at the Avène Hydrotherapy Center wearing Loobie’s Story Pipeline dress, $329.
My Avène experience
Unlike any other beauty pilgrimage I have made, my experience at Avène and of the thermal spring water left a lasting impression. It instantly softens your skin, after just a 20-minute bath, and it's like drinking bottled liquid silk. I can only imagine the joy it would bring to someone whose skin is always itchy, scaly and red. Not to mention the positive effect it has on your self-esteem to see the visible results after only a few weeks. While I don't suffer from a stressful skin condition, my skin was dry after my 36-hour journey to Avène, but after only 12 hours at the Hydrotherapy Center, my skin and body felt recharged. While this is a medical facility, it's location is spa-like, and the atmosphere is warm and nurturing. The center also prides itself on giving back. First to the locals (most of the people that live in Avène work at the centre), and the National Park, once the water is used at the Hydrotherapy Center, it is recycled, cleaned, and returned to the spring that bubbles through the 3,000-hectare unspoiled countryside surrounding the facility. And, to every person that visits. During my stay, I watched families who had travelled from all over the world to bathe in this water. Tiny babies, kids, teens, and grandparents, looking to the symbol of purity, the healing spring water that can soothe skin ailments. That alone was proof that the precious water from Avène is for so many the elixir of a much happier life.
My daily Avène beauty routine
Backed by dozens (more than 150 studies) of clinical studies, anyone with a skin condition can apply, based on a dermatologist prescription for the three-week stay at Avène. It costs from €330 for six days, including three treatments per day, accommodation is additional. French patients are funded by the Sécurité Sociale on dermatologist recommendation, (for a three weeks stay), however, the Hydrotherapy Center treats people from all over the globe, including Australians and New Zealanders.
While a trip to France is not necessarily for everyone, the same Thermal Spring water is available in Pharmacies across the country, packed in a portable spray. Bottled in sterile conditions as pure as the thermal spring water in France, this spray is ideal for soothing all skin types and skin of any age. Use as a cooling mist, or for toning the skin post-cleansing, or as a comforting compress to soothe skin irritation, the water is the perfect addition to any daily beauty routine.
The Avène Hydrotherapy Center is only open spring and summer, from April to October.