Avène

Eau Thermale Avene At-a-Glance

Strengths: Good cleansers; moisturizers with retinaldehyde, an effective derivative of vitamin A; every sunscreen provides reliable UVA protection; some pH-correct moisturizers with AHAs; a good lip balm.

Weaknesses: Mostly overpriced for what you get; repetitive moisturizer formulas, none of which are impressive; products for sensitive skin that contain fragrance or other potentially irritating ingredients; the redness-reducing products simply trade one problem for another.

Building an entire skin-care line on a single concept, however meaningless that concept may be, is often all it takes to capture the attention of consumers, just because it sounds so convincing. Such is the case with Eau Thermale Avene, a France-based line whose claim to fame is the thermal spring water in its products.

The company's history is laced with romanticized folklore of the allegedly restorative power of this water, with some tales dating back to the 1700s. Building a skin-care line around what was known (or, more accurately, unknown) about skin 300 years ago doesn't make sense, because 300 years ago no one knew anything about skin care or how skin functions; certainly no one knew about sun damage or free-radical damage. For goodness sakes, women in the 1700s were using face powders laced with lead, and who would want to emulate that? Still, the stories Eau Thermale Avene concocts must be convincing some people to buy their products or we wouldn't have been contacted several times per week by readers asking me to review this line.

Avene maintains that their thermal spring water is curative not only because of its historical proof (more anecdotes than proof), but also scientifically because of its low mineral content and pure, pristine source. The company's owner (Pierre Fabre Laboratories) claims to have conducted over 150 clinical studies. However, as you might suspect, there only a handful of published studies, and they all are related to the supposed healing power of Avene's thermal spring water when applied to skin that's been compromised by exposure to radiation or by cosmetic corrective procedures, such as light-emitting devices. Their studies showed that the water has soothing properties and that it helped damaged skin heal faster when compared with the effects of another type of spring water, the standard post-burn treatment, or randomly selected skin-care products.

As convincing as that sounds, the studies don't hold water for several reasons: first, the improvement seen from Avene's thermal spring water was nominal compared with the control; second, the studies were sponsored by Avene; and third, the studies didn't show how the spring water may have fared against numerous established topical anti-irritants or other FDA-approved skin protectants (Sources: Annals of Dermatology and Venereology, Special Edition, January 2008, pages 5–10; Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, March 2007, pages 31–35; and Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, September 2007, pages 924–928).

Avene offers additional studies on their Web site, but the majority again are published in the company's own publications; and none were peer-reviewed. Bottom line: There is absolutely no evidence that any type of thermal spring water allows skin to resist or correct signs of aging. Helping skin maintain its barrier is great, but there is abundant research showing that substances such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin do a far better job.

To its credit, Avene does offer some worthwhile products for sensitive skin. Yet they also offer products that can be problematic for sensitive skin because they contain fragrance and other potentially harmful ingredients. More important is the lack of significant anti-irritants that could have been extremely helpful for those with sensitive skin.

For the most part, unless you're a believer in the company's thermal spring water, there is little reason to get excited about their products. They offer some good cleansers, alternatives to retinol (using a similar ingredient known as retinal and retinaldehyde, which is one of the more effective derivatives of retinol), and some basic yet effective moisturizers for sensitive skin that's also dry.

Given this line's penchant for extolling antiquated skin-care fables, it shouldn't be surprising that their products lack an impressive selection of state-of-the-art ingredients whose benefits for skin are substantiated by reams of research. Interestingly, many of the claims prevalent throughout the cosmetics industry are found here, too, but without the formulas to support them and to actually deliver remarkable antiwrinkle results.

For more information about Eau Thermale Avene, call (866) 412-8363 or visit www.aveneusa.com.

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