Why Dry Brushing Is Maybe Not as Amazing as You Think It Is

Brooke Shunatona
Photo credit: Sanchi Oberoi

From Cosmopolitan

What do jade rollers, cellulite creams, and dry brushes all have in common? Cult followings of people spreading the ~gospel~ of how great they are for improving "lymphatic drainage" or "reducing cellulite." The flip side? They also have equally large legions of haters and naysayers. So who or what should you believe? Science. Believe the science. Because I took allll your questions to board-certified dermatologist Lily Talakoub, MD, to find out the actual proven benefits of dry brushing and how to wield the long, awkward stick thing for the best effective results. But first...

What is dry brushing?

Dry brushing is a form of mechanical exfoliation, says Talakoub. Unlike chemical exfoliants (like AHA and BHAs—i.e., lactic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, etc.), mechanical or physical exfoliators work to remove dead skins by physically scrubbing them off. If that sounds kinda harsh, that's because, yeah, it can be, which is why it's important to take note of the below advice from a derm before putting to use that dry brush of yours that's been sitting in your shower caddy for actual years. Listen up.

What are the benefits of dry brushing?

The main benefit is what Dr. Talakoub already mentioned above: exfoliation. The physical act of rubbing the bristles against your skin loosens and removes dead skin cells and makes your body feel smoother and more supple. But other believers will swear that dry brushing is magical for lymphatic drainage (the system that drains the fluids and the toxins away from your body).

Dr. Talakoub, however, isn't buying it, explaining that there are no double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to support dry brushing lymphatic drainage—only anecdotal, word-of-mouth stories. As she explains it, brushing in a direction toward the heart (from the legs up and the neck down) could possibly improve lymph drainage, circulation, and blood flow, particularly for people who already have reduced blood flow in their legs or swelling, but it's not going to transform your health.

Does dry brushing really help cellulite?

Ehh, not really, no. Sure, dry-brushing your body could slightly improve your lymphatic flow and break up collagen bundles (the stuff that's linked to cellulite) say Dr. Talakoub, but there are no good studies to back any claims of cellulite removal through dry brushing. With that said, Dr. Talakoub says, other than the risk of it not working, there's really no harm in those with "normal" skin (read: not sensitive skin) trying it anyway.

What kind of brush do you use for dry brushing?

Head's up: You regular ol' hair brush is not what you want to use for this. Think of the wooden brushes that you find in the loofah section. Some have a hand strap, some come attached to a long stick to make it easier to reach your back, but they all should have dense, natural bristles. Unless your skin is very thick and tough, Dr. Talakoub says to stick with a softer bristle brush to keep your skin safe. And if you have sensitive skin, eczema, or areas with any kind of rash or irritation, go ahead and pass on the dry brushing altogether, K? It'll only inflame your skin more.

Can you use a dry brush wet?

Dry brushing is intended to be done exactly how it says—dry. According to Dr. Talakoub, you’re not supposed to put anything on your skin (water or otherwise) before dry brushing, because the mechanical friction between the brush and the skin is what helps lift the dead skin cells off. "If you do it in the shower, it’s not dry brushing anymore," she says.

"Hot water, in general, and loofah-ing in the shower with a soap emulsifies the oils from your skin and rinses it off, drying out your skin and damaging your barrier," says Talakoub, "and using a body oil reduces something called the coefficient of friction, which means it reduces the efficacy of the brush itself." In other words, if you were to brush anything with an oil on, the bristles sweep off rather than lifting the dead skin cells off. Keep it dry.

Do I have to shower after dry brushing?

You don't have to, but Dr. Talakoub agrees that the best time to dry brush is before hoping in the shower to rinse off the dead skin cells you've loosened so they don't get on your clothes. But take it easy and keep it gentle while washing off by opting for a non-lathering body wash or even a cleansing oil over a super-sudsy soap to avoid stripping your skin for the second time. After you get out of the shower, pat dry, and apply a nice thick moisturizer or body lotion.

How many times a week should you dry brush?

Once a week, max. Dry brushing more than once a week can lead to redness and irritation on your body. Ouch.

Do you dry brush your face?

Noooo nonono, please don't do that. If there's one thing you take away from this story, it should be that dry brushing should not be done on your face or neck. The firm, dense bristles are much too hard and aggressive for delicate areas, which means you should also be gentle on areas with thinner, softer skin like your chest, under ams, and inner thighs.

The areas that you can be a little more thorough with are the areas where the skin is thicker, like your back, lower legs, the lower arms—but that doesn't mean apply more pressure or scrub harder. The pressure, no matter where you're dry brushing, is generally the same—very light. But Dr. Talakoub says you can do five or six sweeps of the brush up and down on the areas with thicker skin vs. one or two strokes on the softer skin.

Got it? Good. Now happy dry brushing!

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