What’s the Deal With Dry Brushing? [Mini-Experiment]

by Charlotte on June 17, 2012 · 44 comments

It’s easy to do, only needs a 5$ tool and is purported to do everything from cleansing the lymphatic system, strengthening the immune system and reducing the signs of aging to removing cellulite. So why isn’t everyone “dry brushing”?

Because it’s nuts, that’s why. I am not a Pretty Pony. (Not for lack of trying when I was younger…)

But is it really? It’s been on my radar for awhile, mentally filed under Slightly Kooky But Not Harmful Things Health Nuts Do Sometimes (right next to Neti pots and lion breathing), but I honestly hadn’t given it much serious thought until I was chatting with Jen Sinkler, the fitness editor for one of my fave mags ever Experience Life (note: if you are not reading this, you should be – it’s one of the best researched, most diverse and well-written publications in the health sphere) this past weekend. During our conversation we ranged from the horrors of cooking with plastic in the microwave (You might as well lick a plutonium popsicle*) to how we would be great dinner companions because when I ask the waiter if the ham is nitrate-free she not only won’t kick me under the table but will even ask him first. So when I brought up dry brushing (why not?) I figured we’d both chuckle and perhaps make a crack about dirty hippies and move on.

Not so. “It’s supposed to be really good for you,” she said. “Good for your immune system, detoxification and exfoliation and all that. After all, your skin is the largest organ in your body.”

My brain made that funny screeching noise you only hear in cartoons (and in my head) as I did a 180. So of course I spent all weekend researching dry brushing.

What is Dry Brushing?

Dry brushing, so named because you use a stiff brush or loofah to brush your skin, is either a centuries-old or decades-old technique, depending on who you ask. It’s been used for big things like helping cancer patients recover faster to cosmetic things like tightening up loose skin after pregnancy or weight loss. It’s even touted as a cure for cellulite. When I tossed that one to Jen, she just nodded and said that while she had no first hand knowledge of it, she could see how it might help improve the look of subcutaneous fat because of how we store toxins in our fat. I also remembered that Teresa Tapp of T-Tapp - another Experiment I was sure was kooky nonsense that actually turned out to be really interesting and enlightening – was a big fan of dry brushing.

While I am not personally bothered by my cellulite, I don’t love it either and if it went away I certainly wouldn’t be heartbroken. But the real appeal to me was the loose skin cure. Five babies in seven years was not kind to my tummy and while I’m plenty fit and at a healthy weight, I still have a bunch of loose skin as skin elasticity is not in my genes, apparently. (Also, because I know someone’s going to bring this up, my body fat percentage is quite low – I know a lot of trainers like to tell clients that if they just get their body fat low enough the skin will tighten up on its own. I’m living proof that this is not true.)

According to one handout I got from the Life Spa at Lifetime Fitness – they recommend dry brushing to all their clients – other benefits include: removal of dead skin, stimulates hormone producing glands, prevents premature aging, tones the muscles, improves your nervous system and helps digestion.

How Do You Dry Brush?

Well first you have to get naked – sorry never-nudes – and you have to get a brush. I got this one for $4.99 at Target:

Other websites say you can use anything from a loofah to a special type of Japanese washcloth as long as it’s made from natural fibers – but that would require more effort than I was willing to put into this mini-experiment so I went with cheap-n-easy. Plus the handle detaches from the brush so I can use the stick part for things like rescuing Matchbox cars from under the refrigerator.

Next, you simply brush your skin. It doesn’t matter where you start but they advise always stroking towards your heart, working in small circular motions until you’ve brushed your whole body. They recommend doing it first thing in the morning and/or before your shower so you can wash off all the dead skin you rake up. That’s it!

What Does the Science Say?

The research on dry brushing is… mostly non-existent. There’s lots of anecdotal reports from both doctors and practitioners of it being helpful but no real hard science. The good news is that there really aren’t any bad reports about it either. (But what could go wrong with this? You accidentally sit on the stick end? Dry brush your eyeball? It’s pretty innocuous as health treatments go.)

