The Brush-Off: Does Dry Brushing Really Work?

Dry Brushing is exactly what it sounds like: you take a dry soft-bristle brush and massage it around your body, all over your skin. We brush our teeth and our hair, so why not brush our skin? Dry Brushing boasts many acclaimed benefits. In fact, you see it offered at many spas nowadays claiming that it helps to unclog pores and eliminate toxins trapped within your skin. It also is meant to exfoliate your skin, increase your energy and blood flow, stimulate your lymphatic system and reduce unsightly cellulite.  Seems like a miracle cure?  Not so fast. Now I love natural remedies as much as the next person, but I am also a scientist. And with that comes lots of scepticism that if something was truly that good for you, surely there would be a ton of literature on it, and it would be a part of pretty much everyone’s morning routine—just like brushing your teeth has become. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some things that have proven benefits to your mind and body, yet aren’t part of mainstream medicine. For example, yoga and meditation. However, does dry brushing fall into this category? I decided to do my research and find out what dry brushing does and does not do. 


The recommended dry brushing technique is to stand in a tub or a shower area just before getting wet, and just a soft, natural-fibre brush to massage the skin starting from your legs upwards. You are meant to brush in strokes towards your heart area, as this is where the lymphatic system drains back into your circulation. Around sensitive areas you can be more gentle, such as the breast area. Then you hop into the shower, do your thing and dry yourself off before applying a natural lotion of essential oil over your skin. Repeat twice a day. 


Let’s look at the science behind it all. 


While using a brush to massage areas all around your skin does increase bloodflow and circulation, it is only temporary. In fact, you could achieve the same rise in circulation by just massaging your skin with your hand. This fleeting surge in bloodflow, however, has not been proven to have any effect on toxins and their elimination. Your body eliminates toxins all by itself naturally, without any help from dry brushing or otherwise, via your liver. So this idea of toxins being ‘trapped within your skin’ really isn’t that true after all. You body has managed to deal with toxins your entire life, without a dry brush. 


Dry Brushing is said to ‘reduce cellulite’ as cellulite is a toxic material that is ‘trapped in fat cells under the skin’. The acclaimed rise in circulation thus is meant to help your body get rid of these toxins. In reality, the temporary increase in circulation achieved by dry brushing also causes vasodilation—that is, it causes your capillaries under your skin to widen in diameter, thus causing greater bloodflow under the skin surface. Which is why skin appears pink after a round of dry brushing. This also causes a temporary plumping up of the skin, which hides cellulite to some degree. When the circulation slows back down however, so does the swelling. It does not reduce cellulite, but may cause it to be temporarily less visible. Cellulite in itself is not toxic deposits in your adipose cells but rather it is caused by fibrous bands that pull down on superficial parts of the skin, resulting in a ‘dimpled’ look. 


Dry Brushing does help to clear away dead skin cells, that much is true. However, if you aren’t past your 30s, your skin is capable of renewing itself without any mechanical help. The older you get, the thicker and ‘sticker’ the top layer of cells become, and that’s when the use of a dry brush may come in handy. However, using a dry brush in this case will only benefit your skin if you don’t do it too regularly or too roughly as that may damage the skin and do more harm than good.


In fact, using a dry brush too regularly and roughly has the potential to cause micro abrasions on your skin, making it more prone to infection by wearing away at the skin’s natural protective barriers. If you have a condition such as eczema or dry skin, you should probably steer clear of dry brushing altogether. 


If dry brushing isn’t all that it is claimed to be, why do people do it so much?  Some of it can be attributed toward the placebo effect at work—if you believe something is going to work, you begin to feel like it is, even though in reality, it may not be doing anything at all. The placebo effect is often given a bad name, but it has been the backbone of many alternative medicine treatments. As long as it isn’t doing you any harm, how bad can it be if it is making you feel better? The mind is a powerful thing, and the placebo effect is capable of duping it into feeling the benefits even if there are none.  A second reason why dry brushing may remain so popular is because when it comes down to it, it is just a massage. And massages feel great. It is the foundation upon which the multi-million dollar spa industry is based on. 


When it comes down to it, if dry brushing makes you feel good, go for it. Don’t overdo it by not being gentle or doing it too often, instead, take it easy on your skin. You don’t need to stimulate your lymphatic system or push all the toxins out of yourself. Instead, focus on making sure it feels good and comfortable. Just don’t expect to experience a drastic change in your skin’s appearance or lose all your cellulite, just exercise, eat well and lather on some SPF if it’s sunny, to keep your skin looking its best.




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