During my youth, passing over the body cream appeared inconsequential. Yet, as I’ve gotten older, I have noticed the skin on my arms and legs showing signs of aging. Dry, flaky patches of skin around my knees and elbows, rough bumps on the back of my arms and yes, even cellulite dimpling on the backs of my thighs (sigh) have formed.
But it seems there is a quick and easy answer to alleviating the above. A technique used in Japanese, Scandinavian and Native American cultures for years called dry brushing. Now just hear me out, because I know if you’re anything like me you’re thinking – really… if pigs could fly… But let’s investigate how dry brushing improves skin.
What is dry brushing?
It’s exactly as it sounds. Brushing your dry skin with a dry brush, preferably, made with all natural ingredients, in long sweeping upward motions towards your heart. It is recommended starting at your feet and work your way up. Dry brushing proponents believe this stimulation has a whole host of health benefits, including:
Benefits of dry brushing
– Detoxes the body
– Stimulates blood flow, improves circulation
– Strengthens the immune system
– Exfoliates and promotes cell renewal
– Prevents ingrown hairs
– Reduces cellulite
So how exactly does dry brushing do all of this? Let’s dig a little deeper…
How does dry brushing detox the body?
By increasing lymphatic flow and drainage – The lymphatic system is made up of over 600-700 lymph nodes and lymph capillaries, as well as your spleen and thymus gland. This system carries a clear, colorless fluid containing damaged cells and toxins, to be filtered through lymph nodes removing damaged cells from the body. Sounds good to me.
Unlike other systems in our body, the lymphatic system is dependent on the external contractions of smooth muscle to propel the clear fluid through the vessels to the lymph nodes.
This is where dry brushing comes into play.
About three quarters of the lymph capillaries and nodes are located near the surface of the skin. Dry brushing stimulates and moves along the flow of lymph, promoting drainage, detoxifying the body and reducing harmful inflammation, and bloating.
Dr. Tina S. Alster, a clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center, agrees that dry brushing “increases circulation and helps the lymphatic system work better.”
“Cellulite is a complex problem involving thin skin and the fibrous bands holding in women’s fat. Dry brushing won’t change fibrous bands at all,” says Dr. Jacob.
How does dry brushing improve the immune system?
Again, the answer to this lies in the increased lymphatic flow and drainage – The lymphatic system and the immune system are closely intertwined, since Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that moves through the lymph fluid, are of fundamental importance to the immune system.
Lymphocytes determine the immune response to infectious microorganisms and other foreign substances and are found concentrated in the lymphatic system. When the lymphatic system works better, these cells work more efficiently.
So… we’re detoxed, our immune system is strengthened, but what about the visible beauty benefits of dry brushing? My vanity is asking, not me…
Reduction of cellulite
Many articles available on dry brushing claim the bristles stimulate blood flow, improving circulation, lymphatic drainage and by virtue of that, flush out fat cell “toxins” that create cellulite.
Unfortunately, Dr. Carolyn Jacob, a dermatologist in Chicago says that this is unlikely. Why? She says that cellulite is a complex problem involving thin skin and the fibrous bands holding in women’s fat. Dry brushing “won’t change fibrous bands at all,” says Dr. Jacob (*tear). Dry brushing improves skin through exfoliation helping to diminish the appearance of cellulite.
As the fat cells enlarge and push upwards towards the skin, tough, strong connective fibrous cords connected to the skin and the muscle, pull down, creating an uneven surface (MayoClinic).
Although dry brushing won’t eliminate or reduce cellulite, it is excellent at exfoliating and smoothing the texture of the skin by removing the build-up of dead, damaged cells.
The most outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, contains skin cells embedded in a glue-like matrix. Over a 30-day period, the matrix weakens and the top layer of old, dead skin is sloughed off naturally (DermalInstitute).
As we age, this process becomes less effective. The glue-like intercellular matrix holding the cells together becomes denser making it more difficult to shed old skin cells, resulting in skin that appears dull, thick and less toned.
So ladies, if you’re struggling with scale-y skin due to aging, winter weather, or all of the above, dry brushing improves skin greatly when it comes to these issues.
Personally, within the first few uses, I noticed immediately softer, smoother skin. The rough dry goose bumps that used to plague the back of my arms vanished along with the small shaving bumps on my legs! Now that’s worth something.
Buying a dry brush
Online has many dry brush shopping options, but always opt for an all-natural model, synthetic is just, well, synthetic. If you want to splurge, check out the Mio Skincare hand-held bamboo and boar bristle brush with rubber massage nodules for extra comfort. The Body Shop Long Handled Cactus Body Brush is perfect if you need something for those hard to reach spots. The Natural Bristle Contour Body Brush is a basic natural brush.
*Over time the brush bristles will fall out and signal when it’s time to buy a new one.
How to dry brush at home
- Start on dry skin before bathing
- Work in gentle circular, upward motions, then longer, smoother strokes
- Always begin at the ankles in upwards movements towards the heart – the lymphatic fluid flows through the body towards the heart, so it’s important that you brush in the same direction
- Your back is the only exception to the preceding rule; brush from the neck down to the lower back.
- Once finished with the ankles, move to the lower legs, thighs, stomach, back and arms. Be cautious of softer and sensitive skin around the chest and breasts, and never brush over inflamed skin, sores, sunburnt skin, or skin cancer
- Shower post dry brushing to wash away dead skin cells. I like using Fresh Cocoa Body Exfoliant $45 to slough away dirt and debris.
- Follow up with a nourishing moisturizer. Clarins Tonic Body Treatment Oil $60 and Josie Maran Whipped Argan Oil in Be Spirited $12 fragrance are both great for sealing in hydration.
-by Amy Chang
Photographed by author