Alternative Health
Mind & Body Wellness
Stress Management

The Health Magic of Thermal & Mineral Baths

Nestled in the snowy Jemez mountains of Northern New Mexico, miles and miles from the nearest paved road, an unlikely crowd gathers…in bathing suits.

The hikers, nature lovers, and health enthusiasts have come from far and wide to experience a few of the many natural hot springs scattered across the American West. By soaking in the 120+ degree waters, they’ll tap into a centuries-old wellness tradition of thermal and mineral baths and experience a list of benefits that is nothing short of, well…magic. (New Mexico’s official slogan is The Land of Enchantment, after all.)

The Jemez hot springs are just one of many ways that people can try out balneology, the practice of healing illness with mineral water.

Balneology has roots in many indigenous cultures and can be traced 5,000 years through history to the Bronze Age, where it was used by the Greeks and Romans throughout Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. In Germany and Japan, mineral bathing remains a popular choice for the health-conscious, with millions of people visiting thermal/mineral bath spas each year.

But is it just magic?

Ok, fine—not really. There’s a lot of science behind it as well. Soaking in hot water is known to help improve skin conditions, relieve muscle tension, clear the mind, and give the immune system a boost. Researchers are finding that this is likely the result of “passive heating” provided by the bath. Passive heating occurs when the heat source is outside of the body, as opposed to active heating, when the body is generating its own heat (like breaking a sweat at the gym). This allows the body to reap all of the benefits that increased temperature has to offer, without the exertion of having to work for it.

One study on passive heating found that a 30-minute hot bath burned the same number of calories as a 30-minute walk, and that the 30-minute bath was actually more effective at regulating blood sugar levels.

When you add minerals into the mix, the promise for health benefits grows even stronger. Natural salts, calcium, iron, sulfate, and magnesium are among the minerals that can be found throughout natural hot springs and man-made spa pools. Though their exact effects are still being studied, it is well known that these minerals can make skin silky smooth. Some dermatologists believe that this also leads to healthier skin in the long term, as the minerals regulate the bacterial colonies that live on our skin surfaces and trigger acne, eczema, dryness, and other conditions.

The heat and mineral combination might even help our bodies absorb some of the minerals that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to, explaining a large body of non-clinical evidence that suggests mineral baths help to relieve muscle fatigue and speed recovery.

The great part about thermal and mineral baths is that—while spas and remote hot springs are pretty tempting—it’s pretty easy to recreate them in the comfort of your own home if you have a bath tub. Beauty brands like Pursoma offer mineral bath kits to get you started. Or, you can get creative with your own mix of minerals, maybe even adding in a few essential oils for an aromatherapy boost.

Of course, you’ll want to check with your doctor first to make sure you won’t be putting yourself at risk. And please, if you see a hot spring while you’re out hiking, don’t just assume that it’s safe to take a dip. Some hot springs, like those in the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone, National Park, can reach a scalding 459 degrees Fahrenheit…proving that while getting hot feels great, there is definitely such a thing as too hot.

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