What is Thalassotherapy

Thalassotherapy is a medical approach based on the systematic use of seawater, sea products and shore climate. Thalassotherapy is a term that emerged at the beginning of the 18th century, originating in the Greek “thalasso” meaning “sea” or “ocean” and “therapia” means “cure” and comprises many seawater-based treatments 1). In thalassotherapy, sea water is used and characterized by its high mineral content, high density, and its chemical composition rich in chlorides of mainly sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iodine, along with the application of sea muds or lime muds called limos (mud therapy or pelotherapy) 2). Furthermore, thalassotherapy involves a methodical and systematic exposure to the sun and marine climatotherapy 3). It is believed when topically administered, this water rich in sodium and chloride penetrates the skin where it is able to modify cellular osmotic pressure and stimulate nerve receptors in the skin via cell membrane ion channels 4). These applications include their application with systematic methodic exposure to sun, total or partial application of hot sea sand, and marine climatotherapy (based on atmosphere), temperature, humidity, wind, air pressure, etc 5). Thalassotherapy treatments base of remedies taken from the sea are quite common in Europe and is used in wellness tourism or medical tourism 6).

Contraindication to thalassotherapy include febrile or immunodeficiency states, decompensated heart disease, severe hypertension, hyperthyroidism, immediate postoperative neoplastic processes and organic pathology 7).

The pioneers of thalassotherapy treatment were the French in the middle of the last century and, thanks to the results obtained and published on the well-being and quality of life obtained by those who used them, spread rapidly throughout the world 8). Historically, the Chinese, Egyptians, and Romans already knew some of their properties, having produced several panaceas from algae 9). Many treatments receive the label of thalassotherapy, but not all deserve to own it. Due to its recent success, the term thalassotherapy was usurped to denominate so-called “spa” treatments. It may be necessary to limit its use to treatments with seawater, sand, and other marine products, such as macroalgae 10).

The term thalassotherapy shall be used only if the following definitions and prerequisites are met and the following measures are offered or taken 11):

  1. Thalassotherapy is an integrated plan for therapy, prevention, and health promotion. The plan shall be implemented for defined indications under medical care and with the participation of qualified expert staff.
  2. Therapeutic location immediately by the sea. Thalassotherapy shall be carried out in places where the maritime climate has an immediate effect.
  3. Sea water. The sea shall be used for bathing in natural waters. Suitable sea water that is drawn locally shall be used for inhaling and/or bathing, e.g. in a bathtub or a swimming pool.
  4. Marine products. It is possible to use mud or algae etc. for different applications.
  5. Low-allergen and clean sea air. The quality of the air must warrant that extended stays in the open air will represent a relieving factor.
  6. Heliotherapy. Natural solar radiation shall primarily be used for heliotherapy. In adverse weather conditions artificial UV irradiation may supplement heliotherapy.
  7. Exposure to the sea climate and motion therapy. Exposure to the sea climate and motion therapy shall be carried out in fixed regimens in the zone close to the shoreline.
  8. Associated health-promoting measures. Associated health measures, emphasizing relaxation, change of nutrition, and physical exercise shall be carried out to improve overall physical fitness.

Thalassotherapy covers a wide spectrum, ranging from the medical treatment of chronic illnesses, such as respiratory or skin diseases, to prophylaxis in healthy individuals 12). Thalassotherapy is also a component of wellness programs. Indication in these cases consists in toning-up and improving physical fitness 13).

Thalassotherapy, originally from Ireland, consisted of a bath of seaweed prepared with warm fresh water, seawater and fresh seaweed, mainly Fucus serratus (Phaeophyceae). Fucales, such as Fucus serratus and Fucus vesiculosus contain a wide variety of beneficial components, including fatty acids, antioxidants, iodine, among others 14).

Thalassotherapy benefits

The effectiveness of thalassotherapy treatment is not widely accepted as it has not been proven scientifically. According to some authors 15), thalassotherapy applications are useful for relaxation, improving sleep quality, providing physical fitness, cleansing the skin, moisturizing and coloring, reducing cellulites, improving the immune system, circulatory system disorders, post-traumatic disorders and chronic inflammation. Thalassotherapy is used as a relaxing and entertaining recreational activity, especially for people who need therapy help. In addition to the effects of thalassotherapy applications on the physiological health of individuals, it also has positive effects on mental health. Increasing the mental well-being of individuals also helps in physiological recovery 16). The reality is that the components of the sea (be they minerals or organic ones) have always been part of our lives. Water and, in particular, seawater are considered essential to the maintenance of life on our planet, since it contains all substances or elements necessary and conducive to the development of the living being (minerals, catalysts, vitamins, amino acids, etc.). In therapeutic terms, seawater has a recognized action in the treatment of diseases that afflict skin tissues, whether cutaneous (skin) and/or mucous membranes 17).

Due to thalassotherapy’s composition (salt and iodine) seawater was one of the first therapies used by man for both aesthetic purposes and a source of well-being. The algae, with great pharmacological and cosmetic potential, are rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals indispensable to your skin 18). Moreover, in addition to the benefits they bring to the skin, when ingested, algae are effective in lowering cholesterol and help prevent hypertension. Sea water in addition to calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), zinc (Zn), and copper (Cu) is also revitalizing, anti-infective, anti-stress, analgesic, good for bad mood, depression, etc 19). The salt is also a natural exfoliant and favors cellular rejuvenation. Sea water contains minerals like iodine, which stimulates the thyroid, a gland that regulates metabolism. The need to adapt to temperature changes serves to increase the rate of metabolism and has a very positive effect on blood circulation 20).

Some other benefits associated with thalassotherapy are 21), 22):

  • Increased skin permeability;
  • Their ionic characteristics, when interacting with the skin, facilitate the penetration of the cosmetic compounds during or after the immediate to these treatments;
  • Regulates the organic functions through the neuro-endocrine system, as enzymatic cofactor;
  • Relaxes tight muscles, giving a rested appearance to the skin;
  • Tends to normalize seborrheic secretion;
  • Reduces hyperhidrosis (excessive perspiration, including feet);
  • Promotes organic remineralization at the cutaneous tissue level; and
  • Activates the cutaneous metabolism and locally stimulates the blood circulation, indirectly promoting the oxygenation and nutrition of these tissues.

Thalassotherapy contraindications

Contraindication to thalassotherapy include febrile or immunodeficiency states, decompensated heart disease, severe hypertension, hyperthyroidism, immediate postoperative neoplastic processes and organic pathology 23).

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