Get smoother skin by adding this simple habit into your routine
Two doctors explain what dry brushing is, and why you might try it.
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Modern-day beauty treatments are often inspired by centuries-old classics. Case in point: dry brushing. While the beauty ritual may sound intimidating, its popularity spans multiple cultures and remains a common treatment in Ayurvedic medicine. The self-care treatment is touted as an effective DIY method for glowing, "detoxified" skin—and it has celebrities and skincare professionals alike who swear by its efficacy.
To break down everything there is to know about dry brushing—including its benefits and how to incorporate it into your routine—we talked to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stefani Kappel of Newport Beach, California, and New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green.
What is dry brushing?
Dry brushing is a type of mechanical, physical exfoliation that involves sweeping a firm bristled brush over the entire body. The goal is to remove a dead layer of skin cells without the use of topical skincare products like serums, oils, or scrubs to reveal a more glowing complexion. This is especially effective for those with dry skin, as it can help bring the healthy skin cells living underneath the dryness to the surface by exfoliating it off.
Unlike exfoliating with a topical skincare product, which involves applying the product onto damp or wet skin, dry brushing is done on skin that's completely dry. This is because removing dead, dull skin from dry skin minimizes the risk of causing injury to the deeper layers of skin. "When the skin is wet, it's harder to slough off the superficial layer without traumatizing the healthy, viable skin cells underneath," says Dr. Kappel. "Think of it like removing dry tissue paper off dry grass versus removing it after the sprinklers go on. Removing wet tissue paper off of wet grass is much harder to do and very messy. The same goes for the skin—the cells are less sticky on dry versus wet skin, and thus, are much easier to remove without causing injury or over-exfoliation."
How do you dry-brush your skin?
You'll need a brush with natural firm bristles and a long handle that'll help you get to hard-to-reach areas, says Dr. Kappel. A good choice is the highly coveted Ineffable Care Dry Brushing Body Brush, which has 4.4 stars from over 1,000 reviews on Amazon.
Starting at the feet, begin sweeping the brush in long, circular motions in an upward pattern until you reach your neck. Avoid using too-firm pressure, as this can cause superficial tears in the skin, warns Dr. Green. Instead, start dry brushing with light pressure—especially if your skin is sensitive—and work your way up to medium pressure, if your skin can handle it. It's also suggested to move the brush using an upward motion toward the heart, as this may improve blood flow and circulation. The whole process should only take five minutes, and you should limit it to twice a week to avoid over-exfoliating your skin, says Dr. Kappel.
After dry brushing, take a shower to wash the flakes of dead skin cells away. Then, apply a moisturizing lotion, body oil, or balm. To prevent buildup of bacteria in the brush, clean it immediately after use with an antibacterial soap and water, Dr. Green says.
What are the benefits of dry brushing?
Dry brushing comes with a slew of beauty benefits. For one, it's an effective form of exfoliation. The skin consists of several layers, which vary by location on the body. "The top-most layer is the stratum corneum that is made up of dead skin cells," Dr. Kappel says. "These dead cells make the skin look dull, dry, ashy and less vibrant, but by removing them [through dry brushing], skin not only appears brighter, fresher, and more vibrant, but the bottom layer of skin cells is also signaled to divide and replace the dead layer that was removed." Bottom line: It's out with the old, dead skin cells and in with the new.
If your feet and ankles are tired or swollen, dry brushing may provide some relief by improving circulation. The action can stimulate blood flow and encourage lymphatic drainage (the removal of toxins in the body), which results in reduced swelling, aches, and discomfort in the legs and ankles, says Dr. Kappel.
Finally, dry brushing can increase the efficacy of your skincare products. By removing the dead layer of skin, those cells no longer inhibit the penetration of topical skincare products, says Dr. Kappel, thereby allowing for deeper penetration of hydrating creams and skincare active ingredients post-shower.
What are the drawbacks to dry brushing?
As with most beauty treatments, dry brushing isn't for everyone. Those with psoriasis or eczema must use caution—or avoid dry brushing altogether—as the ritual can worsen those conditions, says Dr. Kappel. Also, darker skin tones should take care not to over-exfoliate, as this can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or darkening and scarring of the skin, she adds. Finally, overzealous dry brushing—either by pressing too firmly or doing it too frequently—can cause inflammation and irritation, which can appear as red patches that become darker over time.
You must also avoid dry brushing over skin that has bumps, irritation, open wounds, skin tags, or moles, as "it can cause further irritation as well as bacterial or fungal infections," says Dr. Green. Also, because the skin on your face is more delicate than the skin on the body, it requires a more gentle exfoliation technique than dry brushing can provide, so it's best to avoid practicing the treatment on your face and instead opting for a cleansing brush designed to use wet that’s specifically for the face.
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