My Mini-Experiment

So I’ve been dry brushing for three whole days now and you know what? It feels really really good. Maybe I am a pony. I haven’t seen any difference in skin tightening or cellulite – they say it takes a minimum of 30 days to start seeing results and up to 6 months to really notice a difference – but I think I’ll keep it up just for the feel-good factor alone! It’s kind of like a little mini-massage (no stranger butt-touching required! – reminder: Get in on the Under Armour drawing while you can!) and it’s really invigorating. I like it. And other than the few minutes a day it takes, I don’t see any harm in trying it. And hey, if it really does tighten up my loose tummy skin I promise to show you pics! In… 6 months!

Do any of you dry brush? How do you feel about health treatments that are a little bit “out there”? Do you do anything kinda kooky?

*Okay, so I may be exaggerating a wee bit. (Me? Exaggerate? Never!) But seriously don’t cook with plastic in your microwave! Not the dishes, not the plastic wrap, not take-out containers and especially not melamine! Stop it! This PSA brought to you by the council of I Love You Too Much.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

M. Lindsay June 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm

I totally dry brush! I got a brush after a spa treatment – they just give you the brush to take home, because they use a new brush for each person.I figured it had a purpose, so I kept it. I use it mostly to exfoliate, but perhaps I’ll start doing it more regularly. I always feel hot after I do it, so I guess it stimulates something?

I know I only subscribed to Experience Live because of your recommendation, and I also reallly really love it. It’s practically unknown here in Canada, and you can never find it on magazine racks, I always feel so edgy when reading it.

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Charlotte June 17, 2012 at 11:12 pm

” I always feel hot after I do it, so I guess it stimulates something?” ROFL. I was trying to think of a subtle way to work that into my post and couldn’t do it without getting all 50 Shades of Grey up in here but you said it perfectly!! And this ” I always feel so edgy when reading it.” made me giggle. I’m the same way – it kinda makes me feel all smart and superior;) So glad you like it too!!

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Jessica August 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Hi! I notice this post is about a year old… Did it work for you after all??

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Charlotte August 2, 2013 at 12:01 am

Hmmm… I’m going to say no. At least not for cellulite or skin tightening. Although I quit after about 4 months. It felt kind of nice but it really didn’t make a difference that I could see.

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Alyssa (Azusmom) June 17, 2012 at 11:48 pm

I don’t, but I think it’s because I do it wrong: I don’t apply enough pressure, and it hurts. My daughter LOVES dry brushing as long a s it’s heavy pressure (it helps calm her when she’s riled up. It’s recommended for folks with autism. I tried it on my son but he’s too ticklish, lol!)
I may try it again.
Perhaps after hearing about YOUR results.
Mwahahahahaha!

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Lisa June 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Teresa Tapp says you don’t have to apply a lot of pressure. Put a nickel on your arm and feel how light it is..that is all the pressure you need!

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kuri June 18, 2012 at 3:21 am

In Japan, we… no, don’t count me, they use water for “akasuri” with the cloth. And water with loofah, so it no longer really scrubs but it hydrates the skin. But so does water, no ? I eat my loofahs.

> The good news is that there really aren’t any bad reports about it either.

If you want to ignore them… I have no reference (particularly not in English), but your dermatologist would tell you. Mines did. There is lots of research about scrubbing away “dead skin”, with any type of techniques. Just like brushing your hair 100 times a day, that was believed to be great. 100 years ago. But now that they have looked at it…
Roughly, by brushing away the top layer of the skin, you do get a smoother appearance…on the short term. But your skin is more fragile with less barrier for the ultra-violets. And it destroys some bacteria or whatever we carry on the skin, and that usually repel some other bad bacteria, meaning you “dead skin” is actually very alive… So brushing is like destroying intestinal fauna with “cleansings”. Same debate. You are more prone to catch all the bad bugs around. Then, on the long term, browse for the secondary effects of all the dermabrasion, peelings, etc…It is thought to be detrimental for skin elasticity. So that surely depends on how much, how often, you do it.

