Dry brushing involves brushing the skin with a bristle brush to remove dead skin cells. Some claim it can also boost circulation, promote lymph drainage, and boost the immune system. However, there are no studies that examine these claims.

Some may find dry brushing helps physically exfoliate the skin, making it appear smoother. It is possible that it may have other benefits, but scientists have yet to research them.

It is important to note that dry brushing is not ideal for all skin types. Those with open wounds, sunburn, or inflammatory conditions should not physically exfoliate the skin. Aggressive exfoliation can also damage the skin.

This article examines what dry brushing is, its potential benefits, risks, and how to try it.

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Dry brushing is a technique that involves using a bristle brush on dry skin. To do it, a person typically undresses then brushes over one area of the body at a time. Many instructions specify brushing upward, toward the heart.

A person can then follow dry brushing with a shower or bath. The aim is to exfoliate and massage the skin.

People can dry brush the body, or the body and face. It is best to use a softer brush for the latter, as the face is more sensitive.

The only confirmed benefit of brushing the skin is exfoliation. Doing this removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, which may help improve its appearance, especially if a person follows this by rinsing the skin, drying it, and moisturizing.

Some people also enjoy how dry brushing feels. People may find it helps them feel refreshed or awake before getting into the shower. It can encourage people to take time for self-care, which may be a benefit in itself.

Some claim that dry brushing can also boost circulation, help with lymphatic drainage, and other health benefits. While it is plausible that it may boost circulation in a similar way to massage, there is no evidence to confirm this.

Similarly, while a specific type of massage known as manual lymphatic drainage is proven to help drain lymph, there are no studies on whether dry brushing can do this.

Lymph is a fluid in the body that travels around the lymphatic system. It has several functions, but one is to remove waste products, such as toxins, dead bacteria, and viruses.

Learn more about lymphatic drainage massage.

There are many health claims surrounding dry brushing. Many have no scientific evidence to support them. At present, there is no evidence dry brushing can cure or treat any medical condition.

Some of the myths around dry brushing include that it:

  • Reduces cellulite: Most females have cellulite, regardless of their body shape or size. It is due to how fat is structured beneath the skin and is completely harmless. However, some people turn to dry brushing or exfoliation as a way of reducing its appearance. There is no evidence that these techniques help with cellulite long term.
  • Improves heart health: Dry brushing may temporarily increase blood flow to an area, but this does not mean it benefits cardiovascular health overall.
  • Boosts the immune system: While certain types of massage support lymphatic drainage, there is no evidence that massage or dry brushing improves how effective the immune system is at killing pathogens. However, it is possible that engaging in relaxing activities may reduce stress, which could help the immune system.

Dry brushing is unlikely to cause serious harm, but it can cause skin damage if a person does it too often or too hard. Some potential side effects include:

  • irritation
  • soreness or pain
  • scratches or injuries to the skin
  • disruption to the skin’s barrier, which may result in increased dryness

While dry brushing is safe in moderation, it also carries some risks in certain situations. These include:

  • Infection: If a person has broken skin or they dry brush hard enough to cause micro tears in the skin, they could potentially develop an infection. People can reduce the chance of this by brushing using lighter strokes and making sure their dry brush is clean. Avoid any areas where there is broken skin or wounds.
  • Damage to moles or growths: It is not beneficial to dry brush over moles, warts, or other skin growths. Doing this will not remove the mole from the skin, but it could inflame or damage it. This may make the growth more noticeable.
  • Spread of warts: Viruses cause warts and cold sores, which are contagious. If a wart or cold sore bursts due to dry brushing, the brush may pick up fluid containing the virus and spread it to other areas of the body or face. People with these conditions should not dry brush, shave, or pick at areas with warts or cold sores.

Dry brushing is popular in the alternative health community, but it is not a routine recommendation among dermatologists.

Some dermatologists may recommend dry brushing as a way of exfoliating the body, but as there is no strong evidence it is superior to any other form of exfoliation, it is not typically a priority.

A person could also exfoliate their body via other methods, such as:

  • washing with a sponge or loofah in the shower
  • using a hydrating body scrub
  • applying a lotion that contains an acid exfoliant, such as an AHA, to dissolve dead skin cells

People who wish to exfoliate their body can consult a dermatologist about the best way to do this based on their skin type and aims.

Dry brushing can be gentle or harsh, depending on the brush a person uses and the pressure they apply. For this reason, it is a good idea to test out some different brushes to find one that feels right.

Once someone has their brush, they can try dry brushing once a week to begin with. They could then increase to a few times per week if they wish.

To dry brush:

  1. Remove clothing and begin brushing up the arms with a clean body brush. Use long, light strokes. It should feel pleasant.
  2. Repeat this on different areas of the body, such as the chest, back, and legs. Avoid sensitive or delicate areas.
  3. Next, use a softer brush, especially for the face. Again, the pressure should be light.
  4. Get into the shower or bath and rinse the skin off.
  5. Pat the skin dry with a towel and apply a moisturizer.

If dry brushing feels unpleasant, harsh, painful, or causes redness or inflammation, try lighter strokes. If these sensations or symptoms continue, stop using the brush.

Dry brushing is a way of exfoliating the body. It involves using a bristle brush on dry skin. While many health claims surround dry brushing, there is no firm evidence that it has benefits.

It is possible that dry brushing improves circulation and helps lymph to drain, as similar forms of light massage do. However, there is little possibility that it helps with cellulite.

People who want to try dry brushing can start by finding a suitable brush and gradually introducing it into their routine. Those with skin conditions such as warts, eczema, or acne should consult a dermatologist first to make sure this method of exfoliation is safe for them.