The classic ritual has gained popularity of late—and now has plenty of devoted fans. But what does dry brushing really accomplish? Well, that's more of mix reviews. Regardless, it's a tradition with a long history, so it may be worth looking into as a means of tradition-inspired self care.
Read on below, and you might consider practicing yourself.
Dry skin brushing benefits
Dry brushing is a classic ayurvedic ritual that involves brushing your full body with a special bristled tool. The benefits are often sung anecdotally but haven't been studied significantly. Many of the claims that you'll see out there—like reducing cellulite or even improved immune system function—should be met with a skeptical eye.
However, there are a few healthy skin benefits we can get behind:
- It buffs skin. Dry brushing is an effective physical exfoliator, meaning it's manually removing dead skin cells from the top layer of skin, improving the appearance, and making the following topical treatments more effective.
- It may encourage circulation. Lymphatic drainage and circulation is the most often cited benefit of the ritual. Your lymphatic system works alongside your circulatory system1 and removes waste in the body, which is why you might hear people say that dry brushing is "detoxifying." It's up for debate whether you actually need to manually stimulate circulation (some studies show lymph pumps can improve lymphatic function2) or if simply moving your body is enough. Regardless, studies show that improved circulation is better for skin overall—no matter how you get things going.
- Offers a moment of self-care. If anything, dry brushing encourages you to take a moment and focus on your body. Even if aesthetically there's no life-changing improvement, feeling good about the body you live in is always a goal worth achieving.
How to dry brush daily
Here, a step-by-step guide to the ritual, courtesy of holistic esthetician and dry brushing expert Amity Spiegel:
Find your brush
Finding your perfect dry brush is highly subjective. You want a stiff bristle but nothing too abrasive: Most recommend a boar bristle brush as that will have the right texture, but if you're vegan, you should consider synthetic bristles. There are options that have a long handle or none. It's up to personal preference, but many find it easier with a handle as it will help you hit those hard-to-reach places, like on your back. However, others say they like the control of a handheld brush. Ultimately, it will be your call. For the advanced-level dry brushers, you can find options with ionic copper fibers as well, which allegedly help to detox the body even more, but those can be too harsh for first-timers.
You'll need to be completely nude. It’s best to do before a shower, as you’ll be lifting up dead skin cells that you'll likely want to wash off right after. On that note: Consider standing in the shower itself, so flakes don't go flying all over your bathroom. Also, many claim it's energizing for them—if you're one of those people, make this part of your morning routine.
Master the movement
The strokes should be medium pressure—you want to feel something happening without irritating the skin. Long strokes are the best since you are trying to push up lymph fluid, and that requires a delicate and rhythmic touch. You'll also want to do each pass more than once and overlap sections while brushing. Think of it like moving along each limb like a spiral staircase. Along bends (like your joints) or smaller areas, you will switch to shorter, quicker movements.
Start at the feet and move upward
The point of dry brushing is to encourage lymph toward your upper torso and chest, where the lymphatic fluid will reenter the bloodstream: You always want to follow the circulatory system. You will take the legs in sections. Start with the top of the feet, then target the lower leg, the knee, and the thigh. When you work on the back of the thigh, treat the butt as an extension of your thigh and continue upward onto the small of your back. As for your stomach, some recommend making circular motions (it's thought to aid in digestion, but there's no proof that's the case) while others prefer long strokes. You can find what feels right for you.
Treat the upper body
Much like you start with the feet, start with the hands and go across toward the heart. Do a similar routine as you did with the legs: Brush the back of your hands, work around the forearm, and then around the upper arm. Be mindful to treat under the upper arms with extra attention, as that's where many lymph nodes are (as a rule of thumb, you'll want to always pay attention to areas with lymph nodes).
Then finish with neck and décolletage
You'll want to be extra gentle, as it's more delicate skin. Also, here you're deviating from the bottom-up technique—as you are above heart level. Start at the jawline and move down toward your chest. Finish by going over your heart in a circular motion to end your routine.
Afterward, you can take a shower as usual
After the shower, hydration is key
Because the skin will absorb product more readily, it's important to use healthy, high-quality ingredients after dry brushing sessions. Do it while your skin is damp, as smoothing on an oil or cream will seal in water from your shower. Always moisturize with damp skin!
Stick to it
You're not going to see any difference unless you are diligent—as with any routine.
If you enjoy your self-care routine, then by all means, that's enough of a reason for us to give you stamp of approval. Just be mindful that it's not a system that will solve all of your problems, but it will likely give you smoother looking skin thanks to the exfoliation.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.