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sarah June 18, 2012 at 7:04 am

Maybe you’re a pony! Hilarious. This post was worth reading just for that sentence.

I’ve tried dry brushing before, but it didn’t really do anything for me. I don’t have large amounts of cellulite, so I am not to bothered by it either, and I’m not sure the other reported benefits make sense.

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Renée June 18, 2012 at 7:47 am

I love dry brushing! While I don’t do it frequently enough to get any of the (purported) health benefits – I do have dry skin and I really think it helps the skin stay softer, and none of that white scaly look. I really like to dry brush before shaving my legs, seems to aid in a smoother (in my opinion) shave. And it feels great! I had my first dry brush as part of a spa treatment, and I’ve been hooked ever since ;-)

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rebecca lazar June 18, 2012 at 8:44 am

Loved this post!! I’m a Holistic Nutritionist who usually prescribes skin brushing as part of a persons health protovol unless I am dealing with someone who I just know will leave my office, proclaim I’m a kook and never come back ;) I agree with everything you said here (and got a good laugh too!), we don’t really know too much about it but when people do it for a while they feel good and it doesn’t hurt to try. Ps. I’d like to see the Castor Oil pack as your next review– another “kooky” thing we like to do, although that one really does have great health benefits!

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M. Lindsay June 18, 2012 at 9:46 am

Yes to the castor oil! I have a pretty sensitive tummy, and I’ve had kidney stones in the past (the hereditary kind…so I know they’ll reoccur..yay?), and my naturopath recommended using castor oil packs on my left flank, or my tummy when they’re achey or feeling off. They totally help! I’m a huge fan of the castor oil packs :)

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Jer June 18, 2012 at 8:48 am

Wait a second, you said that first you get naked and then you get a brush from Target. Do you really have to be naked in order to buy a brush? Does Target approve of this? Maybe it’s a mid-west thing because I know that Target stores in Utah would not approve of naked customers no matter what they’re shopping for.

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Nina Parrish August 22, 2012 at 5:37 am

This is interesting question Jer. I am interested to know the answer too.

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Nicole June 18, 2012 at 9:14 am

I dry skin brush! I am not a hippy- in general I think that modern medicine is a very good thing- but when I got diagnosed with a serious illness, it was one of the first things my naturopathic doctor recommended (and seeing a naturopathic doctor was the best thing I did! My regular doctor was only looking at the individual pieces and not the big picture, and didn’t recognize that something was seriously wrong. Plus, he was one of the “give you a pill to treat the side effects of a pill” guys).

My NDs reasoning is the same as you mention- the skin is the largest organ in the body, and we do a lot of our detoxing through it. Plus, she also thinks it helps stimulate the lymphatic system to keep stuff moving.

Unfortunately, I am not very consistent with it, so I can’t give a great analysis. But now you’ve motivated me to get serious with it again!

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Katie June 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

Never-nudes!!! I love you, Charlotte.

Oh right the dry brushing thing. I don’t know about cellulite, but I am sure it would feel awesome and maybe I’ll just use this as an excuse to buy one of those awesome brushes. I have one of those weird looking head massagers and I love anything that mimics a massage. Because I’m too cheap to get a real massage.

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Miz June 18, 2012 at 10:45 am

ok YOU may have me in.
Ive seen this everywhere and really chalked it up to “I hath no mo’ time” and moved on.
but YOU endorsing? and I so am a pony as well.

Im in.
maybe.
if I procure me that extra hour in the day…

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Emma W June 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

Oh god, dry brushing. I remember trying that when I was a teenager (yes apparently I had cellulite even then). It was all the rage in all those ‘Top Tips to Banish Cellulite’ magazine articles back then. I’m 95% sure it’s 100% bullshit.

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Cathy June 18, 2012 at 11:05 am

No experience dry brushing though I’ve read about it several times and have a brush in my house…just never get around to it. But I have been trying earthing lately…it sounded totally kooky to me at first but I do feel more calm since starting it.

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Heather June 18, 2012 at 11:42 am

I hadn’t heard of dry brushing before, but it sounds kind of lovely, even if it doesn’t really do anything.

