The Benefits of Dry Brushing and How to Try It

Learn about the purpose of dry brushing and how to dry brush with proper technique.

Dry Brushing
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Chances are you've heard of dry brushing. In recent years, celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Miranda Kerr, and Molly Sims have all touted the ancient Ayurvedic practice as an integral part of their beauty and wellness routines — and dry brushing videos have racked up more than 84 million views on TikTok.

“Dry brushing is a traditional Ayurvedic ritual of gently exfoliating your skin using a special bristle brush,” explains Michelle Ranavat, founder of RANAVAT, an Ayurvedic beauty brand.

Fans of this massage technique claim it has a whole host of perks for skin and general health, and you might be wondering whether it truly delivers. If you're interested in learning more about the origins of the practice, the benefits of dry brushing, and how to dry brush your skin at home, keep reading.

What Is Dry Brushing?

While dry brushing might seem like one of the newest beauty trends to hit the scene because of its recent explosion as a celebrity and TikTok favorite, it's actually existed for centuries as part of Ayurvedic medicine.

Ayurveda is a form of holistic medicine that has its origins in India and has been around for more than 5,000 years, says Meghana Thanki, N.M.D., a naturopathic doctor who specializes in Ayurvedic medicine and the author of The Ayurvedic Lens: Magnifying the Mysteries & Abundance of Life. It relies on principles of balance to maintain health and prevent illness, says Tracy Adkins, a NAMA-certified Ayurveda practitioner and the founder of Jivana, an Ayurvedic-inspired skin-care line. Specifically, Ayurveda is based on the five elements in nature (water, fire, earth, air, and space) and bringing them into balance both externally and internally, says Thanki.  

When it comes to how Ayurveda relates to your skin-care routine, “I see it as the science that allows us to holistically understand the body and skin and use ingredients that help us regulate our body’s response to stress and help the skin from becoming inflamed,” adds Ranavat.

Enter dry brushing. As you could probably guess from its name, dry brushing involves massaging your dry skin with a brush to enhance your skin and health. "Dry brushing is an ancient Ayurvedic practice used to stimulate circulation and increase lymphatic flow," explains Lillian Jacobs, an Ayurvedic and holistic health coach.

The term dry brushing originally comes from the Sanskrit word Garshana, which means "rubbing" or "friction," says Adkins. Traditionally, the practice was done with raw silk gloves, but in modern times, most people use a dry bristle brush, notes Jacobs. Keep in mind that the dry bristle brushes predominantly used today are much more abrasive than raw silk gloves. If you have dry or sensitive skin and want to try dry brushing, using raw silk gloves could be a better option for you, says Thanki.

Here's where things get even more interesting: "The frequency of dry brushing depends on the individual's Ayurvedic constitution," says Jacobs. One of the key beliefs of Ayurveda is that everyone has a dosha, or biological energy that governs their constitution, explains Thanki. 

The five elements in nature come together to make the three main doshas, Kapha, Pitta, and Vata, says Thanki. Kapha is mostly related to earth and water, Pitta is mostly related to fire and water, and Vata is mostly related to earth and air, she says. Your dosha determines everything from your diet to your skin-care routine, as Shape previously reported. 

"Kapha types, or those with clammy skin, may benefit from dry brushing daily," says Jacobs. "Pitta types, or those with combination type skin, may benefit from dry brushing a few times a week." Vata types, or those with dry skin, should either skip dry brushing or limit it to once or twice a week, she adds. (Not sure what your dosha is? Jacobs has a free one-hour class on YouTube to help you figure it out.)

The Benefits of Dry Brushing Skin

While there isn't much scientific research on dry brushing, it does have some potential benefits — and it's a relatively low-risk technique to try. Here are the top benefits of dry brushing your skin.

Exfoliates Your Skin

Dry brushing is a form of physical exfoliation, says Ranavat. That means the brush's bristles manually get rid of dull, dead skin cells sitting on the surface of your skin. "[Dry brushing] removes dead skin cells, revealing a more radiant complexion," says Adkins. Research shows exfoliation can also aid in softening and smoothing your skin.

There's another perk to removing the top layer of dead skin cells via dry brushing. "Ingredients, such as botanicals, are more readily absorbed through the skin after dry brushing when skin has been gently exfoliated," explains Adkins.

May Boost Energy

Using pressure with a brush helps stimulate blood flow and improve circulation, according to Jacobs. Although there aren’t any studies directly connecting dry brushing with blood flow and circulation, research has found massage in general has the ability to increase blood flow. 

