5 Potential Health Benefits of Dry Brushing
You already brush your hair and teeth — should you brush your skin, too?
We’re talking about dry brushing, an ever-popular self-care technique (#drybrushing boasts more than 73 million views on TikTok) that some have claimed exfoliates the skin, detoxifies the body, and reduces the appearance of cellulite. Given its popularity, we decided to examine whether there is scientific backing behind this social media trend.
Dry brushing isn’t new. It’s rooted in many cultures and traditional medical approaches around the world, including Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medical system that the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai notes is more than 5,000 years old.
In Ayurveda, garshana, the Sanskrit term for dry brushing, means “friction by rubbing.” It involves gently exfoliating dry skin with a soft- or stiff-bristled brush, or raw silk gloves, working from the extremities in toward the core, according to Veena Haasl-Blilie, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner and the founder of Saumya Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic wellness company in Corrales and Jemez, New Mexico.
While most people may be able to practice dry brushing safely on their own at home, it’s best to seek guidance from a board-certified dermatologist, massage therapist, Ayurvedic practitioner, or integrative health specialist to determine if this practice is right for you before you get started.
So far, there’s no published research to specifically support any health or wellness benefits of dry brushing. However, anecdotal evidence from some healthcare professionals suggests that there may be something to this ancient practice. Here are a few potential perks.
Possible Anecdotal Benefits of Dry Brushing
According to experts we interviewed, as well as online publications, some potential anecdotal benefits of dry brushing could include:
1. May Exfoliate the Skin
Massaging the skin with a dry brush removes dead skin cells, which stimulates new, healthy ones to grow in their place, says Nina K. Antonov, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut, and an associate of the American Academy of Dermatology.
The exfoliating effects of dry brushing may also unclog pores, making it easier for your body to eliminate waste products through sweat, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Note that none of these potential skin benefits have been studied specifically with regards to dry brushing, and more research is needed to fully understand how this technique may impact skin.
2. May Stimulate the Lymphatic System
Dry brushing’s effects may be more than skin deep: “It certainly may slough off dead skin cells — but from an Ayurvedic perspective, we’re also working with the lymphatic system,” Haasl-Blilie says.
The lymphatic system is a key part of the body’s immune system that helps maintain fluid levels, protect your body against pathogens (any bacteria, virus, or other substance that can make you sick), and transport and remove waste products, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Brushing your skin, according to one doctor from a Cleveland Clinic interview, may encourage the flow of lymph, which is made up of extra fluids that drain from cells and tissues, as well as proteins, minerals, fats, damaged cells, and pathogens. Lymph gets pumped throughout the vessels, organs, and nodes that comprise the lymphatic system, though at low pressure, according to a recent research paper. And sometimes the pressure drops even lower, such as when there’s more fluid that needs to be moved (e.g., certain diseases), per the aforementioned paper.
If there isn’t enough pressure, lymph can’t flow the way it should. This causes fluid to collect in your arms and legs, leading them to swell (a disease known as lymphedema), per the Cleveland Clinic. When this happens, lymph can’t transport white blood cells to other areas of your body, which may increase your risk of an infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Techniques that promote lymph flow may help. For example, a type of massage known as manual lymphatic drainage is a widely accepted treatment for lymphedema, note the authors of a recent review. However, any lymphatic benefits of dry brushing have yet to be studied, so we don’t know if and how dry brushing affects the lymphatic system. In conventional Western medicine, a healthy lymph system is encouraged by staying hydrated and living a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, per the Cleveland Clinic.
3. May Boost Circulation
Dry brushing is similar to a gentle massage. Like other types of massage, it stimulates a mild inflammatory response, which, as Dr. Antonov explains, boosts circulation and potentially supports healing. This pushes blood to affected areas, helping transport nutrients and remove waste products, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Unfortunately, there are no studies on dry brushing and circulation.
4. May Improve the Appearance of Cellulite, Temporarily
Many people dry brush in hopes of getting rid of cellulite, per many effervescent social media and beauty-blogosphere promises. However, there is no evidence to support this claim.
That said, dry brushing may temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite through the short-term increase in blood circulation. The extra blood flow may plump dimples in the skin, Antonov says. Though, again, this has yet to be researched in studies.
5. May Give You Energy
Dry brushing can potentially stimulate the nerve endings in the skin, which can leave you feeling refreshed, says Patricia K. Farris, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
“Because of its invigorating and stimulating effect, many people find that adding dry brushing to their morning routine actually wakes them up better than a mug of coffee,” Haasl-Blilie adds, from her experiences working with clients. Once again, this is currently anecdotal due to the lack of research, and we need more studies to better fully understand how the practice of dry brushing affects the mind and body when it comes to alertness, focus, and preparation for the day.
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