What is thermal water and how does it work in skin care?

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If you walk into a pharmacie in France, you’ll immediately bump into a giant display of thermal water spray cans. A whole host of French skin care brands like Avène, La Roche-Posay, Uriage and Vichy sell thermal water sprays. What is it, what’s in it, what does it do and how is it different from regular water?

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What is thermal water?

Thermal water comes from hot springs. The water in these hot springs come from deep in the ground, where it’s heated by geothermal activity (the Earth’s natural heat which also causes lava to be molten).

What’s in thermal water?

It’s mostly water, of course, but it isn’t “just water in a can”! As the thermal water rises to reach the spring, it passes through rocks and soil which dissolve to add minerals to the water. The mineral content of a particular thermal water depends on where it comes from. The minerals include the ones found in your skin’s natural moisturising factor (NMF), like chlorides, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Here are the compositions of the 4 most popular thermal waters (source: Bacle et al., Int J Dermatol 1999, brand marketing materials). There’s some variation between batches of course, since it’s a natural mixture.

Composition (mg/L or ppm)AvèneLa Roche-PosayVichyUriage
Total dry residue207444512011000
Sodium4.81018602360
Potassium0.72.299.645.5
Calcium42.7140150.6600
Magnesium21.24.912.3125
Chlorides5.4253573500
Bicarbonates226.73964776.3402
Sulfates1430Trace2862
Nitrates1.4TraceTrace< 100
Silica (SiO2)10.630-42
Selenium-0.060--
Strontium-0.260--
Zinc-0.022-0.16
Copper-0.005-0.075
Manganese---0.154
Iron---0.015
pH7.46.97.006.77

As you can see, the composition varies a fair bit, with Uriage, the thermal water with the highest mineral content, being 55 times more concentrated than Avène, which has the lowest mineral content.

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Residue remaining after room temperature evaporation of 10 mL of Uriage Thermal Water in a 250 mL beaker.

“-” in the table means no data, since different thermal water brands like to highlight different aspects of their water. La Roche-Posay talks a lot about the selenium content of their water, while Uriage emphasises the high calcium concentration. Avène talks a lot about the 2:1 ratio of calcium and magnesium in their water.

There’s also nitrogen gas inside the can that acts as a propellant, to push the water out as a spray. Paula’s Choice writes that the nitrogen “can generate free-radical damage and cause cell death”, which luckily isn’t true, since nitrogen gas (N2) make up 78% of the air we breathe! It’s actually very unreactive, so unreactive that it’s commonly used in laboratories to flush out more reactive things like oxygen and water. (The papers cited in the Beautypedia article actually involve chemicals that just contain nitrogen atoms, not nitrogen gas itself.)

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How to choose a skincare mask

clay-masks

There are a lot of masks out there – which one should you use to boost your skincare routine into hyperdrive? Let me help!

What is a mask?

A mask is a treatment that you put on your face for an extended period of time (between 10 minutes and 10 hours). You’re not meant to be seen in public while it’s on. The effects of a good mask will last around 1-3 days.

There are a bunch of different types of masks, good for different purposes. There’s a bit of crossover, especially if you’re mixing the mask yourself, but these are the basic categories:

Clay masks

Clay masks have clay as their main ingredient, and are helpful for sucking oil out of your pores, along with any random gunk in the oil. There are a range of clays with slightly different textures, but since all sorts of ingredients (oils, humectants like honey, etc.) can be mixed into a clay mask, it’s hard to say what effect a particular clay mask will have without trying it (though we can safely say that none of them will detox your body).

Kaolin clays are less absorbent than bentonite, so kaolin-based masks (usually white or pink in colour) are generally better for dry and sensitive skin, while bentonite masks (usually green in colour) are recommended for oily skin (I’m using handwavy language on purpose, because there is a LOT of variation – look up reviews of that specific mask before you buy).

How to use: You can apply a clay mask with your fingers (my preferred method) or a brush (feels posher, but requires more clean-up). Wait 5-30 min depending on your skin’s tolerance, then wash off (you may need to use a cloth to soak it off – I find that sticking my face under the shower head for 5 seconds helps tremendously). You don’t need to wait for it to dry before removing, but letting it dry will result in more oil absorption (but also more irritation potential).

clay-masks

Examples: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay is pure powdered calcium bentonite clay that you can mix into a mask yourself. If you mix it with an acidic substance, you’ll end up with a more skin-friendly pH and a very absorbent mask (here are some recipes for mixing bentonite with non-stinky citric acid and for mixing with slightly stinky ACV). You can make it less absorbent by adding humectants and oils. I’ve also got The Cosmetic Kitchen Raw Chocolate Clay Mask, which consists of pre-mixed Australian pink clay and raw cacao powder (antioxidant).