This uptick in circulation could lead to a small boost in energy. While there's no research specifically linking dry brushing to increased energy, studies do show that activities that stimulate blood flow (such as exercise) can give you more energy.

May Aid in De-Puffing

Dry brushing can gently enhance the removal of stagnant lymphatic fluid that can build up in your body and cause swelling, says Adkins.  

Lymphatic stagnation can be caused by a whole host of things and can affect anyone, says Adkins. These causes can include dietary factors, overexposure to environmental toxins, and lack of movement, she notes. 

“One of the biggest factors contributing to lymphatic stagnation is the digestive system, which is very sensitive to stress," adds Adkins. The largest collection of lymphatic vessels is found in the intestines and is known as “gut associated lymphatic tissue,” or GALT, she says. “When the intestines become inflamed or irritated, the GALT responds by becoming congested, thereby leading to stagnant lymph flow, poor circulation, and potentially compromised immunity,” says Adkins. 

So if you've been feeling sluggish or puffy, dry brushing may be worth a try, since it can help promote the movement of this fluid and aid in de-swelling, says Thanki. 

May Lessen the Appearance of Cellulite

Cellulite is a harmless skin condition that causes dimpled, lumpy skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s caused by fibrous tethers that run through your fat and pull on the fascia (connective tissue) that lies underneath your skin, as well as fluid accumulation and the breakdown of collagen and elastin (which happens as you age), as Shape previously reported

Dry brushing may be able to aid in reducing the appearance of cellulite by moving stagnant fluid through the body, says Jacobs. A study published in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology looked at the effects of manual lymphatic drainage on cellulite and found that it decreased the visibility of cellulite on the thighs, butt, and stomach. Another study published in the journal Dermatology Reports found that manual lymphatic drainage also has a positive effect on improving the appearance of cellulite. Again, though, cellulite is completely harmless and not something you should feel pressured to get rid of.

Dry Brushing Tips

Ready to take advantage of the benefits of dry brushing? Here are some things to keep in mind, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to do it.

Choose the right brush.

A good dry brush should be made with natural fibers and contain bristles firm enough to help stimulate blood flow without scratching your skin, agree the experts interviewed for this article. "Use a softer brush to dry brush over your face," since this skin is more delicate, suggests Adkins. (Reminder: You can always use raw silk gloves as a gentler option than a dry bristle brush.)

Do it in the morning.

"Dry brushing is usually done in the morning as part of one's Ayurvedic dinacharya or daily self-care habits," says Jacobs. Ideally, it's performed before bathing (on dry skin, of course) so you can easily get rid of any impurities or sloughed skin cells loosened by the massage, adds Adkins.

Use light pressure.

"The lymphatic system is right below the surface of the skin," explains Adkins. "Applying too much pressure will occlude the lymph channels and defeat the purpose of the massage." Gentle but consistent touch is ideal, she says. "Use enough pressure with the brush that you feel the blood flow being stimulated underneath your skin but not so much that it's painful," says Jacobs.

As for the direction of your strokes, it "should always be toward your heart as that is the direction of your circulatory system," says Adkins.

Avoid dry brushing sensitive skin.

Dry brushing isn't for everyone. "Don't dry brush over open skin, warts, acne, sensitive skin, psoriasis, eczema, sunburns, or wounds," since dry brushing could exacerbate each, cautions Adkins. What's more, if you notice any swelling, inflammation, or irritation, you should stop, she says.

Moisturize afterward.

"After dry brushing, follow with a massage using either warm medicated oil or ghee, using the same stroke technique as you did for dry brushing," suggests Adkins. "Adding this step provides grounding, nourishment for your tissues, and moisture for the skin, improves the skin's barrier function and elasticity, and increases suppleness. This type of massage is referred to as Abhyanga and traditionally follows dry brushing."

If you apply oil or ghee, wait 15-20 minutes for it to absorb, then take a warm shower, says Adkins.

How to Dry Brush Your Skin

Below, Adkins demonstrates how to dry brush.

Start with your feet and legs. Use long strokes over long bones (legs) — toward the heart — and circular strokes over joints (feet).

Over the abdomen, use a circular motion that mimics the natural direction of digestion. To do this, start at your lower right quadrant and move upward to the upper right quadrant, across to the left upper quadrant, then down to the left lower quadrant.

Next, move onto your arms and hands. Use long strokes over your arms and circular strokes over your hands.

Finally, gently dry brush your face (cheeks, chin, forehead) in circular motions. "If your face has acne, avoid those areas," says Adkins. You might switch to a smaller brush for your face in order to get more control over your dry brushing.

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