Like many best practices in skin and body care, dry brushing originated in India as a principle of Ayurveda, and has become an essential part of modern self-care rituals. Boasting a lengthy list of internal and external benefits, it’s recommended by many aestheticians, dermatologists and other skin-care pros, but there’s more to it than just a quick swipe from head to toe. Here’s what to know.
What It Is
“Used throughout history in many diverse cultures, dry skin brushing has been practiced as a preventive for dry skin and a way to exfoliate the body, thus simulating skin renewal,” says Vicki Weaver Payne, creator of Ida Body Care. “Creating a body-care ritual is something consumers can do to give relief to skin that needs help.” Dry brushes feature firm, densely packed bristles—many are made of cactus that exfoliate effectively, but aren’t too rough on skin—and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some, like Elemis Body Detox Skin Brush, feature a longer handle to help reach areas like the back and lower legs, while others, like Mio Body Brush, fit right into the palm of your hand.
Dry brushing is often touted for both its internal and external benefits. “Dry brushing is my favorite method of body exfoliation because it’s multitasking: it’s actually incredible as a cellulite treatment, it increases blood flow and it dramatically increases elasticity, so it’s great for lifting and toning a problem area,” says celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas, founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skincare.
“Dry brushing is meant to exfoliate your skin, increase your energy and blood flow, and reduce cellulite,” says New York dermatologist Sapna Palep, MD. Vargas says the exfoliation action not only gets rid of dry, dead skin, but also “stimulates collagen production, which helps thicken the skin and lessen the appearance of fat cells.”
According to Payne, the exfoliating effect of dry brushing—removing the top layer of dead skin cells—also benefits clogged pores, as it can deeply cleanse them without removing the protective mantle of acids and oils.
Lymphatic drainage is another benefit: “It helps stimulate the lymphatic system to remove toxins from the body and bring in healthy nutrients—it makes the skin glow all over,” Vargas explains. “It’s old-fashioned, but it works.” Exfoliating with a dry brush can also help firming creams and lotions absorb deeper for maximum effectiveness. Other perks include visible improvement in skin tone and a reduction in clogged hair follicles that can often lead to skin conditions like keratosis pilaris.
How to Do It
Before your morning shower, Vargas says to start at the tops of your feet and brush upwards toward your heart. “Spend extra time on areas that tend to be more stagnant, like the inner thighs, and don’t forget to include the backs of your arms and your back,” she adds. “You want the strokes to be long and straight toward the heart—circles don’t work. Also, never use a dry brush on your face!”
Experts recommend using it on dry skin prior to showering or bathing, for five to 10 minutes—the goal is to feel invigorated, not sore. With continued use—some prefer every day, twice a day or every other day—you should see less lumps and a more radiant glow. Dr. Palep often tells patients to start with a soft brush and gentle pressure, and work up to firmer bristles and pressure over time. Once you get out of the shower or bath, it’s crucial to apply body oil or lotion to hydrate and nourish the skin that was just exfoliated.
Payne provides these tips for each area of the body, using her signature Dry Body Brush:
Feet and Legs: Start at the sole of your feet, continue brisk brush strokes up the leg, moving from ankle to calf covering the entire leg toward the lymph groin area.
Butt and Back: Start at top of the butt and sweep down and out, ending at the top again. Once reaching the lower back, start brushing upward and continue to shoulder blade and over the shoulder.
Abdomen: Brush abdominal area with anti-clockwise circular brush strokes
Hands and Arms: Brush from wrists to fingertips. Turn hand over and brush from fingertips to wrist and continue up the arm to the shoulder, working from inner to mid and to outer arm.
Décolleté and Neck: Gently please! Start on left side holding brush just above breast line and brush upward to collarbone. Repeat on the right side. Brush the neck lightly with up and down strokes.
“Dry brushing immediately increases circulation, so you will feel warmer when you are done,” says Vargas.
“If you brush regularly, you will want to wash your brush every one to two weeks,” says Payne. “Simply clean your dry skin brush in hot soapy water and leave it in the sun to dry. If the bristles begin to flatten on the sides of the brush, it’s time to purchase another.”
“Never brush over inflammation, open wounds, varicose veins or sunburn,” Payne advises. “If pregnant, consult your doctor.”
What to Use
In addition to the three brushes mentioned above, these three also make our list of top picks: The Body Shop Cactus Long Handle Body Brush ($15); Joanna Vargas Ritual Brush ($30); and Dr. Barbara Sturm Anti-Cellulite Body Brush ($38; available in Soft and Medium).