Dry Brushing the Skin

Benefits, myths, and how to dry brush the skin

Dry brushing the skin really is as simple as it sounds—a firm, bristled brush is swept across the skin, from toe to head. It's called "dry" brushing because you aren't scrubbing up while you bathe or shower. Instead, both your skin and the brush are completely dry (although some people apply a dab of body oil to the brush before using).

While dry brushing is a relatively new trend today, it actually has its roots 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.

Dry brushing is sometimes done as part of a body treatment package at the day spa, but it's also a very simple DIY treatment you can indulge in at home. All you need is a body brush, which is relatively inexpensive, and a few minutes.

Benefits of Dry Brushing

There haven't been formal studies done on dry brushing and the effects it has on the skin or body systems. But experts agree that dry brushing does have its benefits. Here's what we know.

It's Exfoliating

Dry brushing exfoliates the skin much like the more commonly used body scrubs do, via physical exfoliation. 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. The leaves skin looking more radiant, albeit temporarily.

It's Invigorating and Energizing

Maybe it's the increased circulation, 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, but more on that later).

Exfoliation Tips to Help Acne-Prone Skin

Dry Brushing Myths

Again, there is little to no research done on dry brushing and the skin. What we do know about dry brushing from piecing together what we know about how the skin and body systems work.

As a rule, there is no evidence that dry brushing does any of the following:

Stimulate 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. There are no studies to prove this, and while it's possible it's not probable. Although things like manual lymphatic drainage massage have benefits, brushing isn't likely to have the same effect.

Eliminate Toxins or Detoxify the Body

"Eliminates toxins" has become a buzz phrase of late. 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 of the body. That distinction belongs to your liver, with the kidneys being runners-up. Unfortunately, you can't brush toxins out of the body.

Aid 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.

Improve Cellulite or Balance Fat Deposits

Increased circulation plumps the skin, making cellulite look less obvious. It's just a temporary fix, though; dry brushing isn't really reducing cellulite permanently. But if cellulite looks better to you after a dry brushing session, that's awesome. As far as balancing or redistributing fat, dry brushing can't do it.

Possible Drawbacks

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

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 dryness.

It's Not Right for Everyone

Never dry brush over eczema, psoriasis, rashes, wounds, sunburn, or irritations. If you have very sensitive skin, you may want to skip dry brushing altogether. In any case, if your skin seems to be getting irritated by your newfound dry brush routine, scale back the frequency or stop dry brushing altogether.

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 skin care aisle too.

Most dry brush experts recommend a natural bristle brush. These are made from plant sources like jute, sisal, 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 a 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 or abrade the skin, but should feel good.

For the face, take extra care in choosing a brush. The brush you're using 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 cloth instead.

Keep your brush sanitary by cleaning it occasionally. Follow the cleaning instructions that came with your brush. Otherwise, you can wash the bristles with a gentle soap, rinse well, and set out to dry. Another option is to dampen a cloth with rubbing alcohol and rub over the bristles to clean.

How To Dry Brush Your Skin

You've got your brush and you're ready to start! The dry brushing process isn't complicated, so don't be too worried about getting doing it "right." 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 quality. But really you can dry brush whenever is convenient for you.

  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. Starting at the feet, brush upward toward the body with light, smooth strokes. Dry brush the entirety of each leg, working up to the upper thighs.
  2. Continue with the buttocks and back (provided you can reach; if not, no worries. It's OK to skip it).
  3. Move on to the arms, starting at the backs of the hands and work upwards to the shoulders, again using light, smooth strokes.
  4. The stomach and chest are more sensitive than the arms and legs, so lighten your touch a bit here. You can continue with upward strokes here, or circular ones, depending on which is more comfortable to you. Don't brush over breasts (for women) or nipples (for everybody).
  5. If you'd like to also brush your face and neck, switch to a smaller, softer brush. Brush lightly upward on the neck, then gently across the face from chin to forehead.
  6. After your dry brushing session, shower or bathe, then finish with an application of lotion, body balm, or body oil.

    Tips for Dry Brushing

    • The whole process doesn't take up much time, five minutes max, so don't feel you have to linger.
    • When dry brushing the body, work upward or toward the heart.
    • There's no recommended number of dry brush sessions. Do what works for you, whether that's daily (if your skin can tolerate it), twice weekly, or occasionally when the fancy strikes.
    • Don't go over the same area for more than just a couple of strokes. Otherwise, you can cause irritations.

    A Word From Verywell

    Dry brushing can be a relaxing yet stimulating indulgence to leave your skin feeling soft and smooth. They key to remember through all dry brushing sessions is to treat your skin gently. Rough brushing won't gain you better results. Be realistic about the results you're expecting (dry brushing is lovely after all, but it's not a cure-all) and listen to your skin, and dry brushing can be a simple luxury to add to your self-care routine.

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    Article Sources
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    • Choi I, Lee S, Hong YK. The New Era of the Lymphatic System: No Longer Secondary to the Blood Vascular System. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine. 2012 Apr; 2(4): a006445. DOI: 10.1101/cshperspect.a006445.

    • de Godoy JMP, de Godoy ACP, Godoy MFG. Considering the Hypothesis of the Pathophysiology of Cellulite in its Treatment. Dermatology Reports. 2017 Oct 16;9(2):7352. DOI: 10.4081/dr.2017.7352.