Dry Brushing the Skin

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

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 it).

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 day spas, 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.

dry brushing health benefits
Verywell / JR Bee

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 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. The 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).

Possible 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. 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.

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, 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

It's important to keep your dry brush clean to reduce the risk of infection. Don't share your brush with others, and keep your brush sanitary by following the cleaning instructions provided by the manufacturer. If none were included, you can wash the bristles with gentle soap, rinse well, and set the brush out to dry. (And don't let your brush sit in wet or damp conditions—always ensure it has a chance to dry out after use.) Another option is to dampen a cloth with rubbing alcohol and rub it over the bristles, or simply pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol over the bristles and let dry.

How to Dry Brush Your Skin

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 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 (for women) or nipples (for everybody).
  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.

A Word From Verywell

Dry brushing can be a relaxing yet stimulating indulgence that leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth. While it may be tempting to brush your skin roughly if you, for example, have some extra-dry patches, more pressure won't lead to better results.

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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
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. Cleveland Clinic. The truth about dry brushing and what it does for you. January 26, 2015.

  2. Williams A. Manual lymphatic drainage: exploring the history and evidence baseBritish Journal of Community Nursing. 2010;15(Sup3). doi:10.12968/bjcn.2010.15.sup3.47365

  3. Sinclair M. The use of abdominal massage to treat chronic constipation. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2011;15(4):436-445. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2010.07.007

Additional Reading