If you’re like me, you barely have time to pop on a detoxifying face mask once a week, much less head to the spa for a full-body detox session. That’s why I was so excited to hear about the practice of dry brushing, a process of brushing your skin with a natural-bristle brush that’s supposed to promote energy, reduce cellulite, and drain toxins from your skin. Best of all, dry brushing is easy to do at home: no spa required. Naturally, I was a little skeptical that simply dry brushing my skin in a certain pattern would actually work, so I before I invested in a dry brush, I consulted the experts to find out whether dry brushing is a skincare miracle solution or simply too good to be true.
Bye, bye cellulite? Not so fast.
Dry brushing is actually a centuries-old practice dating back to the days of Hippocrates. As the name implies, the practice involves brushing your dry skin with a coarse, short-bristled brush. So why do it? “[Dry brushing] works by stimulating the sebaceous glands, thereby encouraging natural lubrication of your skin; removing the top layer of dead cells, leading to significant exfoliation and skin that’s polished and silky; improving circulation and increasing blood flow to the surface of the body,” says Stephanie Tourles, a licensed esthetician, herbalist, and author of Organic Body Care Recipes. Because dry brushing increases circulation and blood flow to the skin’s surface, it’s also touted as a cure for cellulite. I’ll be totally honest, getting rid of my lumps and bumps is one of the main reasons I personally started dry brushing. But, like most things that sound too good to be true, Tania Elliott, MD, a leading New York allergist and Chief Medical Officer at EHE, Inc., says, “There is no evidence though, to support that dry brushing can reduce cellulite.” However, many people still swear that dry brushing does improve their cellulite. “I’ve noticed improved tone in the jiggle-prone parts of my body” says Tourles referring to those trouble spots so many of us face: the upper arms and inner thighs. In reality, dry brushing does increase short-term circulation. Increased blood flow actually puffs up skin, which can reduce the appearance of cellulite—temporarily—which is why I’m guilty of sneaking in a dry brushing session if I know I’m going to be seen in my swimsuit or if my spouse and I have scheduled some grown-up time. Hey, sometimes a girl needs all the help she can get! And even if dry brushing doesn’t banish stubborn cellulite, you’ll notice immediate results in the smoothness of your skin after just a day or two of dry brushing, thanks to its exfoliating effects. But since there’s really only anecdotal proof that this practice helps reduce the long-term appearance of cellulite, you may have to wait several weeks to see if you notice a reduction in those dimples on the back of your thighs.
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
Well, not exactly toxic, more like your skin has toxins. “Over the course of an average day, your skin eliminates more than a pound of waste, including perspiration,” says Tourles. “If your skin is not carrying out normal elimination due to basic neglect of hygiene, illness, dry skin buildup, medication side effects, repeated application of mineral oil-based, pore-clogging body lotions or waterproof chemical-based sunscreens, or nutritional deficiencies, then your kidneys, large intestine, liver, and lungs may be operating on a subpar level.” Dry brushing has recently gotten major buzz as an easy way to detox your skin because it promotes lymphatic drainage, which is supposed to help remove toxins. According to an article published in the Journal of Circulation Research, the lymphatic system “plays an integral role in the regulation of tissue fluid homeostasis, immune cell trafficking, and absorption of dietary fats” and it works in tandem with the circulatory system to regularly flush toxins from the body. Similar to the way that dry brushing temporarily energizes circulation, it also aids the lymphatic system by stimulating lymph glands just under the skin. Your lymphatic system carries internal waste to different “dumping sites” in your body, according to the Circuelle Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on long-term breast health. While the heart helps blood pump throughout the body, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a built-in pump. Dry brushing, like massage, essentially acts as the lymphatic system’s pump, pushing toxins out of the body and carrying beneficial white blood cells throughout the lymphatic system. “The lymph is very delicate,” says Marie Starling, doctor of chiropractic, a chiropractic internist and functional medicine specialist at the Healing Center in Denver. “Too much pressure will restrict the flow within the lymph vessels. When the lymph is stimulated in this way, it is transported to the lymph nodes where it is filtered. The tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus are all part of this system that helps the body detoxify and fight infection.” In addition to boosting your body’s ability to fight infection on its own, Starling says that dry brushing can also help decrease water retention, which you may see on the scale as a decrease in water weight and bloating.
Really, all you have to do is brush your skin.
Dry brushing really is that simple. You can dry brush your skin any way you like, but to get the most out of dry brushing, Starling recommends following these steps to promote lymphatic drainage and circulation:
- Start with the bottom of the feet and work your way up to the knee with brisk, upward strokes. Do one side and then the other.
- Then, from the knee, stroke upward in small strokes moving toward the abdomen. Do one side and then the other.
- At the abdomen, brush in small, upward circles.
