Dry brushing is an invigorating and effective way to brush away the day’s accumulated stress, release tension, remove toxins stored in our bodies, and improve the skin’s appearance through exfoliation. Big promises, right? It sounds too easy and too good to be true. Not everything you might hear about dry brushing is true, but keep reading to find out more about the proven benefits of implementing dry brushing into your daily routine.
Dry brushing supports skin renewal, stimulates the lymphatic system (which positively affects the nervous and immune systems), aids in the removal of accumulated toxins, and brightens the spirit, giving your body and mind a fresh glow. As the name implies, it is practiced when the skin is dry, before bathing or applying oil or lotion. This promotes exfoliation, skin renewal and revitalization, and the stimulation of the lymphatic and nervous systems beneath the skin. Before a bath or shower is the optimal time to include dry brushing in your daily routine, especially since the subsequent immersion in water can support the removal of dead skin and continue the detoxification process.
Detoxification is an important part of maintaining our overall health and vitality. Encouraging regular detoxification through various methods of dry brushing is part of various systems of medicine worldwide and it’s a regular fixture on many spa menus. At Rasa Spa, a holistic health center in Ithaca, NY, full-body 60 or 90-minute dry brushing sessions are offered on their menu, and the treatment includes a firm bristle brush to take home with you.
First and foremost, our skin is our largest organ, and as such, it also serves as our main system of elimination, a vital component of detoxification. Dry brushing is exfoliating and helps to slough off the dead skin cells promoting the renewal of the skin. According to Dr. Julia Tatum Hunter, dermatologist and owner of Skin Fitness Plus in Beverly Hills, California, proper exfoliation is particularly important for people with thick skin that tends to grow so quickly that the layers grow over themselves and block the pores. She does caution though, that people with thinner, more sensitive skin prone to rashes may want to be cautious and avoid overuse of exfoliation.
In addition to exfoliation, dry brushing gently stimulates blood flow to the skin through the smaller capillaries in the skin’s deeper layers. The increased blood flow promotes skin renewal and supports detoxification. Areas of the body with thicker skin, larger muscles, and more insulation, such as the thighs, hips, and buttocks, benefit from more vigorous brushing to increase circulation. This is particularly important if a daily routine involves long hours sitting at a desk, driving in a car, or even standing in one position, all of which can lead to stagnation. This in combination with massage is incredibly effective in the stimulation of our skin.
In the tradition of Ayurvedic medicine, stimulating the skin through dry brushing can break through the dense, heavy kapha dosha. The kapha dosha in Ayurveda represents the qualities of water and earth in our bodies and governs our physical structure as well as our body’s insulation (our fat layers) and the health of our immune system. When kapha is properly balanced, we feel strong, radiant, and experience long-lasting stamina. But when kapha is out of balance, we feel sluggish, weighed down, sleepy, and experience an accumulation of toxins (such as cellulite or dead skin).
Speaking of cellulite, there have been many claims that dry brushing will reduce cellulite and help with digestion. But there is no evidence or research to support this. Dry brushing can very temporarily alter the how your skin looks, but so far there’s no proof it reduces or cures it. If diminishing the severity of the appearance of cellulite is your goal, this certainly won’t hurt and can offer a temporary improvement.
To counteract this, particularly in the naturally kapha-increasing winter season, Ayurvedic specialist Jeff Turner of Living Ayurveda in Monterey, California, incorporates dry brushing techniques as part of the regular programs of traditional panchakarma cleansing programs. He suggests dry brushing, either at home or in the clinic, to invigorate a sluggish constitution, uplift mood, and stimulate the lymphatic system.
Deeper than the skin’s surface, dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system, one of the most important integrated systems in our body. The network of vessels in the lymphatic system acts as a filtration system throughout the body, cleaning up byproducts of metabolism, dead cells, and other waste material, returning fluids and materials to the bloodstream where they can be processed or eliminated.
White blood cells, our immune system’s first line of defense, circulate throughout the body and the tissues through the lymphatic system as well as the bloodstream. Dry brushing stimulates the movement of these vital components of our immune system throughout our entire body. The combination of increasing the circulation of white blood cells along with removing built-up waste products strengthens our defense mechanisms, particularly during the winter cold and flu season. For this reason, spa detoxification programs, at such spas as San Francisco’s Spa Sol Detox Center, Lake Austin Spa, and the Townhouse Spa incorporate dry brushing into treatments.
Calm the Mind, through the Skin
The nervous system is also intimately connected to the skin since we have so many touch receptors throughout the skin’s layers. Touch can be soothing and calming when we’re coping with stress or in need of relaxation, as well as uplifting and invigorating when we’re depressed. For this reason, Turner often suggests a regular dry brushing routine for people who are coping with depression and has seen profound results in people incorporating this into a regular practice. No matter what a person’s mood, a few minutes of dry brushing in the morning can make the difference between feeling sleepy and being ready to greet the day.
While the occasional use of dry brushing can be an effective pick-me-up, regular use is the key to seeing and feeling the benefits. If you also include massage in your daily routine, schedule the dry brushing first, and then the oil massage. A daily dry brushing practice supports our physical and emotional health and also serves as a pampering technique that encourages self-love. When we take the time to touch and connect to our own skin, it improves our self-esteem and sense of self.