IN AN ERA OF "anti-aging" products and Retin-A, the wrinkle-reducing drug, water is still the fountain of youth, say many skin specialists. Consumers spend millions yearly on moisturizers that claim to trap it in skin cells. Some people spray their faces with water from European springs; many drink six to eight glassfuls daily--much of it bottled "designer water." Rock star Michael Jackson bathes in imported drinking water.
Water does have a temporary rejuvenating effect. When the skin is wet, it looks younger. That's because as water enters the cells, the skin plumps. But when the water evaporates, the skin becomes flaccid again. Too much evaporation can cause surface cells to dry, which may lead to wrinkles.
Some distributors claim that spritzing "accelerates cell renewal as it moisturizes." Evian distributor Dan Wilkes says the spray, which costs $9.50 for 14 ounces, "revitalizes skin, promoting healthy cell growth to keep skin young and soft."
Ilona Meszaros explains that the Kristaly Viz mineral water that she sells through her Ilona of Hungary salons is labeled a therapeutic healing water in Hungary, "but here, the FDA will not allow me to do that."
Dr. James Sternberg, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA School of Medicine, believes that sprays can be beneficial. "The best way to hydrate the skin is to trap water in it," he says, but he advises using a biphasic moisturizer--one that is partially absorbed and also coats the skin--after spritzing, to seal in moisture. He cautions that moisturizer should be used within three minutes of misting because "if water evaporates, the skin may end up drier than before." Larry Freeman, president of Los Angeles' Freeman Cosmetics, adds sea kelp, aloe vera and collagen to his Sea Mist Skin & Hair Re-Hydratante spritzer to keep it from evaporating as quickly as pure mineral water. New products, such as Guerlain's $80 Issima Aquaserum and Shiseido's $65 Day/Night Essence, are called hydrators because they help maintain a high moisture level in the skin.
Like many skin-care specialists, Meszaros encourages clients to drink large amounts of mineral water to "cleanse the body of waste and to internally moisturize the skin." But Sternberg contends that consuming water is simply part of a healthy diet, not a means of cleansing the skin. He notes that most cases of severe dry skin are caused by genetic factors.
"Water is the skin's best moisturizer," says Sternberg. Spritzing is a good way to bring it to the skin. The trick, he says, is keeping it there.
Photographed by Nicola Dill; model: Melissa Behr/Wilhelmina West; hair and makeup by Wendy Osmudson/Cloutier.