What dry brushing can do – and what it can’t

Whether you’ve been dry brushing for years or just stumbled upon a dry brushing video on TikTok, you might want to exfoliate and detoxify your body with just one brush stroke. Users report that it can also boost digestion, stimulate lymphatic drainage, and improve skin texture. But what exactly does dry brushing do – and which claims are too good to be true?

Dry brushing is a method of skin exfoliation that originated in Ayurvedic medicine, says Dr. Melanie Palm, MD, MBA, board-certified dermatologist. “It involves brushing a drybrush with natural bristles over the body in a specific pattern,” she told Bustle. To try dry brushing, you’ll need a brush with bristles that are stiff enough to be slightly rough when pressed, but not so stiff that they scratch or cause pain, says Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, MD, dual board- board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder and principal facial plastic surgeon of the DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa.

The idea is to brush with an upward motion starting with your feet, then moving to your legs, buttocks and back, DeRosa tells Bustle. When you get to your belly, chest, hands, and arms, you’re supposed to apply less pressure because those areas have thinner skin — and keep brushing upwards or toward your heart. Once you’re done, Derosa recommends jumping in the shower to rinse off all those dead skin cells before applying moisturizer.

While dry brushing is helpful for many people, you’ll want to skip it if you suffer from eczema, rosacea or open wounds, DeRosa says, or if you have very dry or sensitive skin. Otherwise, you can start by dry brushing once or twice a week, brushing for about five minutes at a time. As for the benefits? Here’s what dry brushing can do — as well as what it can’t — if you decide to make it part of your routine.

What dry brushing can do

Start a dry brushing routine, like the one above, and you can expect to see (and feel) quite a few benefits:

1. It exfoliates your skin

Dry brushing is a type of manual exfoliation that removes dry, flaky skin cells, DeRosa explains. Removing this buildup makes way for a new layer of skin cells, says Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, Ideal Image’s chief medical officer and co-founder of Modern Dermatology PC. Even a single dry brushing session can make your skin look and feel smoother, similar to how it would feel after using a loofah or body scrub.

2. It gives you a glow

Another skin boosting benefit? “Dry brushing can help increase circulation near the skin’s surface,” says DeRosa. The short-term benefit, she explains, is that it will make your skin look more radiant due to increased blood flow as well as manual exfoliation.

3. It helps lymphatic flow

Core brushing is said to work with the body’s natural flow of lymphatic fluid, Robinson tells Bustle. Your lymphatic system, BTW, filters pathogens, bacteria, and cellular waste out of your lymph nodes and into your bloodstream (i.e. this is a key part of your immune systems and digestive) – but he needs help getting things done. And, according to Robinson, dry brushing is one way to encourage that flow: “The lymphatic system works with the cardiovascular system in a synergistic way – encouraging feedback to the heart. [by dry brushing], we support that and avoid blockages and stagnation,” she says. Just note that there isn’t much research to prove this.

4. It wakes you up

Dry brushing is also uplifting and energizing, according to DeRosa, which is why some people like to do it first thing in the morning to start their day. Glide these hairs over your epidermis and you’re sure to wake up to the increased circulation. A brisk brush can also increase your heart rate so you feel more alert.

5. It’s meditative

Depending on how you go about it, dry brushing can also be a meditative experience. Gently dry brushing for a few minutes — before stepping into a nice, hot shower — totally counts as a self-care ritual, Palm says. And it’s one you might like to zone out.

What dry brushing can’t do

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While everyone has their own experience and there are plenty of anecdotes that support certain benefits of dry brushing, here’s what experts say the wellness practice can’t do:

1. It does not detoxify the body

Although the skin is the body’s largest organ, DeRosa notes that it’s not the primary or even secondary organ involved in the process of removing toxins from your system. These top spots go to liver and kidney, respectively. While you see claims all over TikTok that dry brushing “detoxes” you, Palm agrees that there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to back that up. To make sure your body detoxifies and flushes out impurities through the lymphatic system, Palm says you’re better off exercising or simply drinking more water.

2. It does not reduce cellulite

A reduction in cellulite or bumpy skin is another claim to fame from dry brushing, but this one doesn’t really last long. “It’s just impossible to do with dry brushing because cellulite is a combination of subcutaneous fat ‘trapped’ in sections by fibrous connective tissue,” says DeRosa. “What may have led to this myth is that the [swelling] in the skin from dry brushing can mask the underlying cellulite.

3. It does not improve digestion

While it would be so cool if you could dry brush your teeth for better digestion, there just isn’t enough evidence to show that it actually helps. “Unless you do your dry brushing similar to shiatsu [massage] by by following meridians that can help your digestion, traditional dry brushing won’t improve your digestion,” says DeRosa. “I would say that if dry brushing relaxes you – and that’s overkill – you could say that it stimulates the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nerves in your body that are involved in digestion.” But it’s best not to rely solely on dry brushing to help you.

Referenced studies:

Cuéni, LN (2007). The lymphatic system in health and disease. Lymphatic research and biology, 6(3-4), 109. https://doi.org/10.1089/lrb.2008.1008

Stephen, ID (2008). The color of blood perfusion and skin oxygenation affects perceived human health. PLOS ONE, 4(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0005083

Tindle, J. (2021). Neuroanatomy, parasympathetic nervous system. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-.

Tokarska, K. (2018). Cellulite: a cosmetic or systemic problem? Contemporary views on the etiopathogenesis of cellulitis. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology/Postȩpy Dermatologii i Alergologii, 35(5), 442-446. https://doi.org/10.5114/ada.2018.77235

Sources:

Dr. Melanie Palm, MD, MBA, board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, Chief Medical Officer of Ideal Image, Co-Founder of Modern Dermatology PC

Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, Dual Board Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon, Founder and Chief Facial Plastic Surgeon of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa

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