Dry Brushing the Skin: What You Need to Know

A Popular Method of Gently Exfoliating the Skin

Dry brushing the skin is a comparatively new trend, though its roots lie in ancient times. It’s common in Ayurvedic medicine but many cultures, including the ancient Greeks and Japanese, have used skin brushing to cleanse and beautify the skin. It’s done at day spas but you can do it yourself at home, too.

It’s called “dry” brushing because you aren’t scrubbing up while you bathe or shower; instead, a firm, bristled brush is swept across the skin, from toe to head. Both the skin and brush are completely dry, apart from perhaps a dab of body oil.

This article explains dry brushing practices and practical matters, while also reviewing a few myths about dry brushing. It also explains who should not do dry brushing, due to skin or other health conditions.

dry brushing health benefits
Verywell / JR Bee

Dry Brushing Benefits

Dry brushing hasn’t been formally studied and there are no research results on dry brushing and the effects it has on the skin or body systems. But experts agree that dry brushing does have benefits. Here’s what is known about this practice.

It’s Exfoliating

Dry brushing exfoliates the skin via physical exfoliation, just like body scrub products do. The bristles of the brush manually sweep away dull, rough, flaky skin cells. After a dry brushing session, your skin will feel softer and smoother.

It Increases Circulation

The brisk brushing stimulates circulation. This leaves skin looking more radiant, albeit temporarily.

It’s Invigorating and Energizing

Maybe it’s the increased circulation, or maybe it’s simply the few extra minutes indulging in a self-care ritual, but most people feel invigorated and energized after a dry brush session. And there’s no denying dry brushing just feels good on the skin (if it doesn’t, you’re probably brushing too hard).

Dry Brushing Drawbacks

In most cases, dry brushing is a very safe thing to do. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind to protect your skin.

It Can Irritate the Skin

The most common side effect of dry brushing is irritated skin. This is more likely to happen if you brush too hard, brush too often, or if your skin is especially sensitive.

While your skin may be a bit pink after a session, you most definitely don’t want to see redness or abrasions on the skin. Your skin shouldn’t burn or sting afterward, either. Dry brushing should feel good; if it doesn’t, you’re being too aggressive.

It Can Dry Out Your Skin

Dry brushing can leave your skin feeling dry. It’s important to use some type of moisturizing product after your dry brush session to prevent this.

It’s Not Right for Everyone

Never dry brush over eczema, psoriasis, rashes, wounds, sunburn, or irritations like chafing. If you have very sensitive skin, you may want to skip dry brushing altogether.

This may be especially true for facial skin. Some dry brushing enthusiasts say it’s great for skin pores and safe for the face, but not necessarily for all skin types.

If your skin seems to be getting irritated by your newfound dry brush routine, scale back the frequency or stop dry brushing altogether.

Dry Brushing Myths

Again, there is little to no research done on dry brushing and the skin. What is known about dry brushing comes from piecing together information about how the skin and body systems work.

There is no evidence that dry brushing has any of the following benefits.

Myth: It Stimulates the Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system. Its job is to drain fluid and carry a clear fluid called lymph throughout your body via a network of vessels. Some claim that dry brushing can stimulate sluggish lymph.

While it’s possible it may promote some lymph flow, there are no studies to prove this. Although things like manual lymphatic drainage massage have benefits, brushing isn’t likely to have the same effect.

Myth: It Detoxifies the Body

“Eliminate toxins” has become a buzz phrase. Juicing, hot yoga, and yes, dry brushing, all supposedly detoxify your body.

The skin may be the largest organ of your body, but it’s not the largest detoxifying organ. That distinction belongs to your liver, with the kidneys being runners-up.

Unfortunately, you can’t brush toxins out of the body.

Myth: It Aids Digestion

The skin isn’t tied to your digestive system, so any brushing of the skin isn’t going to aid in digestion.

Gentle massaging of the stomach may help with mild constipation, so brushing your tummy could, in theory, help alleviate the problem. But in general, there are better ways to improve your digestion.

Myth: It Eliminates Cellulite

Increased circulation from dry brushing does plump the skin, potentially making cellulite look less obvious. But this is just a temporary fix; cellulite is not gone forever.