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geosomin June 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I have no idea about the real benefits of it but I have a few friends who do it for how good it feels. They have great skin, if that matters. Haven’t seen a big change in cellulite, but you’re right. It’s not like there will be any harm in it. I have dry skin so I bet it would feel really nice…

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Di June 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm

I keep meaning to get back into this. Used to do it when I was younger. Ironically that I am older and NEED it I don’t do it :\ Let us know how you go with it.
I’m a pony in training ;)

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Jess June 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Let me know if this works on your tummy. I have “twin skin” after having my twins and I agree doesn’t matter how low my body fat gets the skin doesnt tighten back. Somehow I think I will need to do more then dry brushing! :)

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Lisa June 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I dry brush using Teresa Tapp’s technique for years and I love it. I have been told that I have the skin of someone in their 20s (48 here..yikes!). It also helps with my elimination in general. It’s an awesome thing to do and it only takes a few minutes. :)

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Connie February 8, 2014 at 10:51 am

Hi Lisa,
I have just read your entry on Charlotte’s Blog about dry brushing. I am very curious to know if you’ve had any children? I have. I’ve started dry brushing in hopes that it will help improve my skin’s elasticity. Have you found this to be true in your experience? Would you mind sharing with me your age and how long you’ve been applying dry brushing? I had kind of lost hope but I figure I’ll give this a try.
Thanks so much,
Connie

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Caro February 8, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Hi, LOL Im replying to a question I got about if this is effective. I personally havent tried it enough becuase of the adverse issues. I do have cellulite though and thats what brought me to doing this! Let me clarify when I dry brushed i didnt use a soft wood brush, I used a plastic hair brush that was nylon bristles (soft but harder then those wood ones with the soft bristles). I used a soft cloth and applied pure olive oil on my skin after. I felt amazing. However, some things i mentioned really bothered me, such as the aches after. I may go back to cellulite areas only and see if it helps some. My experience just isnt enough on dry brushing. I would eat right. that is going to really aid in getting skin tight! X

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Phoebe June 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I have tried it a few times and think the benefit for most women is not the skin exfoliation but the BODY ACCEPTANCE – seeing and touching our skin in a gentle and kind way – taking the time to take care of our bodies.
PS I also subscribe to Experience Life on your recommendation.

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Jody - Fit at 54 June 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I have heard both good & bad on this but after reading you & other comments, I might try for just the feel good & help the dry skin. I doubt it does anything for cellulite.. ;-)

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Helena Green June 19, 2012 at 2:41 am

There are still many people used dry brushing since it can really get dirt while bathing. This is really effective to cleanse dirt of the body.

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Lauren June 19, 2012 at 3:51 am

Have you heard of the site Cellulite Invesitgation? She’s really systematic about trying to figure out what her skin is telling her and using that as a guide for overall health. Here’s a post on cellulite specifically, but notice her references to diet, movement, avoidance of toxins etc as well as hygene “tricks”: http://www.celluliteinvestigation.com/cellulite-faq/how-to-get-rid-of-cellulite (Here’s the short version: http://www.celluliteinvestigation.com/2011/05/myths-about-cellulite-and-top-cellulite-treatments.html)

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Crabby McSlacker June 19, 2012 at 6:09 am

Wait, you were chatting with Jen Sinkler? JEALOUS! Love her & Experience Life.

So my dilemma is that for leg hair removal purposes (I use one of those rip-the-hair-out home epilator thingies cause I’m too lazy to shave) you’re supposed to brush in the direction of the hair, or downward. But that’s the opposite of the supposedly magical health benefits direction. Ingrown hairs or pumped up immune system, which is a girl to choose?

To solve this dilemma I simply forget to take out the brush most days. Sigh.

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TwoDiffSocks June 19, 2012 at 9:20 am

Hi Ya’ll,

I dont dry brush but we do use “special type of Japanese washcloth” in the shower with our favourite soap/bodwash.

The washcloth looks like this: http://www.asianfoodgrocer.com/product/japanese-wash-cloth-by-salux

Thats all i got :D

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Tamara June 19, 2012 at 9:37 am

I keep meaning to do this, Charlotte… thanks for the reminder!

