Photo by Fahim Kassam
By: Lilith Ruby
Aside from a good physical exfoliation, the benefits of dry body brushing are often unclear or, at the very least, slow going, especially for those who have taken up the habit with the hopes of getting rid of cellulite. And while reducing the visibility of cellulite and tackling fluid retention are certainly positive arguments for practicing dry body brushing, the real magic of it lies in its ability to increase circulation and lymphatic drainage.
“Using a dry brush and a nourishing moisturizer are two easy steps to keeping your skin healthy and glowing all over. Body brushing mechanically boosts your circulation and lymphatic system and discourages fluid retention,” says skincare guru Dr Barbara Sturm, adding, “The bristles also provide an exfoliating action which helps unclog pores and remove dead cells from the surface of the skin.”
So why is it important to factor our lymphatic system into our beauty routines? Our lymphatic system (which is comprised of lymph vessels, nodes and organs like the spleen and thymus) is a well-oiled machine that not only aids in the absorption of fats and filters out toxins and waste from our bodies, but also keeps our all-important lymph fluid moving around the body. Our lymph fluid carries and delivers infection-fighting white blood cells (or lymphocytes) throughout our body and helps keep our immune system in check. In other words, it’s one of the most important systems in our bodies and should be well taken care of at all times.
“The combination of exfoliation and massage that you get from dry body brushing helps promote circulation and stimulates and opens the pores, making it easier for the body to sweat, which in turn reduces the amount of toxins flowing through the lymphatic system,” Dr Sturm confirms.
Drinking plenty of water, avoiding processed foods and getting regular massages are just a handful of ways to keep the lymphatic system happy. The latter being where dry body brushing finds its feet as an at-home massage that you can easily do to keep your lymph flowing properly.
Lymphatic massage has been practiced for decades and was first pioneered by Danish Dr. Emil Vodder in the 1930s, his practice of Manual Lymph Drainage eventually becoming recognized as one of the most popular manual techniques to encourage the movement of lymph and clear blockages. And while dry body brushing may not be quite as effective as manual lymph drainage, it’s certainly not a waste of time and has proven benefits for your body outside of exfoliation.
Likewise, modern techniques like mechanical massage, Rolfing, connective tissue manipulation or the osteopathic lymphatic pump treatment are all rooted in serving the lymphatic system or improving circulation, among other things.
However, it’s important to note dry body brushing cannot replace lymphatic massage, says Courtney Yeager, Chief Executive Officer of The Tox, an LA and New York-based clinic specializing in lymphatic drainage and massage using the “The Tox Technique”, a blend of different modalities from around the world used to cleanse the body from the inside out.
“[Dry body brushing] is a great technique to do at home everyday that gets the lymph fluid flowing, however it will not detoxify your body the way a lymphatic massage will,” Yeager stresses. “I would recommend lymphatic massage to everyone (unless you've had cancer or lymphedema). There are so many health benefits to lymphatic drainage and unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have an internal pump and needs our help daily... even if it's 30 seconds before the shower!”
For those less concerned with their lymph and more interested in minimizing the appearance of cellulite Dr Sturm has notes for you too, most importantly, post-shower remember to follow up with a nourishing moisturizer and invest the time if you want to see results.
“Cellulite occurs when pockets of body fat get pushed against the connective tissue surrounding fat cells, which ultimately pushes it towards the the top layers of the skin yielding the appearance of cellulite,” Dr Sturm affirms. “If you are targeting cellulite, I’d recommend spending five minutes body brushing daily before you shower.”
“Alternatively, using a body brush just twice a week will leave your skin noticeably softer textured and smoother. Always start at your feet and brush upwards with slow, clockwise strokes towards the heart,” Sturm continues, noting, just as we exfoliate our face to soften, smooth and prepare our skin for product, dry body brushing helps our skin absorb moisturizers and oils which, in turn, leaves skin looking plumper and healthier.
At the bare minimum, think of dry body brushing as a form of self-care that at the very least, will keep your skin baby soft.
Here’s your quick guide to dry body brushing:
-Pick a tool that’s firm but not harsh, and avoid broken or irritated skin.
-Using oils is always optional.
-The aim of the game is to brush upwards, always towards the heart.
-Start at your feet and move the brush clockwise. When you reach the arms, go in hands first.
-Your strokes should be firm and long, aim for a rhythmic quality and spiral towards your upper body.
-Overlapping is encouraged and when you reach your joints (knees, elbows, etc.) keep movements short and swift.
-Handle your chest and neck with care and always finish with circular motions across the heart.
-Pay attention to areas with lymph nodes too; that means no skipping the armpits, groin or under the jawline.
-If you’re keen to include your face, pick up a gua sha tool or your exfoliator of choice and sweep up and towards the ears or scalp.
-Find space in your morning routine for dry body brushing, as its energizing effects don’t quite gel with a nighttime routine.
-Lastly, clean your brush regularly and if possible, leave to dry out in the sun every so often.