The Truth About Dry Brushing and What It Does for You

7 common questions about dry brushing

Bath brush and rose soap

There are a variety of health claims about dry brushing. For those who aren’t familiar with the technique, it involves daily body massage with a dry, stiff-bristled brush. It’s been said to help flaky winter skin, increase circulation, detoxify, help digestion – and even improve the appearance of cellulite. But are these claims true? Some, but definitely not all.

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Below, find some questions patients often ask about dry brushing:

1. What are the real health benefits of dry brushing?

The mechanical action of dry brushing is wonderful for exfoliating dry winter skin. It also helps detoxify by increasing blood circulation and promoting lymph flow/drainage. Dry brushing unclogs pores in the exfoliation process. It also stimulates your nervous system, which can make you feel invigorated afterward.

2. Can brushing aid digestion or reduce the appearance of cellulite?

There is absolutely no evidence in the literature to confirm that dry brushing aids in digestion or the appearance of cellulite. It’s likely that what people interpret as cellulite reduction is really just a temporary “plumping up of the skin” from increased blood circulation. The claim that it actually reduces cellulite isn’t supported by any scientific evidence.

3. Why a dry brush? Why not just brush skin in the shower?

Brushing the skin while it is dry allows you to exfoliate and increase blood circulation without robbing it of moisture, as the hot water in the shower can.

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4. What kind of brush should I use?

You want to use a natural stiff-bristled bath/shower brush, preferably with a long handle. Some bristles are stiffer than others, and it depends on your skin’s sensitivity and preference. The long handle helps you reach your back.

5. How do I do it?

You always start on dry skin using a natural bristled brush. I typically start from the feet/ankles and work my way upward in long fluid strokes on limbs and circular motions on torso and back. I move in the upward direction. It can be sensitive on the abdomen, breasts and neck, so lighten up pressure as needed.

A long handle is helpful so that you can get to the back, which can be brushed in downward strokes. A few overlapping swipes per area is enough. If you go over one area too long, you can actually break the integrity of the skin and cause irritation or bleeding. You generally do this once each day and shower immediately afterward.

6. When should I dry brush?

The best time to dry brush is just before a shower. Then you can wash off any dead skin cells and flaky skin. Be sure to apply lotion afterward to put moisture back into your skin.

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7. What if If I have sensitive skin, can I dry brush?

Never brush over skin that is broken, which includes cuts, scrapes, lesions, sores or burned skin, including sunburns. Don’t ever brush over areas of infection, redness or general irritation, inflammation, cellulitis or skin cancer. Stop dry brushing if skin becomes irritated or inflamed. I also do not recommend using the brush on your face.

These brushes have bristles that are usually pretty firm. If your skin is too sensitive, you may want to switch and try a plain dry washcloth.

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Jamie Starkey, LAc

Jamie Starkey is Lead Acupuncturist at the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative Medicine, where she bridges the worlds of Eastern and Western medical philosophy.