Young woman-bathing in-the natural-thermal spa water

Balneotherapy cures: why the French love them so much?

Whether it’s sea or spring water, the French are fond of balneotherapy cures. Rightly so! Water is renowned for its multiple health benefits since Antiquity.

Indeed, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians would go regularly to the thermal baths both for social and therapeutic reasons.

Today, from a one-week cure to a one-day treatment, thermal water spas are still popular all over the world!

In this article, I will explore the multiple benefits of water therapy, especially thermalism, a type of balneotherapy that the French enjoy so much!

What is Balneotherapy and its Origins?

balneotherapy-a woman-relaxing-in a blue-hot tub

Balneotherapy (Greek: balneo “bath”+ therapy “treatment”) is a method of treating diseases by bathing in thermal mineral waters.

You’ve probably heard of Ancient Roman Thermae. (From Greek “thermos”, meaning hot.) They were large public facilities for bathing that still exist today.

Archeologists found proof that people enjoyed bathing in seas, lakes, and hot springs as a way to wash, heal, and relax the body as early as the 1st century BC.

What is the difference between Thermalism, Thalassotherapy, Hydrotherapy, and Balneotherapy?

Themalism and thalassotherapy are both bath therapies. The difference between the two is the water. The former uses natural springs’ water, while the latter uses seawater.

On the other hand, hydrotherapy simply uses freshwater and also involves exercising in water.

Above all, thermal water cures often blend balneotherapy and hydrotherapy to provide optimum body recovery.

What is thermal mineral water?

Springs’ water is different from freshwater sources because it comes from natural hot springs.

Emerging from deep in the ground, it is warmed up by the earth’s natural heat. Minerals dissolve in it when passing through rocks and soil.

Thus, it is rich in minerals and contains a number of trace elements like sulfur, calcium, salt, iodine, selenium, or magnesium.

Minerals have impressive medicinal properties. Sulfurous water, for example, strengthens the immune system while salty baths have a strong calming effect.

What are “healing baths” used for?

A spa is only entitled to take the appellation of “thermal spa” when it has its own spring which emerges at a temperature above 68° F (20° C).

There are 109 thermal spas in France, filled with steaming and bubbling water. They combine hot and cool water therapies for healing and wellness purposes. Each site has its unique physical and chemical water composition.

You may be familiar with Vichy, Avène, Jonzac, Uriage, and La Roche Posay sites, just to name a few.

They are known to have scientifically proven therapeutic effects on people suffering from rheumatism, osteoarthritis for instance.

Moreover, you can clearly see the thermal effect on the epidermis. How it helps soothe skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, etc…

Today, the best water treatments for your skin problems are Thermalism and Thalassotherapy.

That is why in France, doctors can prescribe their patients a “cure thermale” for up to two weeks, covered by social security.

Of course, you don’t need permission from your physician to go to the spa. You can simply benefit from the relaxing powers of thermal water as a self-care ritual.

Read the related article “French women self-care ideas: 14 tips”

What are the Benefits of Balneotherapy?

Soaking in your hot bath has already numerous advantages. So, imagine what a thermal spa adventure would feel like?!

It is the composition of the water itself that makes it extra special.

Also, spas offer a set of methods like hydromassage baths, aquagym sessions, massages under affusion, hydro jets, and so forth.

Here are 17 reasons why you need a thermal spa experience!

Hot water benefits

  • Stimulates blood circulation

Thanks to the heated water, this technique improves blood flow by dilating the blood vessels.

  • Lowers blood sugar levels

According to some research, immersion in hot water “shows potential as a strategy to combat chronic low-grade inflammation and improve glucose metabolism in individuals”.

  • Soothes muscle pain

Hot water relaxes the muscles, thus reducing muscle spasms and easing the feel of heavy tired legs.

  • Detoxifies the body

Warmer temperatures dilate the skin pores and help cleanse the body by eliminating toxins.

Likewise, better blood flow contributes to systemic detox which is the disposal of toxic chemicals and metals from the body.

  • Improved digestion

A good body detox improves nutrient absorption by supplying oxygen to our organs’ tissues.

Cold water benefits

  • Boosts up the immune system

While high-temperature water relaxes your muscles and lowers your heart rate, cold water treatments are known to invigorate your body and give your immune system a boost.

Several studies show that cold water seems to activate the sympathetic nervous system that controls the “fight-or-flight” response. It is the automatic reaction that occurs when you feel in danger.

Thereby, when you take a cold shower, the noradrenaline hormone increases, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to rise.

  • Increases the metabolic rate

Metabolism is how your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. So the higher your metabolism is, the more calories you burn.

A study shows that when immersed in 14℃ cold water, the metabolism increases by 350%.

Physical benefits

  • Relieves joints stress

There are 3 factors at work in thermal water therapy: warmth, massage, and weightlessness.

In fact, a body immersed in water is subjected to this force called Archimedes’ Law of Buoyancy. 

It diminishes the joint tensions that take place in the open air due to the force of gravity.

In this way, patients are able to do the exercises without the worry of getting injured. In other words, it is easier for them to work out in the water than on the ground.

  • Slows body aging

In addition to its healing effects, this therapy slows down the process of aging through complete body remineralization.

Skin benefits

Thermal water revitalizes the skin microbiome. Thanks to all the minerals it contains, it offers various benefits to the skin:

  • Anti-inflammatory and calming results
  • Cleanses, tightens, and tones. In this way, it restores the skin’s firmness and elasticity
  • Hydrates skin
  • Reverses UV damage

As a result, in France, several popular thermal spring sites have developed their own cosmetics that you can buy in pharmacies.

