It’s the skin exfoliating technique that many aestheticians, fitness pros, and your friend at brunch can’t shut up about — one that is said to reduce cellulite, expedite lymph drainage and exfoliate skin. We’re talking about dry brushing. And with buzz like this, it’s hard not to whip out our phones, search “body brushes,” and swiftly add to cart. But if the hype around vaginal steams and jade eggs has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes, a deeper dive is in order before giving a beauty practice a go. So we talked to a spectrum of pros — including aestheticians, dermatologists, fitness experts, and body workers — to find out whether grooming our body like we do our hair can really help our skin and what lies beneath.
The claim about dry brushing that’s perhaps easiest to grasp is the idea that it can help exfoliate skin on the body. Certainly running a bristled brush along limbs will slough off some dead skin cells — and even help the actives in products applied after brushing to better absorb. But how crucial it is to exfoliate skin on the body is less clear.
“Dry brushing helps to exfoliate your skin but you skin naturally exfoliates anyway, especially when you are younger,” says Raja Sivamani, MD, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at University of California, Davis who also specialized in Ayurvedic medicine. “There is no scientific evidence of benefits specific to dry brushing. What we do know is that it can increase the rate at which you lose water through the skin and this can make your skin more prone to dryness, so if you do dry brush, it’s important to moisturize after.” Dr. Sivamani does point to one outlying perk of the practice: “Dry brushing does help you slow down and focus on your skin — and hopefully that means that people will also take the time to moisturize their skin as well.”
Rianna Loving, an aesthetician and founder of Organic to Green and Sauna Bungalow & Spa in Santa Monica, California, also notes that dry brushing may not be for everyone. “If you have sensitive skin due to hormones (like post or pre-baby, menopause, or allergen medicine) or suffer from other skin conditions, then dry brushing may do more harm than help,” she says, adding that skin should feel smooth and clear, not irritated, after regular use. Further, “dry brushing should not be done by those that are prone to eczema or skin infections,” says Dr. Sivamani.
But there may be internal benefits to brushing your skin, such as helping lymph flow, which Dr. Sivamani says, “can be important in removal of wastes.” Though our lymph system is built to operate autonomously, various factors may cause it to work more slowly.
“The problem with the lymph system it doesn’t have a regular pump within the body, so you have to move the lymph with activity, whether it’s going for a walk, doing yoga or working out another way,” says Lauren Roxburgh, a trainer and fascia and alignment expert who works with athletes and celebrities, like Gabrielle Reece and Jordana Brewster.
“If you’re sitting around too much, are stressed, or develop scar tissue in the connective tissue or fascia, your lymph system can become stagnant, Roxburgh explains. When that happens, our bodies may do a poorer job of flushing out the stuff that doesn’t benefit the body, like pesticides from food, carcinogens from cigarettes, or environmental toxins from breathing air. “That’s why I talk a lot about the the way dry brushing can benefit the lymph system, because it’s such an easy easy and effective tool for helping to get the lymph system pumping and to flush toxins more efficiently.” Though the wellness expert (who is certified in fields of structural integration, nutrition, and pilates) admits that there’s little research in the scientific literature about the lymph system and dry brushing, she has seen the positive effects in her body and those of her clients.
Annee de Mamiel, an acupuncturist, aromatherapist, holistic facialist, and founder of the skin care brand de Mamiel also subscribes to the idea of dry brushing to help boost lymph movement and drainage — and like Dr. Sivamani, she sees the value of targeted hydration immediately after a dry brushing session. “After brushing, using a body oil that has grapefruit or cypress to help increase the effect,” she says. “Grapefruit and cypress are two oils which support circulation and lymph movement. Cypress is a detoxifier that helps flush out toxins that are carried in the lymph system and grapefruit has an affinity for the lymph system, detoxifying and stimulating.” (Both ingredients are present in de Mamiel Salvation Body Oil.)
Finally, Roxburgh says there may be a connection between dry brushing and cellulite. “I find there is a connection between dry brushing and your fascia. Your fascia is a webbing in which the lymph system and nerves live, and your blood pumps through. Wherever there’s scar tissue or knots in that webbing, you’re going to have blockages and those things are going to make the skin on top will look more dimpled and rippled,” she explains.
Ahead, find the best tools of the trade, along with our experts’ best tips for safe dry brushing.