If you don’t want to go through the fuss of mixing, Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque is a popular option which contains both kaolin and bentonite, but I find that the anti-acne sulfur in it smells very unpleasant (lots of other people disagree). Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil Absorbing Mask* is another example, but I found it quite itchy. Moreish Emergence Clay Mask* is a premade kaolin clay mask that’s super gentle, with lots of humectants and oils thrown in.

Hydrating masks

Hydrating masks are a pretty broad category – there are oil-based masks which soften your skin, there are humectant-based masks which help water bind and absorb. I’m lumping them together because most oil-based masks have some humectants in them. These masks aim to leave your skin smooth and plump.

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French Sunscreen Comparison: Creamy Edition

french sunscreen la roche-posay uriage

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Here’s the next installment in my sunscreen review series – this time we’re looking at La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Comfort Creme SPF50+ and Uriage Bariésun Creme SPF30.

Both of these French sunscreen are targeted at dry/normal skin, not oily/normal skin like mine, so it’s quite likely that they’ll behave differently on drier skin. Unlike the fluid sunscreens I’ll be reviewing next time, they have less alcohol, which means they’re a bit less dehydrating for your skin, if your skin is dehydration-prone.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Cream Comfort SPF50+

Ingredients: Aqua/Water, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Glycerin, Alcohol Denat, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine (Bemotrizinol), Titanium Dioxide [nano]/Titanium Dioxide, Pentylene Glycol, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane (Avobenzone), Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Caprylic/Capric Trygliceride, Pentaerytrithyl Tetraethylhexanoate, Propylene Glycol, Ethylhexyl Triazone (Uvinul T 150), Stearyl Alcohol, Talc, Drometrizole Trisiloxane (Mexoryl XL), Nylon-12, Synthetic Wax, Aluminum Hydroxide, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/ Steareth-8 Methacrylate Copolymer, Ammonium Polyacryldimethyltauramide / Ammonium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Caprylyl Glycol, Cassia Alata Leaf Extract, Disodium EDTA, Glyceryl Isostearate, Glycine Soja Oil/Soybean Oil, Isopropyl Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Maltodextrin, PEG-8 Laurate, Phenoxyethanol, Stearic Acid, Terephthalylidene Dicamphor Sulfonic Acid, Tocopherol, Triethanolamine, Xanthan Gum.

(I think this might be the same as the Melt-In Cream, just renamed.)

This comes out as a yellow-tinged cream. It’s a bit hard to rub in, and has a bit of that greasy feel that body sunscreens have, despite having alcohol relatively high on the ingredients list (alcohol usually helps sunscreens sink in). However, despite the greasy first impression, I can apply this in the morning, blot the oil off gently with blotting paper half an hour later and apply translucent powder, and it doesn’t need blotting again until the late afternoon.

The sunscreen ingredients are bemotrizinol, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, Uvinul T 150, Mexoryl XL and Mexoryl SX – the Meroxyl components are particularly stable UVA absorbers, giving this sunscreen an impressive PPD of 42 in addition to an SPF of 50+, which means it’s pretty much top of the class in both UVA and UVB protection.

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However, when I applied this to my dry, clean skin, it balled up slightly and rolled off, which means it was incredibly difficult to apply the recommended 1/4 teaspoon required for full sun protection, and more sunscreen balled off when I tried to apply make-up over it. Here’s what the balling looks like on my clean hand:

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October Favourites

I’ve been trying out a lot of products lately – these are some of the ones I’m really loving that I thought I’d give some mini reviews for. Face of Australia Gentle Make-up Remover* – This make-up remover is everything I want in a make-up remover – gentle, efficient, doesn’t leave an oily residue. Mary Kay Cream Eye Colour in …

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French sunscreen and skincare purchases

Sunscreens from French brands are a pretty big deal right now – they have a reputation for being well formulated (no grease! no white cast!) and include super stable and effective sunscreen ingredients. I visited France recently and hauled a whole bunch of French sunscreens to try, along with a few other skincare goodies. Most of these brands are available …

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My Skincare Regimen (in excessive detail)

A few people have asked me about my regular skincare routine, which I described briefly in my interview with Beautiful With Brains – here it is in more detail. I generally use the same steps, but I often substitute in different products. It gets pretty complex, but I hope it makes sense! I’ve included a summary chart at the bottom, …

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How to read an ingredients list: Face moisturisers

Earlier this week I posted about the different types of base ingredients in moisturisers: occlusives, emollients and humectants. I’ve dug up a few facial moisturisers I have lying around to deconstruct. When looking at most product ingredients lists, the ingredients will be in order from the highest concentration to the lowest. Typically, when deciding if a moisturiser will suit your …

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Winter dry skin skincare regimen

Since coming to Switzerland and experiencing my first European winter, my skin has simply freaked the fuck out. Lots of little bumps, dry patches, full on pimples that wouldn’t go away. Being super smart, I’d forgotten to bring my thickest winter creams, but I managed to work out a decent skincare routine with what I had and what I could …

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