MIRACLE WATER

REPORTER: LAURA SPARKES

It looks like plain old tap water, but there is a magical quality to it. It has the power to heal -- a child's eczema ridden face is cleared, scarred and flaky skin on limbs disappear - it's water that vanquishes all types of debilitating skin disorders. Severe eczema sufferer Genevieve Lim flew halfway around the world to the tiny village of Avene in the South of France. "I've tried everything thats out there, I really do think its my last chance."

Like more than 2.2 million Australian eczema sufferers, Genevieve has had the skin condition her whole life. The itch keeps her awake each night, during the day she covers up. "I just don't want to show my skin, I can feel peoples eyes looking at it, even if they don't say anything." Genevieve's Professor Dede Murrell has exhausted all treatment options. "At the moment she's partially controlled on a powerful tablet that is used by transplant patients but its not fully effective for her" says Prof Murrell.

"They're so strong they have an impact on your kidneys, I have to get a blood test every two weeks to make sure my bloods are in order" says Genevieve. "You get your hopes up and you think its going to work because you've heard so many stories and everyone is like it will work it will work and then its a let down."

When Professor Murrell was asked to send a patient to France to experience a centuries old hydrotherapy treatment, Genevieve was her first choice but the professor is sceptical. "I don't know whether it has to do with placebo effect or whether its a genuine effect but the stats they have are very impressive… so if it works for Genevieve however it does work, it will be better than taking drugs that are needed for transplant patients" says Prof Murrell.

The Avene Dermatological Hydrotherapy centre boasts thousands of success stories. 2500 patients, many are children, flock to it every year. The French National Health Insurance has so much faith in the water's power they reimburse the $1000 it costs for the 3 week treatment of baths and showers. "80 percent of the people has an improvement in itching, the redness, all the symptoms of the skin disorders" says Marie-Ange Martinic.

She is the director of the centre. Its owned by a French chemist who also uses the water in the Avene product range available here, even the water is bottled in an aerosol can. The healing capabilities of the water from this tiny town of Avene have been known for 250 years. Water from the spring was even exported across the Atlantic to Chicago in 1871 to help hundreds of burns victims from the city's Great Fire.

But to this day scientists still don't know exactly what it is that gives it its healing properties but they have proven if you change or disturb the mineral composition, the water loses its ability to heal. "It is well known with atopic dermatitis there is an imbalance between immune cells", said Didier Guarraro, an independent scientist who's tested the water. He found it helps block the release of histamines that cause atomic dermatitis. "It's possible to block the histamine release and re-establish the balance of the immune cells involved in atopic dermatitis" adds Didier.

"It's made it less itchy, less scabbing, less open wounds, less dry."For Genevieve the change is incredible. All she is left with is a lifetime of eczema scarring. "Knowing I've tried all these different kinds of medication, creams that have had side effects to think that just pure water has worked on my skin and made it better I can't believe it."The water's journey takes 40 years form the time it rains down onto the mountains until its eventually pumped up from deep in the ground into the baths and showers here at the hydrotherapy centre. All up 70,000 litres of the water flows out of the spring every hour at a warm 25.6 degrees.

Her daily ritual was regimented, a luke warm 20 minute spa bath. Next, a five minute shower from 12 nozzles to remove dead skin cells and then another five minutes of mist. Then an unusual 10-minute massage using the water. "It helps remove dead skin, it makes the skin more supple and more importantly makes it more receptive to the minerals in the water" says Genevieve. A dermatologist uses a high pressure hose on problem spots.

You have to drink it also, 1 to 2 litres a day and she's followed a strict regime of moisturising using heavy emollient creams containing the water. "For me it's not just the fact that my eczema has gone, the fact that my confidence levels have increased" says Genevieve. For the first time in years Genevieve is medication free. No topical steroid creams or powerful immuno-suppressant drugs. "I've been able to sleep more … I feel like I can start to recognise my skin again that I haven't seen in years. I can wear clothes that I wouldn't wear in public before because I felt too self conscious."

"She's in a relaxing environment away form the stresses of daily living, and we know that alone will improve many of our patients with bad eczema." says her dermatologist.The Australasian College of Dermatologists Stephen Shumack believes the effect on Genevieve's skin won't last for long, but he does believe the water has healing properties. "The mineral content makes the Avene water isotonic. In other words, very similar to the concentration strengths, the PH, the normal water we have inside our body, the plasma. That means the application of this water, the baths and the spas are very gentle to the skin." says Stephen Shumack. Back home, Genevieve can't bathe and shower in the water but she can spray it on her skin and moisturise with an emollient cream containing the water. "I feel more confident, I can look at my skin and not see the open wounds and the scabbing. I feel I can do things that I couldn't do before." Says Genevieve.

Hydrotherapy Centre via the website www.avene.com.au

Avène Thermal Spring Water & Trixera Products are those in the range particularly formulated for skin conditions.