A vacation for your skin?
Treating problem skin can lead you down many roads. One of them cuts across continents, dipping into mineral waters and sunlit valleys. Climatotherapy—treating a disease by traveling to an advantageous climate—is an old-fashioned approach that is still popular. Dozens of destinations around the globe offer treatments, including sun, salt, and mineral baths for your worst outbreak of psoriasis or eczema.
These places can be pricey, and how much relief they provide is an open question. While studies have shown that the natural environment of some skin-healthy destinations can be beneficial, and individual patients report good results, some experts believe it's the stress reduction and respite that may make you feel better.
The Dead Sea
The pitch: On the border of Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is heralded as the world's best natural psoriasis treatment center. At its low altitude—1,300 feet below sea level—you can safely soak up a lot of sun (which can help clear the chronic skin condition) without getting burned. The extra atmosphere through which sunlight must travel scatters the ultraviolet rays, so you absorb a broader spectrum of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light.
This unique combination of light is thought to provide the primary benefit to psoriasis patients, but the Dead Sea’s high salt and mineral content is also believed to aid treatment.
The price: Bathing in the sea is free (once you get there). The full monty—say, a 21-day package at the popular Ein Bokek hotel, which includes twice-weekly medical checkups, scalp care, and dermatologist-prescribed ointments—will cost you about $950 (in addition to airfare) during the winter.
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
The pitch: Many people with psoriasis have reported that their scales disappeared after spending a few weeks at Iceland's Blue Lagoon treatment clinic near Reykjavik. Utilizing the lagoon’s minerals, silica, and algae, the clinic’s team of dermatologists and nurses treated 6,000 patients in 2005.
A spot at the clinic requires a dermatologist's referral, and the center's 100° to 106° geothermal seawater is reserved for guests only. The center also offers UVB light therapy and encourages healthy eating and exercise.
The price: During the peak season (June through August), a single room runs $100 per night. Double rooms start at about $140.
La Roche-Posay, France
The pitch: This small town's spring water is rich in selenium. (A selenium deficiency is believed to play a role in psoriasis and other skin conditions.)
The dermatologists and psychologist at La Roche-Posay Thermal Center treat patients—with conditions ranging from eczema and psoriasis to scarring and postburn complications—with a combination of bathing and counseling as well as the drinking of local water. The center also specializes in children. Stateside, L’Oreal sells skin-care products containing the spring water under the La Roche-Posay brand.
The price: While a trip to the treatment center is a pretty penny, La Roche-Posay products are sold online and in some drugstores for around $25.
Mavena Derma Center, Chicago
The pitch: This Chicago–area day clinic is the only treatment center in the United States that uses balneophototherapy. Intended to re-create the conditions of the Dead Sea, the therapy involves soaking in brine followed by exposure to UVB light. Mavena experts say their results compare favorably to those achieved at the Dead Sea. The clinic also offers educational programs, lifestyle counseling, and stress management.
The price: One treatment, which includes a Dead Sea salt bath and phototherapy, runs for $135; participating insurance companies might cover part of the cost.
Soap Lake, Washington
The pitch: At Soap Lake in central Washington, you can take treatment into your own hands. There are no formal treatment centers or clinics, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, making Soap Lake an affordable, do-it-yourself option.
You can book a room at one of the nearby hotels. Popular remedies include soaks in the lake coupled with self-serve mudpacks applied during sunbathing.
The price: Only what it takes to get you there.
Warm Mineral Springs, Florida
The pitch: Said to be the famous Fountain of Youth sought by Ponce de León, Warm Mineral Springs, in North Port, Fla., boasts waters that are believed to help heal psoriasis and other skin conditions, as well as arthritis and gastrointestinal illnesses. According to the company that owns the springs, each year 65,000 visitors flock to the area to try out the 230-foot-deep sinkhole.
The price: A daily pass costs $20 for adults, with a 10-day pass running $150 per patient.
What you should know before you go
In a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 48% of patients with plaque psoriasis achieved complete remission after treatment at the Dead Sea. But the results lasted for only about three months.
According to small studies done in the 1990s, bathing in the Blue Lagoon for three hours a day for several weeks helped psoriasis, especially when combined with daily UVB therapy. Studies on the treatments at Mavena and La-Roche Posay have also found encouraging results.
But it's not entirely clear what factors are responsible when visitors find relief. "Just being out in the sun is beneficial for psoriasis," says Michael Traub, ND, a naturopathic physician in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. "Certain types of mineral baths can also be beneficial, but I'm not sure it's been demonstrated how much of the effect is from the bath compared to being outdoors." And conditions such as psoriasis and eczema can be exacerbated by stress, so rest and relaxation may help.
"If you have the money, and if it's going to help you get out of the rat race and focus on healing, it can be a good thing," says Barry I. Resnik, MD, who runs the Resnik Skin Institute in Aventura, Fla. "Taking people out of their stress-filled lives often serves to clear them."