The Whys and Hows of Dry Brushing (At Last!)

Many a Morning Routine has mentioned it, and several readers have been left wondering: “What is this dry brushing thing all about?” So here goes.

There are many sources of information on dry brushing out there, like Spirit Beauty Lounge’s blog, Indigo+Canary, and the one that got me started – Evan Healy’s blog.  I’ve seen many claims about the benefits of dry brushing, from exfoliation to detox to reduction of cellulite.  There are also some “official” ways it ought to be done, including techniques, how long to brush, etc.  My aim here is to cover my personal reasons for doing it and the method that works well for me.*

Along with some of the helpful information I’ve read about dry brushing, I’ve seen dubious claims of the benefits, and some misleading information about how the body works, but I do think there are real benefits to the practice.  Plus it just feels really good.  I typically spend 5 minutes a day brushing, mostly right before showering.  Overall, I think my dryish skin is healthier.  I don’t have flakiness anymore, or need to use body moisturizer on a regular basis, and I see far fewer blemishes on my back.  Brushing works much better for me than loofahs or exfoliating gloves.  Those are just too harsh on my sensitive skin – they leave me drier and with more irritation.  Sorry to disappoint, but after two years of brushing quite consistently, I have not seen any changes in cellulite.  I guess it hasn’t gotten any worse, though.  I do feel like brushing helps to get the body fluids moving if I feel bloated or puffy.

The general recommendation is that natural bristle brushes should be used for dry brushing.  The brushes I use are vegan, although there are boar bristle brushes that are likely to say “natural bristle” on the label, so read carefully if that matters to you. My favorite brush by Hydrea London has a hand loop but no handle, and I use it for most of my body.  To get my upper back I switch to this one, which I buy at Whole Foods.  There are also brushes with a hand loop plus a removable handle, and firmer bristled ones too.  The brushing should feel pleasant and invigorating, and while you should feel energized and have a bit of a glow afterward, the skin should not be inflamed – if it is, your brush is too firm.  I’ve seen recommendations to wash the brush every week or two, but I am terrible about washing, and I’ll often let it go for a several weeks or a few months (sorry if I’m grossing you out).  By then my soft bristled brushes are often too soft, and I buy a new one.  I’ve gone through a few brushes!

When brushing, use however many strokes it takes based on your body size, size of the brush, and what feels good.  Honestly, there are only two things I think are of great consequence in regard to technique:

1. Brush toward the heart, to help your body fluids move in the right direction.

2. Use a brush that’s stimulating but doesn’t leave you red and inflamed.

This is the pattern I prefer, starting with the hand-loop brush:

  • elbow to shoulder
  • hand to elbow
  • hand to shoulder
  • same on other arm
  • along collar bones down toward breasts
  • from shoulder, around bottom of breast and up to mid-chest, circling a few times
  • same on other side
  • belly, starting at belly button and make ever widening circles in the same direction your intestines coil (right to left)
  • upper thigh/hip up over butt toward waist, both sides
  • continuing with upward strokes, from waist as far up back as I can reach
  • (switch to handled brush) up back to shoulders and neck
  • (switch back to hand-loop brush) knee to hip
  • foot to knee
  • foot to hip
  • same on other side

So that’s it!  Do you dry brush?  What’s your technique?

*your mileage may vary

33 Responses to “The Whys and Hows of Dry Brushing (At Last!)”
  1. Nancy says:

    This will be so helpful Rebecca. Very detailed in all aspects..
    Yes, I ‘ve been dry brushing for a while now and I’m not exactly sure what got me started.. My technique is much like yours but I start at the sole of my foot and then up
    I hope that everyone give this a try

  2. Sarah C. says:

    This post is very timely. I actually just bought a brush on Sunday! Can’t wait to get started. Too bad about the cellulite improvement though, I was hoping the dry brushing would improve it somewhat.

  3. Love to skin brush! Always add a little lavender oil onto the brush for an extra soothing boost. I love Dr Bernard Jensen’s skin brush- nice long handle to get all those hard to reach places. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Renee says:

    I am having issues finding a brush that doesn’t feel like its ripping me apart! I will definitely try the brushes you recommend. Thats Rebecca!

  5. Jennifer K. says:

    I started dry brushing a couple of months ago. I’m inconsistent with it, but I like the way it feels when I remember to do it. About 99% of the time I use the bamboo exfoliating gloves I got on Spirit Beauty Lounge. Sometimes I use them on my dry skin or by themselves on wet skin without soap. I think they do a great job of exfoliating. When I do remember to dry brush, I use a natural sea sponge (SBL again) in the shower because I don’t want to over do the exfoliation.

