Off the Coast of Portugal, the Azores Are a Wellspring for Prized Beauty Ingredients

A verdant haven flourishing with botanicals and natural hot springs for outdoors adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and wellness-seekers alike—and one that’s still relatively under-the-radar—is a rare find these days. That’s the beauty and the allure of the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands situated off the western coast of Portugal.

To fully grasp the untouched, majestic beauty of these islands requires a visit, especially as the Azores aren’t a destination you often see splashed all over Instagram. Until recently, travel from the U.S. hasn’t always been so streamlined, with layovers typically required in Lisbon or other nearby European hubs. But from now through late September, United Airlines is offering direct flights from Newark to Ponte Delgada on the Azores’ largest island of San Miguel, bringing travel time down to less than six hours.

Between the 26 active volcanoes and the abundance of thermal springs lavishing the fern-covered Azorean landscape, these nine islands compose a unique biosystem where the fertile, mineral-rich soil and wealth of water sources give way to a spectacular array of backdrops: untouched rainforests, black volcanic beaches, peatlands, tea plantations, and vineyards. A drive along the coast of San Miguel, for example, offers vistas shifting from mountainous foothills, to beaches, to terraced vineyards in a matter of minutes. And since the nearest source of industrial pollution is located more than 850 miles away on Portugal’s mainland, the air is crisp, clear, and fragrant.

Given the sheer volume of thermal springs—the Azores boast Europe’s highest concentration—it’s practically impossible to visit the islands without getting in hot water. And for every one hot spring, the benefits are tenfold: better sleep, increased blood circulation and boosted metabolism, for example. A 2014 study suggested that hot mineral water exposure can facilitate pain relief by blocking pain receptors in the body, while a 2012 study in Japan showed that hot springs reduced high blood pressure in patients with chronic heart failure. And according to a medical study in 2015, thermal waters that are particularly iron-rich have even been known to alleviate symptoms of anemia through transdermal absorption.

Jessica Richards, who founded and owns Shen, Brooklyn’s preeminent mecca for clean beauty and skincare, recently visited the island of San Miguel, where she indulged in a midnight thermal sound bath under the stars.