Does Dry Brushing Really Make Your Skin Healthier?

A dermatologist weighs in on the trendy skincare routine.

You may have seen them in your local beauty supply store: wooden brushes that look like they should be used on horses. Or you might have read about these stiff bristled tools on any one of a zillion lists of must-try natural beauty and wellness treatments. Dry brushing practitioners swear by its ability to exfoliate, reduce the appearance of cellulite, and aid in lymphatic drainage. But can brushing your skin really do all that?

This is what you need to know about dry brushing, and whether or not you can sweep your way to better skin.

(Related: How Do I Deal With Body Acne?)

What is dry brushing?

“Dry brushing has origins in Ayurvedic medicine and is considered an ancient healing practice,” says Dr. Monica Li, a Vancouver-based double board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist. “It is part of the traditions of Indian medicine going back several thousand years.”

Dry brushes typically have a wooden handle and stiff, coarse bristles made of a natural fibre. As implied by the name, both your skin and the brush should be dry for optimal results.

How do you dry brush?

Starting from the ankles and wrists, gently but firmly brush your skin in long strokes towards your heart. Then rinse off your skin in the shower and moisturize with a thick cream or skin oil.

And what about your face? “A dry brush intended for use on the body should not be used on the face as the skin on the latter is more delicate,” says Li. “It should also not be combined with other exfoliating means, like body scrubs.”

As well, Li suggests that users wash their dry brush after each use to avoid cross-contamination and microbial growth (ew). And, for the same reasons, don’t share your dry brush.

(Related: Are Facial Cleansing Brushes Really Worth It?)

Does dry brushing help our lymphatic system?

Our lymphatic system consists of fluids that circulate throughout the body and have many functions: it maintains our fluid levels, absorbs fats from the intestines and transports them into our bloodstream, and protects the body against pathogens. The lymph nodes filter out damaged cells and produce immune system cells that attack and destroy bacteria. One example of your lymphatic system at work is when the lymph nodes in your neck swell up when you’re sick.

Some dry brush enthusiasts claim that dry brushing helps drain the lymphatic fluids, which flushes toxins from your body and reduces the load on your lymphatic system. However, “there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim,” says Li.

(Related: How to Find the Right Vitamin C Serum for You)

Does dry brushing help exfoliate your skin?

While dry brushing might not help with lymphatic drainage, it does exfoliate the skin. According to Li, dry brushing is like using a physical exfoliant: “both leverage friction to loosen debris and dead skin cells on the skin surface to exfoliate the skin.” Plus, exfoliating on dry skin can increase the friction, which makes the whole routine more effective.

On top of removing debris, dry brushing can also give you a flushed, youthful glow since rubbing your skin (with anything) increases blood flow and circulation. But the effect is temporary.

One thing to be mindful of when dry brushing is to take it slow to avoid damage to the skin barrier, which will present as dryness or irritation. Li suggests dry brushing no more than once or twice a week. What’s more, dry brushing aggressively (or excessively) can lead to infection, scarring, sensitivity, dyspigmentation or a worsening of underlying skin conditions like rosacea or psoriasis. “The skin should not be red or raw afterwards,” says Li. “We’re not scrubbing clean pots and pans!”

So, should you try it?

“There is little if any evidence supporting the effects of dry brushing, and harm can be done if it’s performed inappropriately,” says Li.

But, if you do want to try dry brushing, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and have measured expectations of what dry brushing can and can’t do. And, if you do try it, do so with care.

Now that you know about dry brushing, find out if cosmetic acupuncture is actually “natural botox.” 

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