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In search of the latest wellness secret? Just add water

One of the world's most precious commodities is also the beauty and wellness industries' new It ingredient. Caitlin Agnew dives into our growing thirst for anything H20

Ask any supermodel to share her beauty secrets and you're bound to receive a response about water. Staying hydrated is a top priority not just for Linda, Naomi, Christy, Cindy and Claudia, but also A-listers Beyoncé, Oprah and Madonna. One of the world's most precious commodities is a standard in celebrity self-care that's trickling down to the masses, as water becomes the first element in holistic wellness.

Luckily, Canadians – for the most part – have ample access to fresh water. (The country's average annual water yield is so large that there is enough water to approximate a one-minute flow over Niagara Falls for each citizen.) But many have been moved to explore options beyond the tap. The controversial raw-water movement is gaining momentum in Northern California, as thirsty naturalists source untreated spring water, which can contain disease-causing microbes, or purchase it by the gallon from companies such as Oregon's Live Water. Meanwhile, SodaStream recently sold its millionth device in Canada and estimates that, on average, Canadians are drinking 515 glasses of their carbonated water a minute. And for those who are feeling extra dehydrated, IV hydration clinics are popping up across the country, injecting clients with a boost of vitamins, minerals and hydration.

"Beauty starts from within so hydration is very important," says Laura Townsend, marketing director at the Detox Market Canada, a beauty and wellness store with three locations in Toronto. Townsend says it's not necessarily H2O itself that's having a moment, but the idea of hydration as a signifier of health. "With the natural-beauty movement, people are spending $50 on a super chic water bottle, they're sweating at SoulCycle, they're eating plant-based foods that are full of water, they're spritzing with hydrating mists. It's not even water itself – it's the concept of water, and the idea of having hydrated, plump, supple skin."

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It's crystal clear that not all waters are created equally, a message the beauty industry is hammering home with new aquatic offerings that incorporate different types of water, promising everything from increased hydration to reduced fine lines. Take micellar water, a buzzy ingredient making a splash in evening cleansing routines. "It's a special preparation that a lot of pharmaceutical, cosmeceutical industries prepare to help us to clean the skin," says Quebec City-based dermatologist Dr. Joël Claveau. These formulas are made with micelles, tiny oil molecules that are then suspended in water. "It's similar chemically to a soap but milder. They use surfactants and some small particles to grab the dust and the different products we have on the skin, and help to remove dirt, dust, sebum and cosmetics." Once a French pharmacy exclusive smuggled back from trips to Paris, Bioderma's Solution Micellaire is a cult product now widely available in Canada.

Meanwhile, as temples of skincare, spas couldn't exist without water. Steam treatments during facials along with access to amenities such as mineral or herbal baths, saunas and eucalyptus steam rooms are often the primary reasons to book an appointment. But beyond traditional baths, some spas, like the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, are making water the focal point of the experience. The spa has added a motion-detected rain tunnel, fed by the resort's signature geo-thermal water, that showers guests with one of five invigorating effects (like an overhead mist or a waterfall over the shoulders) as they pass through.

To reap the spa-like benefits of water at home, all you need is a spare 30 minutes and a tub. Brands like Dr. Teal's, Herbivore and KaiaNaturals all offer powders and potions to create relaxing soaks with ingredients such as magnesium, aromatherapy oils and coconut milk. Facial steams, with a mix of herbs and flowers in boiling water, have found fans in the likes of model Jourdan Dunn and became the subject of controversy when Gwyneth Paltrow suggested applying these vapours to more intimate areas. For a skin refresh of a real garden variety, look no further than your backyard. The Celtic tradition of dew bathing involves washing your face with the condensation that appears on the morning of May 1, and promises a flawless complexion for the duration of the following year.

Even workouts are taking the plunge. Founded in early 2017, the L.A.-based boutique fitness start-up SwimTeam is positioning itself to become the Barry's Bootcamp of aquatics. At a pool in Santa Monica, an instructor on deck guides participants through a workout using special water resistant headphones. (Sound bypasses the eardrums, and swimmers instead hear through vibrations in their bones and inner ears.) The 45-minute extreme aquafit sessions involve laps broken up by exercises, before concluding with a few minutes floating in "swimvasana," a version of yoga's famously relaxing corpse pose.

For SwimTeam co-founder Sheera Goren, these types of pool workouts offer an entry point to water lovers who prefer a dog paddle over a butterfly stroke. "For a lot of people, there's an inability to engage with swimming in a fun way because it's so technical," she says. "It's a whole world that's really hard if you don't come from a swimming background." Beyond the activity's undeniable health benefits – a full-body workout, boosted energy levels, lowered risk of heart disease – a major appeal of hopping into a pool is the opportunity to really disconnect from modern obligations, physically, mentally and digitally. "It's still one of the few places where you can't respond to the phone. For now, it is definitely a forced check out," Goren says.

Checking out is the raison d'être at Toronto's Float, a therapy centre where clients rest in sensory deprivation tanks containing 10 inches of water and 900 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts. A self-described water nerd, co-founder Jesse Ratner-Decle says that the feeling of floating is reminiscent of being in the womb. "We're water beings. We're made up of a huge percentage of water and there's this innate calming feeling you get just being submerged in water, especially when you lie on your back," he says, explaining that this fully supported position allows joints, muscles and mind to completely let go.

Whatever your woes, the solution is simple: just add water.

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Soothe, soak and scrub your way to wellness with these natural ingredients


While avoiding excess salt may be good for our diets, soaking in it, scrubbing with it or simply inhaling its particles in a Himalayan salt cave is said to be good for the skin and respiration.

Try: Goop "The Martini" Emotional Detox Bath Soak, US$35 through


Although they thrive in darkness, shrooms are having a moment in the wellness spotlight, added to skincare for their anti-inflammatory properties or taken orally as an elixir to relax, energize or even enhance cognitive abilities.

Try: Four Sigmatic Reishi Mushroom Elixir Mix, $50 through

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Palo Santo

This South American wood is a staple in yoga studios, burnt as incense for its energy-purifying aroma. In oil form, it's prized for its soothing, grounding properties.

Try: Vapour Organic Beauty AER Next Level Deodorant in Palo Santo Blood Orange, $30 through


Botanical extracts are a mainstay in modern skincare, and herbs and flowers are now being used whole, adding their skin-repairing aromas to Instagram-worthy at-home facial steams.

Try: Gold Apothecary Herbal Steam Facial, $20 through


These mystical gemstones have long been incorporated in spa treatments to soothe and uplift with their high vibrations.

Applied to skin, they can decongest and tone.

Try: Herbivore Rose Quartz Face Roller, $58 through

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