    On another note, when I got my Hydrea London brush I contacted SBL through the live chat on the site and the person on the other end said the brush shouldn’t need to be washed. I found this a little odd, but I just briskly run my hand over the bristles to get the stuff out of the brush.

  6. Aleigh says:

    Thank you for the shout-out! I’ve been dry brushing for just over a year now (although I’m not as devoted as I ought to be to doing it daily), and I’m still loving it. I might just be hopeful about it, but I actually do think I’ve noticed a reduction in cellulite — or at least, improvement in the firmness/texture of my skin — around my midsection and upper thighs. Maybe you just don’t have enough cellulite for it to make a difference. :)

  7. comagirl says:

    Thank your for posting this. I’ve been one of those who have inquired about dry brushing in the past.

    The post was very timely, I was ready to toss in my browsing on NMDL. There just hasn’t been anything new or fresh in a long time. Thanks, again.

  8. Rebecca Bailey says:

    Glad people are finding this useful! @Sarah C, maybe you’ll have better luck. My cellulite is “old” and perhaps if it hasn’t been around as long dry brushing helps more. Or maybe I just don’t do it enough time each day to notice results.

  9. Liz says:

    Thanks for this!

    The reason it doesn’t help with cellulite is that nothing will. In my opinion, the term cellulite was made up to give women one more thing to buy products to fix.

  10. Audreiana says:

    Very informative! I tried dry brushing once before and I was like, now how is this helping? But this article really breaks it down for me. I just may try it again now. Xo, Audreiana from True Beauty By Nature

  11. Caroline says:

    Dry brushing can help stimulate lymph circulation (our lymph system is a bit like a sewer, its content, lymph, being moved only by muscular movements, not by heart beats like our blood). Also, skin is our largest emunctory: one of the ways out for toxins. Dry brushing helps getting read of dead cells and makes way for toxins to get out instead of just hanging in there causing all sorts of skin problems.
    It’s all things I’ve real and heard though, I’ve only started to practice…
    As for cellulite, I lost quite a bit of it last summer while swiching from a regular kind of diet to a vegan with lots of raw kind of diet!

  12. Beatrice says:

    Thanks for this post Rebecca. I actually have a question. I’ve been dry brushing (I started because I want soft skin but now I mostly do it because it feels so good!). I Okay, anyway, question:
    I’ve been contemplating the clarisonic after a lot of reading (and re-reading the NMDL thread on it several times) and I was wondering if you or any other readers have experience using that for dry brushing? (Is that a silly question?! I don’t know! The brushstrokes would be in different directions i suppose… It’s kind of a chunk of change but I was thinking it might be a more worth-it experiment if it can multi-task)
    Anyway, any thoughts?

    Also, it was kind of great to have a how-to. I would be totally into more! So much of my makeup application knowledge especially is trial and error.

  13. Rae says:

    I am so inconsistent with dry brushing! I have only tried it a handful of times and I do notice the entire process is relaxing. For me showering feels like such a chore because I have such red and irritated skin-it’s hard to slow down and enjoy the process. Does anyone know if this helps at all with keratosis pilaris? Or at least doesn’t make it worse?

  14. therese says:

    I love dry brushing. I just started up again. Something about dark winters makes me sleep in and miss the time to do but now I am back on track. It really makes my skin smoother with a little glow. It may take a while but you do notice results. Plus it feels good. Great post Rebecca.

  15. Anne says:

    @Rae – Showering has always dried out my skin as well, and even after I moisturize, it will still feel dry. However, I have started putting coconut oil all over my body before getting into the shower, and it is a life saver! The water helps the oil to absorb into my skin, and afterward my skin feels moisturized and I don’t even need to put on lotion or more oil!

  16. Rebecca Bailey says:

    @Rae, I would think the exfoliation would help it.

    @Beatrice, do you mean using the clarisonic on your body? I’ve never used it (my sensitive/reactive face would never put up with that) but I imagine since it’s meant for face it would have a soft brush. Maybe even too soft for body depending on your sensitivity. I’m guessing it’s so small that it would take a really long time to use on the body. My best guess is that if your skin on your face could tolerate the brush, it would be too soft for your body – but that’s just a guess.

    @Liz, ha! you are probably right ; )

  17. Ana says:

    Hello dear community!

    Thank you for bringing this topic up! I have a question… I am a bit intrigued about dry brushing/exfoliating because I thought that the less things we do to our skin, the better. Isn’t exfoliating/dry brushing removing the natural oils of our skin and the outer layers, and drying it out? I understand how it can make it look healthier, after all it is a bit like polishing it, giving it some shine…

    My old dermatologist (he calls himself a living fossile :)) used to tell me that the less water our skin sees the better, and used to laugh at me when I asked him about exfoliation, saying that the clothes we ear everyday already exfoliate our skin enough. This was almost 20 years ago and at the time I was a teenager and I was like “not showering everyday? yeah right”, but now of course I see what he meant.

