Apart from health benefits, water has important therapeutic properties and cosmetic uses. Therefore, hydrotherapy, or the use of water to treat disorders, has been an integral aspect of traditional systems of medicine in many parts of the world.
Healing Properties of Cold Water and Ice
Water is nature’s thermostat to regulate body heat, so sponging the body with cold water and sipping cool water brings down fevers. In the 19th century, Father Sebastian Kneipp of Bavaria advocated cold water therapy to control spasms. Hydrotherapy has since been an essential mode of treatment in naturopathy.
A cold water bath is better than one with hot water, as it acts as a stimulant and mood elevator. Hot water dilates the skin and causes wrinkles, while cold water keeps the skin firm and taut. After a hot bath in winter, rubbing the body with a cold, wet towel neutralizes the adverse effects. A dip in cold water after a dry heat sauna or steam bath is considered exhilarating and rejuvenating, even in very cold countries. Moreover, a cold water bath is useful for fighting fatigue and stress, especially if a few drops of cologne water are added.
Cold water with ice has been used from the 19th century to treat sprains, bruises, and minor burns. Immediate application of ice water on a burn soothes the area and minimizes blisters and infection. During the Second World War, burning seamen jumped into the sea during bombing raids to counter the burns.
Chilled water disturbs digestion, but it also has healing properties:
- Sipping ice water stops bleeding of the alimentary canal, while a compress with chilled water stops a nosebleed.
- Sucking ice is recommended for vomiting and frequent motions.
- Local application of ice on the site of an injury relieves swelling and pain.
Healing Properties of Hot Water and Steam
While drinking water can relieve a headache, an ancient Persian remedy is equally effective. During the time of King Darius, travelers were given hot, wet compresses at rest houses along the roads. The wet heat relaxes scalp muscles and boosts the circulation.
Hot baths and foot baths have been traditionally used to treat chills. Dipping the feet in hot water for 15 minutes in winter helps to absorb the chill, while a cold water dip in summer neutralizes the day’s heat. Community steam baths were popular in the Scandinavian countries from earliest times. In the Black Forest region of Germany, innkeepers provided traditional warm foot baths to soothe the aching feet of hikers. Pine needles from the forest were added to the water to enhance its soothing and healing properties.
Steam inhalation is useful for decongestion of the respiratory tract, while a full body steam bath is used in Ayurveda (the traditional Indian system of medicine) to treat various disorders. Saunas are common today, but they have been used since early times to soothe and relieve stress. The fashion of “taking the waters” in spas was popular in Europe. Even in the olden days, Europeans used steam to increase sweating and discharge of toxins as a means of relieving arthritis. Hot sitz baths have been traditionally used to stimulate the kidneys.
Cosmetic Uses of Water
Water is not only a healing agent, it is also an effective beauty aid.
- Drinking sufficient water keeps dryness and wrinkles at bay, and contributes to a glowing complexion. This is because water keeps the largest organ of the body, the skin, well hydrated, and acts as a natural moisturizer. The skin’s natural oils solidify in winter, but flow freely in summer, leading to the dull, oily and blemished skin, which water can combat.
- Water reduces acne and chapped lips. It improves skin elasticity and suppleness and removes under eye bags. If there is dehydration or a shortage of water, the body tends to store water in the eye sockets.
- Steaming the face before a facial helps to clear pimples and blackheads. In Italy, France, and Spain, women commonly used herbal steam facials with chamomile.
- Water also contributes to healthy hair.
- To ensure beautiful feet and heels, soak them alternately for two minutes in hot and cold water. This boosts circulation.
- Cologne water or a cold water spray is very refreshing. Splash water at any time of the day to get instant freshness.
The use of water for healing and beauty aid has been prevalent in many cultures from ancient times, and hydrotherapy has gained popularity due to its multiple uses.
Tip: Adding sea salt or coarse salt to bathwater is said to act as an antidepressant and energy booster.