As far as balancing or redistributing fat anywhere else on the body, there is no evidence that dry brushing can do this.

Choosing the Right Brush

The nice thing about dry brushing is you don’t need much to get started—just a brush. And since dry brushing has become fairly popular, brushes are easily found. Try your local health food or beauty supply store, or search online. Brushes are sometimes sold at big box stores in the skincare aisle too.

Most dry brush experts recommend a natural bristle brush. These are made from plant sources like jute, sisal, and even cactus fibers.

A brush with a long handle makes it easier to reach those awkward areas like the back, behind the shoulders, and the backs of the legs. A smaller brush that fits in the palm of your hand is less unwieldy to use. Some brushes offer the best of both worlds with a removable handle. Check out a few styles to see what appeals to you.

Don’t be tempted to buy a brush with super stiff, hard bristles. Firmer bristles don’t mean better dry brushing. If it feels like you’re running a wire grill cleaner across your skin, get a different brush. Your brush should never leave red marks, abrade the skin, or feel uncomfortable.

The brush you use for your body won’t work for the face. Instead, you’ll need a smaller brush with much softer bristles. If even soft-bristled brushes are too abrasive for your face, consider using a soft washcloth instead.

How to Clean Your Dry Brush

Keeping your dry brush clean reduces the risk of infection. Don’t share your brush with others, and follow the cleaning instructions provided by the manufacturer. If unavailable, you can simply wash the bristles with gentle soap, rinse well, and set the brush out to dry. Or, dampen a cloth with rubbing alcohol and rub it over the bristles, or simply pour a small amount over them. Don’t let your brush sit in wet or damp conditions—always ensure it has a chance to dry out after use.

How to Dry Brush Your Skin

The dry brushing process isn’t complicated, so don’t stress about how to dry brush correctly. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll develop a technique that works for you.

Some proponents suggest doing your dry brushing in the morning, rather than before bed, because of its stimulating and energizing qualities. Do whatever is convenient for you.

Follow these steps, remembering to use light, smooth strokes throughout:

  1. To begin, strip down to bare skin. Some recommend standing in an empty bathtub or shower, but anywhere you’re comfortable and won’t slip is fine.
  2. Starting at the feet, brush upward toward the body. Dry brush the entirety of each leg, working up to the upper thighs.
  3. Continue with the buttocks and back (provided you can reach; if not, it’s OK to skip these areas).
  4. Move on to the arms, starting with the backs of the hands and working upward to the shoulders.
  5. The stomach and chest are more sensitive than the arms and legs, so lighten your touch even more here. You can continue with upward strokes or try circular ones, depending on what is more comfortable to you. Don’t brush over breasts or nipples.
  6. If you’d like to also brush your face and neck, switch to your smaller, softer brush. Brush upward on the neck, then gently across the face from chin to forehead.
  7. After your dry brushing session, shower or bathe. Then apply lotion, body balm, or body oil.

Tips for Dry Brushing

  • The whole process should take you no more than five minutes, so don’t feel you have to linger.
  • When dry brushing the body, work upward or toward the heart.
  • Don’t pass over the same area with your brush more than twice. Doing so can cause irritation.
  • There’s no recommended frequency for dry brushing. Do what works for you, whether that’s daily (if your skin can tolerate it), twice weekly, or just whenever you feel like it.

Dry brushing can be a relaxing yet stimulating indulgence that leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth. Be realistic about the results you’re expecting and listen to your skin. And if you have any persisting skin issues, be sure to see a dermatologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does dry brushing skin have any side effects?

    Brushing too often or with too much pressure can cause your skin to become irritated, so you should always be careful how hard you apply the brush. It may not be a good idea for those with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or rashes.

  • How often should you dry brush skin?

    Since there aren’t any formal studies on dry brushing skin, there’s no recommendation on how often you dry brush. As long as it’s not irritating your skin, you can brush as much as you feel is helpful.

  • Do I dry brush my skin before or after a shower?

    Brushing before a shower is best. The bristles of a dry brush can exfoliate your skin, and showering afterward should help wash away any dead, flaky skin cells.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Baylor College of Medicine. Fight dry skin this winter.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.