    Am I the only one with this question? :)

  18. Jette says:

    My mother used to dry brush religiously when she was younger, and her skin is remarkably soft and great now(she’s in her mid-60s) – so I hope I’ll get similar results someday….
    Just a question: I thought you should always start with your legs, moving on to your arms, then the torso (towards the heart, really) – any thoughts?
    I agree with what others said – the process itself just feels good (the rougher the better, but that’s just me!), and the skin is softer, no dry patches, fewer breakouts.

  19. Silvy says:

    @Ana: You are not the only one! Once again, I would like to put in my request for more posts on exfoliation- body vs face, chem v. physical, favorite products, masks, DIY… I think this is a great area of potential for NMDL posts! Or how about a “no exfoliation challenge?” I think my skin would freak out…

  20. Rebecca Bailey says:

    @Ana, generally speaking, I’m a believer in not messing with the skin too much. But I don’t feel that dry brushing is removing anything but the cells that would be coming off soon, and it’s stimulating blood flow to the area which should help the skin do its normal healthy functions. It’s not removing any oils. I kind of think of dry brushing like brushing your hair – it distributes the natural oils (as opposed to shampooing, which can remove the oils). If you exfoliate by using a scrubber with soap on the skin, you’d be removing oils. Not all methods of exfoliation would be equal, and everyone can tolerate a different level of exfoliation.

    @Silvy, there will definitely be more from me on products and such in the coming weeks/months. So much to do, so little time : )

  21. Sarah C. says:

    I guess I’m kindof pre-occupied at the moment with getting rid of cellulite… I’m going to continue with the dry brushing routine I just started for the first time this week but wanted to ask has anyone tried the Bellabachi cups?? Do these work on cellulite?

  22. Andrea says:

    Here’s something I’ve never seen discussed….is dry brushing ok to do over moles/freckles?? i don’t have any that “stick out”, but I do have some large freckles aaand the idea of harsh bristles over them seems like it would be a not so great idea? but I’m definitely not a dermatologist :) anyone have any insight?

  23. Rebecca Bailey says:

    @Andrea, if it’s just a regular mole/freckle it should be fine. If the brush is too harsh for a highly pigmented area that it otherwise normal skin, then that particular brush is too harsh to begin with. Never dry brush over broken skin, and have any problem areas (mole, whatever) checked out.

  24. Andrea says:

    @rebecca, Awesome! Thanks so much xoxo

  25. Sandra says:

    Thanks a lot for this post!

  26. Liz says:

    I love this blog and have learned about so many great products and ways to keep my beauty clean. I just wanted to mention for future reference that dry brushing (a wonderful treatment for sure) can irritate those with eczema/ atopic dermatitis and possibly similar conditions like psoriasis. I have eczema and have been able to keep it under control for a while now to the point where I was having very few flare-ups (Shikai Borage Therapy and their Yuzu body lotion do a pretty good job in light of the fact that there is no cure for eczema). But I got carried away and forgot the basics of eczema care: don’t scrub or rub your skin, EVER. I tried the dry-brushing and it caused my upper back to flare up quite badly, even with a fairly soft-bristled brush (shea butter and aloe vera have been great at soothing the itching/burning). So, eczema sufferers you might want to steer clear or only dry-brush on occasion, I wish I could do this as I did enjoy it. Thanks for your continued information on skin care, it has greatly encouraged me to get the junk out of my beauty products!

  27. Jennifer says:

    Actually…I was looking into the correct way to skin brush and there is a youtube video of a lymphatic specialist who teaches you the correct way to do this in order to move the lymph in your system the right way. You have ‘water sheds’ in your body and certain directions you should brush to move the lymph effectively :)

  28. Adam says:

    Herro Rebecca!

    As a guy, I love dry brushing too! I have seen a huge difference in my skin! I also do my face with a smaller brush with gentle bristles. Since my fiancé and I live in Phoenix and can wear our swim suits anytime/any day we are focused on dry brushing our butts!

    Check out my project on indiegogo that is geared towards dry brushing our butts:)

  29. Thanks so much for this post! I’ve read about dry brushing for a couple years now and have never gotten around to buying the brush and trying it out. This post just might be the convincing I needed. I love that I can always depend on the comments here at NMDL to elaborate and for people to share their thoughts/experiences. Thank you everyone :)

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