Frequently considered a form of hydrotherapy, balneotherapy is a treatment that uses bathing, often in mineral water of varying temperatures, to help with a variety of conditions. Balneotherapy has been used for ages to treat a number of skin conditions and has helped to increase tourism in various parts of the world. Locations like the Dead Sea and mineral/hot springs around the globe are sought out as places to seek refuge and possibly even relieve a frustrating condition.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
Bathing, by itself, may not necessarily be helpful for skin conditions. In fact, a 2016 study in the journal Clinical Pediatrics found a longer duration of bathing time was correlated with worsened atopic dermatitis (eczema), though frequency of bathing did not affect the severity. A mouse study showed that bathing in mineral water significantly reduces signs of skin inflammation, has anti-inflammatory effects, and beneficially affects cutaneous barrier homeostasis.
Balneotherapy can modulate the microbiota of flora found on the skin and can also reduce the clinical severity (PASI values) of patients with moderate to severe psoriasis. Another study compared treatment with ultraviolet light (UVB) to the combination of bathing in geothermal seawater and exposure to UVB for the treatment of psoriasis. The study showed that the addition of geothermal bathing reduced the number of circulating inflammatory cells and decreased the inflammatory response more than in the group that had only the UVB exposure.
Balneotherapy is reported to be useful as an adjuvant therapy in plastic surgery by physically helping to reduce inflammatory signs, pruritus and pain, and scar maturation.
Infections are a risk with shared baths if the water is not regularly cleaned.
Burns should always be considered when using thermal water for treatment; therefore, extreme care should be taken when used by a person with an altered sensation. Infants, elderly and patients with diabetes are some examples of people who may not be able to fully recognize when there is a risk of causing skin damage.
Pregnant women should avoid bathing in heated water to avoid possible complications with the pregnancy.
People with heart disease should also avoid balneotherapy to prevent any adverse reactions that might be caused by the therapy.
Like with any treatment, balneotherapy should be done under the direction of a trained health professional.
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Koutroulis I, Pyle T, Kopylov D, et al. The Association Between Bathing Habits and Severity of Atopic Dermatitis in Children. Clin Pediatr (Phila).2016;55(2):176-181; PMID: 26149842.
Choi YJ, Lee HJ, Lee do H, et al. Therapeutic effects and immunomodulation of suanbo mineral water therapy in a murine model of atopic dermatitis. Ann Dermatol.2013;25(4):462-470; PMID: 24371394.
Martin R, Henley JB, Sarrazin P, et al. Skin Microbiome in Patients With Psoriasis Before and After Balneotherapy at the Thermal Care Center of La Roche-Posay. J Drugs Dermatol.2015;14(12):1400-1405; PMID: 26659932.
Eysteinsdottir JH, Sigurgeirsson B, Olafsson JH, et al. The role of Th17/Tc17 peripheral blood T cells in psoriasis and their positive therapeutic response. Scand J Immunol.2013;78(6):529-537; PMID: 24111693.
Correia N, Binet A, Caliot J, et al. [The role of balneology in plastic surgery]. Ann Chir Plast Esthet.2016;61(1):16-22; PMID: 25922215.
Kim BK, Park M, Kim JY, et al. Heat shock protein 90 is involved in IL-17-mediated skin inflammation following thermal stimulation. Int J Mol Med.2016;38(2):650-658; PMID: 27279135.