In the trend-driven world of beauty, it’s rare for products and treatments to stand the test of time. One major exception? Dry brushing, which has been in the limelight for years. Thanks to its purported ability to exfoliate, aid with lymphatic drainage and help reduce the appearance of cellulite, it’s also earned a slew of celebrity endorsements from the likes of Miranda Kerr and Gwyneth Paltrow.
But is dry brushing actually a good idea? We tapped three dermatologists to get to the bottom of the skincare practice’s benefits—and its risks.
What is dry brushing?
Dry brushing is a method of physical exfoliation that involves running a stiff-bristled brush across the surface of the skin. As the name suggests, dry brushing is performed on dry skin, with a dry brush. The action of the bristles, which can be either synthetic or natural, is believed to improve skin texture and blood circulation. (Because the the bristles are coarse, the use of dry brushes is not recommended for facial use.)
Originally called garshana, the practice traces its origins back to Ayurvedic medicine. This system of medicine—which originated in India—is based on ancient writings that inform a natural approach to physical and mental health.
What are the benefits of dry brushing?
The biggest benefit of dry brushing is exfoliation—the brush’s stiff bristles help dislodge dry, flaky cells from the skin’s outer layers. This can improve cellular turnover and help with decongesting pores, which have the tendency to get clogged with dead skin and excess sebum, explains Dr. Geeta Yadav, a Toronto-based dermatologist and the founder of Skin Science Dermatology. If left unaddressed, clogged pores can lead to blemishes, blackheads and ingrown hairs.
Exfoliating the body also contributes to better product absorption. “When there are dead, dry cells on the skin’s surface, they’ll absorb any topical treatments,” adds Yadav. “Removing those dead skin cells with dry brushing allows for better delivery of formulas.”
Dry brushing also improves blood flow, giving the skin a temporary glow. “The stimulation of the skin will lead to short-term increases in blood circulation, as would happen with any sort of massage,” notes Dr. Katie Beleznay, a Vancouver-based dermatologist.
“It gives you instant sensory feedback,” adds Dr. Renée Beach, a Toronto-based dermatologist who is also the founder of DermAtelier on Avenue. She notes that the practice in and of itself feels satisfying, as the bristles create a sensation that’s similar to gently scratching your skin with your nails.
Can dry brushing really help with lymphatic drainage?
The lymphatic system keeps the body’s fluid levels in check, fights off illnesses, absorbs fats from the digestive system and flushes out waste. Dry brushing proponents maintain that the practice supports lymphatic drainage, thus helping skin appear less swollen. However, Beach says that in general, your lymphatic system should function just fine on its own—without any help from dry brushing. “The mechanism of brushing alone would likely not be able to drain lymph fluid,” she notes.
That said, if you’ve experienced lymph node removal or experienced a leg injury, your lymphatic system may need a little extra help. But this is generally done with lymphatic massages or pressure garments that consistently aid fluid movement. (Always consult a doctor before trying at-home treatments.)
Can dry brushing help reduce the appearance of cellulite?
Despite dry brushing, coffee scrubs and other DIY cellulite-busting products periodically garnering interest on social media, Yadav stresses that there are no at-home methods that effectively reduce the appearance of cellulite in the long term. Dry brushing may make the skin look smoother and plumper by increasing blood flow, but the results are temporary.
Is dry brushing suitable for all skin types?
Dry brushing is not recommended for anyone with sensitive skin, especially those with eczema, rosacea, psoriasis or cystic body acne. Manually rubbing a coarse-bristled brush against an already irritated area may exacerbate skin issues and lead to pain or hypersensitivity.
However, Yadav notes that dry brushing may improve the texture and tone of blackhead-prone areas, such as the back and chest. “Blackheads are formed by sebum that has congested the pore, solidified and oxidized, which is what creates that darker appearance,” she explains. “Dry brushing can help slough away those plugs, which can improve the appearance of the pores and skin texture overall.”
How do I dry brush?
Yadav suggests starting at the feet and ankles, working your way up to the arms in gentle, circular motions. First-timers should start with a once-weekly practice to allow the skin to adjust to the sensation, working your way up to a more consistent routine.
Dry brushing is best done before showering, as this gives you the chance to wash off the skin dislodged by the brush. “Always moisturize afterward to keep your skin nourished,” cautions Yadav. “It will also enhance the temporary glow produced by dry brushing.” She recommends using fragrance-free and gentle formulas on freshly brushed skin to prevent irritation.
What are the risks associated with dry brushing?
Dry brushing comes with a few potential downsides—most notably, skin irritation. “The skin is supposed to be our protective layer,” Beach explains. “Brushing off skin layers does the opposite of protection.” Dry brushing may also strip skin of its natural oils, making it prone to irritation and abrasions.
What should I do if I develop sensitivity or irritation from dry brushing?
If you experience redness or sensitivity, Beach says you should immediately stop the practice. To help alleviate irritation, she recommends using a fragrance-free moisturizer with hydrating ingredients like shea butter, propylene glycol, and humectants like hyaluronic acid.
Do dermatologists recommend dry brushing?
Because of the potential risks posed by dry brushing, both Beleznay and Beach caution against the practice. Instead, they recommend alternative methods of exfoliation such as lactic acid and glycolic acid. Both are alpha-hydroxy acids that aid with cell turnover while simultaneously softening and hydrating the skin.
However, if you enjoy the sensation or are dead-set on putting your brush to use, be sure to approach the practice with realistic expectations, use minimal pressure and finish off with a gentle moisturizer. “As with any form of exfoliation,” says Beleznay, “it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs of irritation that may develop.”