- Then move to the arms, starting with the palms and using short strokes that move in toward the torso on both the tops and undersides of the arms, finishing at the armpit. Do one arm and then the other.
- Gently brush the chest area using circular motions.
- Continue with small strokes up the neck toward the face.
- Use a brush with a handle to brush the back in short, upward strokes.
Starling suggests that women avoid dry brushing their breasts, whereas Circuelle suggests dry brushing benefits breast health and hosts a diagram that shows that drainage associated with a dry-brushing ritual occurs in the breasts and other parts of the body. “The ideal cadence is no more than two to three times per week—regular use can damage the skin barrier and lead to irritation,” says Elliott. “Remember, the skin is the largest organ in the body and it is the first barrier of our immune system. Over-irritation and skin breakdown can lead to infection risk.” If you have concerns about the safety of dry brushing for your skin or breast health, it’s best to chat with your doctor. Dry brushing in the bathroom? Watch out for water! Elliott says that if your brush gets wet, it can become a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria, so it’s important to clean your brush regularly. To do so, simply wash and rinse with warm soapy water once a week. “It will take your skin a while to get used to being brushed,” says Tourles, who recommends using a medium-soft, natural-fiber brush about the size of your palm for dry brushing. “Never scrub though,” says Tourles. “Your body is not the tub!” Your skin should be rosy pink, but never red, irritated, or itchy after dry brushing. “You’ll feel wonderfully invigorated when you’re finished, and your skin will glow,” says Tourles. “If you’re just beginning, your skin may be a bit red immediately afterward, but as it adjusts and becomes more acclimated to the treatment, only a pinkish tinge (depending on your pigmentation) will remain for about five minutes until circulation calms. If your skin remains red or pink for a longer period, or feels irritated, then either the brush bristles are too firm or you’re brushing way too hard.” For people with sensitive skin, Sejal Shah, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor, says “I generally recommend starting once a week and increasing slowly (up to daily) as your skin tolerates. I do suggest starting with a washcloth and working gradually up to something stiffer once you get to the desired effect.” Always brush clean, dry skin before hopping in the shower, so that you can rinse off all the dead skin cells you just sloughed off. After your shower, use a rich moisturizing lotion or body oil to help keep skin soft, especially if you have sensitive skin. After I shower, my go-to moisturizer is still Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Oil, which I rub on while I’m still wet, just before I towel dry. It smells delicious and keeps my skin literally baby soft all day long. Though most dermatologists recommend dry brushing a few times a week, if your skin tolerates brushing, you can do it daily, ideally in the morning as an energizing part of your routine, says Tourles. “It doesn’t take me thirty minutes to wake up in the morning, like it used to! For me, dry brushing is equivalent to a shot of espresso,” says Tourles. However, there’s nothing wrong with dry brushing before bedtime if that’s when you normally shower. So, what’s the bottom line? Maybe dry brushing isn’t quite the skincare miracle some fans make it out to be, but it isn’t completely bogus, either. I like dry brushing because it’s a quick and easy way to exfoliate my skin and temporarily hide my cellulite for a day at the beach. Coupled with my ten-minute morning yoga flow, dry brushing really does give me a boost of energy. But if you’re looking for a quick way to detox, most doctors say there is no substitute for taking better care of your whole body. To boost your immune system and stay healthy, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, get regular exercise, limit alcohol, sugary treats, and saturated fats, and consider adding dry brushing to your skincare routine. Want to see for yourself if dry brushing lives up to the hype? Here are some of our favorite products for your dry brushing routine:
This natural-bristle brush features a long handle for hard-to-reach places as well as a small elastic band to slip around your hand for close brushing. The bristles are firm, but can be gentle enough to use on sensitive skin.
This set includes two boar-bristle brushes (one for each hand!) and a cute bag to store your dry brushes. Plus, by purchasing this set, you’re supporting a small, woman-owned business in addition to getting great skin. Win-win!
This synthetic brush by EcoTools is the perfect cruelty-free dry brush for vegans or anyone concerned about animal welfare. At a price point under $10, it’s also one of the most affordable dry brushes out there. While the lack of a handle will make it harder to reach your back, the circular shape makes it easy to swirl on your skin to promote lymphatic drainage.
Okay, so this product is technically for babies, but it’s also the perfect alternative to a stiff brush if you have sensitive skin. The set comes with two brushes, so you can have one and baby can, too! Plus, it features a suction cup on the back, so your brush can hang out in one convenient place.
This Aveda dry brush is specially made for the sensitive skin on your face. It features medium-firm nylon bristles, so your face won’t get irritated. Just as dry brushing can temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite, it can also temporarily reduce the appearance of fine lines on the face.
This natural-bristle dry brush scores extra points for its long detachable handle. It also comes with a convenient travel pouch and hook, so you can easily reach your dry brush during your morning routine.