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Dry Brushing Is a Popular Body Treatment, But Does It Actually Do Anything?

Dermatologists share their honest opinion about the benefits, as well as its disadvantages of dry brushing.

dry-brushing

Vogue Arabia, April 2022. Photo: Joaquin Burgueño

You brush your hair. You brush your teeth. You may even brush your brows or beard. But there’s a rather conspicuous area that may be missing out on the benefit of bristles: your entire body.

Dry brushing, as it’s typically called (some aptly call it body brushing or skin brushing), is a favorite treatment of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Coolidge. Its proponents claim it can do anything from improving skin’s appearance to kickstarting the lymph system, but it’s met with as much skepticism as it is enthusiasm. The beauty ritual goes way back, so the fact that it’s still a staple at so many spas after all these years lends to its veracity, but a lack of scientifically proven results leaves some in the dermatology field less than impressed with its alleged beauty and health benefits.

Here, experts break down exactly what dry brushing is and does, and whether or not it’s worth your time.

Meet the experts:
  • Deanne Mraz, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Westport, Connecticut.
  • Karyn Grossman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Santa Monica, California.
  • Melissa Wilson is a certified aesthetician and director of education of Woodhouse Spa in Denver, Colorado.
  • Nathalya Garcia is a licensed aesthetician and the spa and wellness operations manager at Carillon Miami Wellness Resort.

What is dry brushing?

The act of dry brushing is more or less exactly what it sounds like. To put it simply, “Dry brushing is using a coarse brush against the skin,” explains Connecticut-based, board-certified dermatologist Deanne Mraz, MD—specifically the skin of the body. Both your skin and the brush are dry during the process.

There are plenty of dry brushes regular people can buy to use at home, but in a spa setting, a professional can deployed the technique as part of a more comprehensive body treatment or even as a stand-alone treatment.

What are the benefits of dry brushing?

Although you can find dry brushing treatments at plenty of spas, you’ll be hard-pressed to find dermatologists offering it at their practices. The aestheticians and dermatologists we spoke to are on very different pages about whether or not dry brushing has any significant value, and there’s a notable lack of studies supporting the more lofty claims.

One of the most common claims about dry brushing’s benefits is what it may do for the circulatory and lymphatic systems, “helping move the ‘good’ in and the ‘no-thank-you’ out,” says Melissa Wilson, an aesthetician and director of education of Woodhouse Spa in Denver. “The lymph system doesn’t have a pump like the circulatory system has, so dry brushing provides the stimulation it needs to get the lymph system moving.”

Dr. Mraz agrees that this is how the two systems differ, but because the lymph system relies on the pulsing of nearby arteries and the contraction of nearby muscles to move fluid through the lymphatic vessels, the jury is out on whether or not dry brushing can affect that process.

As for blood circulation, “The brushing motion is thought to stimulate blood flow to the skin’s surface,” says Nathalya Garcia, an aesthetician and the spa and wellness operations manager at Carillon Miami Wellness Resort. “Improved circulation may help deliver oxygen and nutrients to skin cells, potentially promoting a healthier complexion.” Dr. Mraz agrees that, yes, dry brushing stimulates blood flow and, yes, blood delivers oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, but there is no scientific evidence proving what any of that may mean for skin’s appearance—and without scientific proof, many dermatologists are understandably skeptical.

Dr. Mraz says we do know that dry brushing can offer some light exfoliation—and that’s pretty much it. Board-certified Santa Monica dermatologist Karyn Grossman, MD, feels similarly, saying you shouldn’t expect miracles from dry brushing. Despite some brands’ and spas’ claims, the practice has not been shown to reduce the appearance of cellulite. “Have you ever gotten a cellulite treatment? Those things hurt. It’s kneading and massaging and laser treatments,” Dr. Grossman tells Allure. “[Dry brushing] is just a gentle exfoliating treatment.”

But the exfoliating benefit is nothing to sneeze at if you’re not a fan of gooey scrubs or chemically exfoliating lotions. “Dry brushing can help remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin,” explains Garcia, who says this may leave your skin feeling smoother and looking brighter. “Dry brushing may also help prevent or reduce ingrown hairs by gently exfoliating the skin and opening hair follicles.”

And while it may be the hardest benefit to measure, Garcia adds that many people find the sensation of dry brushing to be very relaxing. “Taking a few minutes each day to pamper yourself with this self-care ritual may help reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being,” she says.

What do you need to dry brush?

Garcia says any brush made with natural bristle—you’ll find options made with boar bristles, goat hair, sisal, and more—works best. Dr. Mraz doesn’t have any particular preference as long as the bristles are soft. We like the Lather Body Brush and the Goop Ultimate Dry Brush, both of which are made with flexible, sisal bristles (which is just plain fun to say).

In addition to a soft, natural-bristle brush, all you really need is a little self-control. “When you give people brushes of all sorts, they think it’s a scrub brush—like you’re cleaning pots and pans,” Dr. Grossman says. “But this is your skin, and you need to be gentle. You’re not supposed to be red or scratched after.”

According to Wilson you only need five minutes to complete a dry-brushing treatment. Here’s what she says to do:

  • Begin at the feet and work your way up and around the body.
  • Use a light touch and only perform a few strokes per area.
  • Brush toward the heart and finish your strokes at lymph node drainage sites like the armpits or groin areas. (But don’t use the brush directly on genitals.)

Dr. Grossman recommends rubbing in a light, circular motion before hopping into the shower, taking it easy on your chest, and avoiding your face completely. “You can be a little tougher on your knees, elbows, ankles, and the tops of your feet, where the skin is thicker.”

What should you do after dry brushing?

When you’re ready to shower, Dr. Grossman recommends cleansing with a mild body wash like the Allure Best of Beauty Award-winning Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash. However, you may want to skip any other means of exfoliation, like a body scrub or anti-acne wash, as Dr. Grossman warns it may leave your skin stinging. “You’re removing that surface layer [when you dry brush], which temporarily makes your skin more sensitive,” she says.

All of our experts recommend following up a post-dry-brush shower with a rich yet gentle body lotion or body oil to really soak in hydration. “Take advantage of the exfoliation that will help with the absorption,” Garcia says. We’re fans of the Best of Beauty Award-winning Nivea Soft Moisturizing Cream for especially dry skin.

Who shouldn’t try dry brushing?

As Dr. Grossman mentioned, dry brushing can make skin more sensitive, so skin that’s already sensitive to begin with may want to avoid the treatment. This includes those with eczema or psoriasis, Dr. Mraz says. “Psoriasis can Koebnerize, which means ‘cause injury that can lead to the skin condition worsening,’” she says.

Dr. Mraz actually wouldn’t recommend dry brushing to anyone, for that matter. “It really does nothing besides bringing temporary blood flow and swelling to the skin,” she says, calling it a waste of money. “If it is part of a spa process, it can help exfoliate dead skin cells, but otherwise I’d say skip it.”

That said, if you enjoy how it feels, have realistic expectations about what it can and can’t do, and don’t scrub too hard or have an easily irritated skin condition, there’s no harm in dry brushing every now and then.

Originally published in Allure.com

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