Read here the related article “12 French 100% certified organic cosmetic brands you should know about!”

Emotional benefits

When in a hot bath, both your body and soul feel so good. Imagine when you dip yourself into mineral water!

How it can enrich your mind and improve your well-being! Its health-restoring virtues can benefit anyone in need of a pleasurable time.

  • Promotes better sleep, bringing relaxation and eliminating fatigue
  • Improves mental wellness, helping with memory and alertness
  • Combats stress, reducing anxiety and tension
  • Creates overall peace of mind

Read the related article “Benefits of rest days from working out!”

What are the different methods of balneotherapy?

It uses various bathing techniques:

  • Hydromassage baths that use water jets to massage your body
  • Hot and cold baths where, totally immersed, you alternate bathing in a hot pool to warm up, then shortly dip in cool water, then back into hot, etc…
  • Exercise baths where you have to swim, move, or walk against the current
  • Partial bath targeting specific parts of your body

Each kind of thermal bath has its unique restoring effects:

The water’s composition has different impacts on the body. Hence, your skin and respiratory tracks absorb the medicinal substances. It can have a pain-relieving effect or boost your metabolism.

  • Sulfur or carbonated (CO2) bath: high in sulfur which improves skin conditions
  • Mud bath (peloid): healing mineral mud diluted with spring water
  • Iron bath (ferruginous water): high in iron which can help with anemia
  • Salt water bath: the water is naturally salty (thalassotherapy) or salts are added
  • Oil bath: essential oils are added for a greater spa experience

Read the related article “How to speed up your metabolism naturally?”

Medical Precautions

Balneotherapy is greatly advised for patients suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, and skin diseases. But is also a technique everyone can enjoy for recreational reasons.

However, as with any treatment, there are certain contraindications:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • epilepsy
  • arrhythmias
  • recent heart failure
  • high blood pressure
  • inflammation of veins

Make sure to visit and ask your doctor if in doubt!

Go for it!

Great news! There is no need to go to the spa to enjoy balneotherapy. You can simply dissolve salts and minerals in your bath.

Yet, the experience is not the same. Remember, each natural source has its unique water “magical” composition!

Why not treat yourself to a special cure in one of those amazing centers on your next visit to France?!

Or you can plunge into the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, a gorgeous traditional natural hot spring place!

Whether you want to revitalize your body or simply relax and do some soul-searching, healing baths are the way to go! It has been a “hot” thing to do since the dawn of time…

Have you done a balneotherapy cure or any spa experience? Please share your thoughts and comments below!

Also, if you’ve enjoyed this article, why not pin it and save it for later?

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  1. I must say after reading your post I feel like diving into the Blue Lagoon right away !!! I had heard about water therapy but was never aware about the nuances and difference between Thermalism, Thalassotherapy, Hydrotherapy and Balneotherapy. Very informative…I had one question lingering in my mind – Is there a way to check the mineral content in the water ?

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Never been to the Blue Lagoon yet but would love to go there someday for sure!! You can probably check the mineral content of each water by going on the thermal water spas’ websites! Glad you found it very informative! Thank you! You may be interested in reading this post “chicory coffee health benefits, why the French love it?

  2. Wow, this is a great information source on Balneotherapy. I knew there were bathing therapies available, but I had no idea that there were different types. I guess it makes sense that different types of water would have different effects. I will have to try this Balneotherapy, for I can sure use the relaxation these day. Thanks for this great information.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Yes, that is very interesting how mineral waters have such great impacts on our health! Thank you for your comment! You may be interested in reading this post “Chicory coffee health benefits, why the French love it so much?

  3. This is just amazing! My wife and I was just talking about minerals baths and where we could find them. One little quick search and not only do you mention places in the world to naturally soak in mineral baths, you also mentioned how we try them a little closer to home.

    I am very interested in colloidal gold and silver baths. have you ever heard of anything like that?

    Thank you for your expertise.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      No, I have never heard about colloidal gold and silver baths?? Very interesting!! Will go check on that! Thank you for your comment! You may be interested in reading about the health benefits of chicory coffee! 🙂

  4. Wow. I didn’t know that balneotherapy has so many benefits! It’s also nice that it’s been used for centuries.
    It’s always interesting to learn about the different and wholesome ways we can take care of our body, and health.

    I however have a few questions.
    You have listed patients that should consult their doctors before indulging in it, but for someone without any of the listed conditions, does it have any side effect like skin irritation or itching? Also, how often should one bath in mineral waters?

    All in all, balneotherapy sure sounds like a real treat. I would love to have the experience soon. Thank you for this.


    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Hello Femi!
      a mineral bath at a spa usually lasts between 20 to 40 minutes. It depends on the treatment! No there isn’t any side effect such as skin irritation or itching. Thermal mineral water soothes and treats skin conditions instead.

      You may be interested in reading “why is barre fitness so good for men?”

      Many thanks for your comment

  5. Hi Anne-Caroline,
    This is so interesting to discover your article when looking for natural therapies online. I had no idea that France has 109 thermal baths.
    Also it was very interesting to learn the health benefits of cold water thermal baths. Particularly as you mentioned cold water seems to activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) that controls the “fight-or-flight” response. My goodness, I could do with some of that.

    What about the cold ocean at 16-20C would that be cold enough to have this health benefits effect?

    For the therapeutic benefits you mentioned, can I also ask – how long is recommended to be in a Cold thermal bath for the health benefits?
    Thanks in advance, John

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Hello John! Thank you for your comment! yes, cold baths are so beneficial, and yes bathing in a 16-20C ocean is considered cold enough! It is recommended to not exceed 10 minutes though.
      You may be interested in reading “best ways to boost up your immune system naturally”

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