Let me tell you right now, if you're hoping this blog post is going to reaffirm your love of dry brushing and make you feel all warm and fuzzy that all those hours you've spent dry brushing have markedly improved your health - then you're going to be disappointed. Dry brushing does work for some things, but certainly not the plethora of things it is touted to do.
What Is Dry Brushing?
The practice is exactly what it sounds like: running a dry, firm-bristled brush over your bare skin, usually before a shower or exercise. Methodologies vary, but most recommend brushing your limbs and torso, always motioning toward your heart.
According to the natural health community, dry brushing is one of the best things you could possibly do for your health. It will get rid of cellulite, remove toxins from your body, improve circulation, stimulate your nervous system, etc.
Or will it?
The Evidence .. Or Lack Thereof
If you do a quick Google search for dry brushing you'll come across a cornucopia of natural health and wellness bloggers and some natural medicine doctors singing dry brushing's praises. However, I'm sure we're all aware that blogs aren't always the best source of information, especially if they're actively anti-science.
So what about a PubMed search? (PubMed is a free search engine accessing primarily the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics.) Searching "dry brushing skin" only yields 2 results,one from the 50s in an undetermined language, andone in German. My German isn't the greatest, but I can assure you there's nothing of value in either article.
The fact of the matter is, there isn't a shred of evidence that suggests dry brushing does much of anything, at least nothing outside of the very logical and presumably expected - exfoliating.
“I know dry brushing is popular, but the actual benefits are unclear,”says Dr. Tina Alster, director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and a clinical professor at Georgetown University.
Get Rid of Cellulite
Anyone who has cellulite knows that there's not a whole heck of a lot you can do about it, and let me assure you, if dry brushing even remotely improved my cellulite over the year or so I committed to trying it a while back, I'd be shouting it from the rooftops.
The fact of the matter is, cellulite is largely in our genetics (although sometimes influenced by diet, lifestyle or hormones), and the only known ways to reduce the appearance of cellulite are to eat a healthful, balanced diet and exercise to reduce the fat content in cells. Sorry, I know it sucks - but there's hope for all you dimply-bummed folks out there. I was able to drastically reduce the appearance of my cellulite withdiet and exercise.
Rather than delve into the mess that is the concept of "toxins" in the natural health community, I'll instead point you to myblog post on pseudoscience where I'm sure you'll find all the answers you need regarding the "flushing of toxins" from the body.
Increased Blood Flow/Circulation While there's no argument that dry brushing will increase blood flow and circulation (but, so will rubbing the skin with your hand, or any other object for that matter), your skin will return to normal almost immediately after you've stopped brushing it. But surely this temporary surge in blood flow helps your body remove waste or toxins, though, right? Unfortunately, there's no evidence of this, either.
Alas, we come to the one logical result we can expect from dry brushing - mechanical exfoliation. Just like using slightly abrasive facial scrubs will slough away dead skin cells, so will using a brush on your skin.
When we're young our skin's outermost layer (the epidermis), which has a microlayer of dead skin cells, turns over fairly efficiently without any need for mechanical help (called desquamation). This is because as the skin cells make their way to the surface layer, their attachment to the skin cells underneath them becomes weaker. Eventually they shed off, and become a meal for dust mites.
But, as we age (usually after our 30s) our skin cells become "stickier", and don't shed as efficiently, which can contribute to a dull appearance.
A common skin condition called keratosis pilaris (KP) could theoretically benefit from dry brushing, as it serves to prevent the buildup that would result in KP - but keep in mind there's still no evidence of this and at this point it is only speculative.
This in and of itself is a decent reason to take up dry brushing, if you're over 30 or if you have a predisposition to skin cell buildup. And as winter approaches and the cold weather begins to affect our skin, dry brushing might be a good idea to help keep your skin looking fresh.
It is alsopossible that dry brushing may work to our advantage in a more covert way. Indeed, not everything that is of benefit can easily be captured by medical research. When we think of meditation and massage, things that were once dismissed as pseudoscience, they have now been linked to meaningful psychological and physical benefits. Having dry brushed and thoroughly enjoyed the sensation, it's possible that it might work similarly to a massage in decreasing stress.
The Bottom Line
Using dry brushing as a method to exfoliate your body gently and infrequently is a great idea. But don't expect to see more results, and dry brush with caution.
Brushing too frequently or vigorously, or using a brush with rough bristles, could cause micro-cuts in your skin that may lead to infection. Exfoliating too frequently (more than once a week) could also break down your skin’s protective barriers, leaving your skin less hydrated and more prone to irritation.
I can appreciate that absence of evidence does not indicated evidence of absence - until things are studied further, however, we should be wary of such claims.
I first got acne in high school, and it came back in my early adulthood. I was able to struggle through those difficult times and come out of it a stronger, wiser, healthier person as a result. I'm here to help you do the same thing!