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Mary Stuart June 22, 2012 at 5:26 am

I haven’t use this dry brushing and thanks for sharing this information. Perhaps, with the positive comments I found on this blog it encourages me to use this one.

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lorrwill June 25, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I just started (like 2 days ago) because I read that is is good for clearing up ashy skin.

First, not only did it feel insanely good to scratch the places on my back I can’t reach, oh my gosh was my skin soft like crazy afterwards. On the yuck side, I kicked up so much dust my glasses were fuzzed up with dead bits of me and I had a sore throat the next morning from breathing said.

Will I lose weight or nuke my cellulite from dry brushing? Doubtful. Will I have silky soft exfoliated skin? Yes, yes, and yes.
(Next time to commence in the dry shower so I can brush where I will rinse off and thus keep fallout to a minimum.)

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Nathan February 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I have recently lost a lot of weight and have a lot of excess skin, stretchmarks, etc. It isn’t pretty. Honestly this strikes me as a bunch of woo woo; especially the brushing “toward the heart” bit. I figure I might as well try whatever I can while I save up for the cosmetic surgery I need to remove the belly-sack.

How has dry brushing been working out for you? Did you bother to keep it up? Did you take before and after pictures that you would feel confident in posting?

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Charlotte February 9, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I kept it up for probably 3-4 months and then got bored with it. I do it sometimes now if I remember but not very often. Honestly I didn’t see any difference it all. It was good about exfoliating dry skin and it felt nice but all my stretch marks and loose “mummy tummy” skin are still there…. Sorry! Let me know if you try it! For me, it falls under “can’t hurt to try”, right? The Loofah is like 3 bucks so as far as health fixes go this one’s worth a shot:)

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Samantha March 4, 2013 at 6:03 pm

I am a distributor for It Works. I have had some skin specialists who work for the company mention dry brushing before using our wraps. (Hence why I am lookin it up and how it works) Anywho Next time I try a wrap I am going to do this beforehand. its good to wrap after a hot shower and the pores be nice open and clean.

If you aren’t familiar with the body wraps check them out at http://www.itworks101.com or GetURSkinnyback101 on facebook. They do in fact help to tighten and tone the skin YES even for mommy bellies. I’ve have helped a lot of women get their belly back into great shape with these. I also have personally lost 20 lbs from the wraps and products as well :) Definitely putting Dry brushing into my normal routine now as well.

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Maureen April 30, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I think dry brushing is BS. I tried it for 7 months last year on my thighs and it didn’t do anything. It’s basically exfoliating your skin – how that’s supposed to eliminate ‘toxins’ (which is also BS) several layers under your skin I don’t know. It’s funny how when you ask these “naturopaths” or “holistic healers” they also don’t know – just make vague references to evil toxins clogging your body.

But I will say dry brushing is good for exfoliating. Although a loofah in the shower works just as well ;)

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caro October 28, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I have only dry brushed 2 times. The second time I dry brushed at night top to bottom then I used a cloth and olive oiled all my skin top to bottom….the next day I felt rejuvenated like ive never felt ever except maybe when I was a teenager. It felt great!! Now the BAD – each time ive dry brushed ive noticed within the 2 days following I seem to have a severe attack of something. 1st time I had a bad herpes sore that grew and stuck around which ive never had like that. 2nd dry brushing I had severe pain on lower left back which points to kidneys. I cant say for sure that its related to dry brushing BUT if it is that’s telling me its messing with my immune system and Im not sure that’s a good thing. Id like to hear others complaints!

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Patti April 8, 2014 at 12:51 am

Read FitinFun,co>DrySin Brushing > Physical Symptoms of Detox with Dry skin Brushing

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Caro April 8, 2014 at 12:37 pm

While still to early to tell,,,I tried only using olive oil one night without dry brushing and I swear i had some sympotms of herpe which Im not sure if it developed. Im going to keep n eye on it and get to the cause of what causes it. Thanks all.

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