Look in any professional makeup artist’s kit and you’re bound to find one thing in common: a spray can of Avène’s famous Thermal Spring Water. Artists use it to prep skin before application and refresh makeup once it’s done—but those are just a couple of reasons 25 million bottles of it sell every year. It’s an all-natural potion that does everything: Soothes inflammation, calms redness, and even heals painfully ripped off skin from a wax gone wrong (I can attest to that). On the review site Influencster, the water has racked up more than 7,000 reviews online, the majority of which are four and five stars. It has a celebrity fan club that includes Diane Kruger, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rita Ora.
On top of all that, it can be found at just about any drugstore for less than $20.
So, what is it exactly that is so magical about the formula inside this spray can? I ventured to the bucolic hills of Avène, France—where I was invited as a guest of its Dermatological Hydrotherapy Center—to find out.
The water has unique mineral and biological properties.
Hydrotherapy is nothing new—in fact it has a rich history throughout France but especially in Avène, a commune in the Occitanie region of southern France, where the Saint Odile natural thermal spring has been a resource since 1743. The short story: the spring is made of rain water that, over 50 years moving through the surrounding Cévennes mountains and dolomite rocks, becomes infused with calcium, magnesium, and silicates proven to nourish and heal skin. To this day, an average of 2,800 patients—afflicted with severe psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, and more—flock to the hydrotherapy center to stay for several weeks on doctor’s orders.
It wasn’t until 2001 that scientists discovered that the water, on top of its impressive mineral composition, uniquely possesses a microorganism called Aqua.Dolomiae. Subsequent studies—the number of microorganisms in the water has since racked up to 150—have shown it activates an anti-inflammatory response in the body that mitigates itching, irritation, and conditions like atopic dermatitis.
The water in your spray can comes directly from the spring, unaltered.
The manufacturing facility is directly connected to the spring. The spring water is retrieved through a pump from 160 meters deep and directly enters product containers with no change—there is no treatment of the water nor preservatives inside, thanks to proprietary packaging methods.
“The water doesn’t see the sky for over 50 years. It enters the bottle, and once you spray, you’re using water that fell onto the earth over 50 years ago,” Sandra Saint André, marketing director of Eau Thermale Avène told me as we toured the factory. “The water coming from the spring is the purest water you can find. There is a biological wealth, but little living inside—the microflora is nonpathogenic and [present in microscopic quantities] so we can say that our water is, in some ways, sterile.”
To preserve this purity, the 13 square kilometers of natural surroundings of the spring are highly protected “with the lowest human activity you can find on earth so we don’t disturb the spring,” Saint André adds.
Everything in the manufacturing facility, from machinery to air, is extremely sterile.
While walking through the Avène manufacturing facility, I was struck by how meticulous the company is with keeping the entire manufacturing process sterile. Avène’s production, compliant with the Good Manufacturing Practices standard in the pharmaceutical industry, takes place in air that’s more pure than the air we breathe.
“The atmosphere in there is different from the one you have in here,” Ricardo Escudero, my guide and PR representative of Avène Dermatological Laboratories told me through a translator. “There is no contamination possible. If you count the number of living particles in the air: A particle is one micrometer, the ones inside are 0.5 micrometers. That means the air [in the production facility] is really purer than the air you breathe.”
In order for the thermal water to remain pure, everything that touches it from the outside world needs to be sterilized, including the packaging, reactors, pumps, and connecting pipes. In the beginning of the spray’s assembly line, I saw cans being heated to over 450°F for 15 minutes for this reason. They were then cooled in a totally sterile zone where only a single person, after having walked through multiple tightly sealed doors covered in layers and layers of sterilized uniform, controls the production in three hour shifts.
“We sterilize everything so that it delivers the purest water of all. This is a petri dish that helps us control whether there are bacteria, viruses or anything living in the water or air—as you can see there’s nothing,” Saint André told me as I stared at a totally clean dish.
At the end of the assembly line, cans are sealed with a nozzle and pressurized with sterilized nitrogen. Then, the cans are shrink-wrapped to be delivered, protected, to a pharmacy near you. Remarkably, every single can of Avène around the world comes directly from this facility. Like a designer bag, each one comes with a serial number unique to it to prevent counterfeits. “Quality control represents 10 percent of the people who work here, so it’s really important that we deliver high-end quality products,” Saint André says.
It actually works.
In what couldn’t be more perfect timing, while I was at the hydrotherapy center I had a flare-up of perioral dermatitis—a bumpy, red, inflamed rash—around my nose. It’s an issue I’ve been dealing with for over a year that, according to my dermatologist, is triggered by the constant product testing I do in my job as a beauty reporter. This instance was particularly one of the worst: After using a new mask on my flight over to France, the following day, a colony of what looked like tiny red pimples appeared around my nose. It burned.
I consulted Joëlle Nonni, the Skin Health Education Workshop Manager at the hydrotherapy center, to figure out how to treat my skin. “The best recipe for you will be an Avène water compress at night. Fully spray down a tissue and it will adhere to the skin. Keep it on for 15 minutes,” she instructed me. She then suggested applying a thin layer of Avène’s Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream. “Sometimes we imagine we have to apply a lot, but then we create occlusion, which is not so good for the skin. It’s better to apply a finer quality and add more a little bit later,” she instructed.
Lo and behold, my dermatitis breakout calmed down overnight. I continued using the spray on affected areas for a week and symptoms subsided in just a few days. My colleague Angel—who has the most perfect skin I’ve seen IRL—has long sworn by Avène’s thermal water spray. “As soon as I feel an itch, or a welt, or heat rising in my face—indicative of a potential flare-up—I reach for this,” she’s reviewed. “A few spritzes and what could’ve been a disaster instantly settles. It could be a placebo effect, but when your skin’s on fire, whatever puts it out will earn its keep.”
It does seem a little too good to be true, but results don’t lie. It’s not placebo. After diving in behind the scenes at the source, I could see there really is something in the water: science.