Can this popular spa technique really exfoliate, detoxify, and clear up cellulite?

By Krista Bennett DeMaio
November 04, 2013

Scan almost any spa menu, and you'll likely find an offering that mentions dry brushing. The practice-which involves scrubbing down your dry skin with a scratchy brush-sounds far from pampering, if not a bit austere. But spa pros and enthusiasts alike swear by it and sing its praises for supposedly doing everything from exfoliating to reducing cellulite. Sounds a bit too good to be true, so learn the facts.

How does dry brushing work?

The exfoliation part is easy to understand. "Gentle dry brushing will slough off dead, dry skin, improving its appearance and allowing it to hydrate more efficiently when moisturizer is applied afterward," says Francesca Fusco, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City.

As for detoxifying, dry brushing is similar to massage. "The light pressure against your skin and the direction in which you brush helps move lymph fluid into the lymph nodes so this waste can then be eliminated," says Robin Jones, spa director at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, TX. Your body naturally does this, but dry brushing speeds up the process and at the same time boosts circulation, delivering oxygenated blood to the skin and other organs, which helps them do their jobs better.

But can it really reduce cellulite?

Because dry brushing helps eliminate toxins, many pros claim it can smooth those unsightly lumps and bumps for good. Annet King, director of global education for Dermalogica and the International Dermal Institute, says the procedure helps remove "stagnant toxins" that break down connective tissue, leading to cellulite.

But there's no conclusive scientific evidence that dry brushing can permanently reduce cottage cheese thighs, which are caused by a combination of fat and connective tissue. Fusco believes the reduction is more of a short-lived benefit caused by temporary skin plumping and swelling. Our, um, bottom line: Temporary or not, we'll take fewer derriere dimples any day. [Tweet this fact!]

So how do you dry brush?

First you need a proper brush, which you can purchase at most health food stores. Look for firm bristles-typically cactus- or vegetable-derived-or else the process won't work, King says. A long handle is also handy to help you access hard-to-reach areas such as your back. Try Bernard Jensen Skin Brush Natural Bristles Long Handle ($11;

Because dry brushing energizes and stimulates the body, most pros suggest doing it in the morning before you shower, but you can do it any time of day you prefer. Using long, upward strokes, start brushing your skin at your feet and work up your legs one at a time. Then move up your mid-section (front and back) and across your chest. Finish by brushing up your arms toward your armpits.

Now it's shower time, with an added bonus: "You've just opened up your pores, so any of body treatments you apply in the shower and afterward will penetrate better," Jones says.

How can I tell if dry brushing is helping?

Your skin should feel softer and smoother after just one session. Some people even say the detox and circulatory boost helps with digestive issues and skin problems such as acne; others claim to feel more energized, most likely a result of the increased blood flow.

And King says you can test if you're releasing toxins: Wipe your body with a dry washcloth right after brushing, then store the cloth in a sealable bag. After a few days later, give it a whiff. According to King, "you will recognize that toxins were released." A tad icky, but if that's your thing, go for it!