Along with a list of pressing beauty questions we're Googling late at night, one might include a query about the benefits of dry brushing skin. You've seen the wooden-bristled brushes lined up in the bath and shower oil aisle next to the loofas, and may even use one regularly, but does dry brushing actually have the magical powers some claim?
Certain homeopathic skincare advocates believe that dry brushing—or, rubbing dry skin on your limbs and body in circular motions toward the heart, like some sort of yoga meditation—has detoxing powers that include stimulating the lymphatic system, removing the cellulite right off your problem areas, and even (gasp) improving digestion.
Fact? The real benefits of dry brushing are much less mystical. Mona Gohara, MD, of Advanced DermCare, says that dry brushing is beneficial in so far as exfoliation itself is good. So yes, it will get rid of dead skin cells and help your moisturizer penetrate the skin better. And sure, if you stimulate or massage the skin on your body, you can experience an increase in circulation which provides a temporary plumping effect and vibrant skin boost. But if there is a topical improvement in the appearance of cellulite, she says at best the benefits are temporary. "If there was something that was great for cellulite, everyone would be doing it all the time, every day," she said.
Whitney Bowe, MD, says that if you do dry brush, be sure to buy brushes with natural bristles instead of synthetic ones.
The jury's out on how often you should be dry brushing, but the consensus seems to be "not often." Just as you wouldn't use a chemical peel every day, you should be spacing your exfoliation days out. Gohar suggests exfoliating once a week with a soft-bristled brush to stimulate your skin, while Bowe says twice a week would work, too.
Others are less on board with the idea of dry brushing skin at all. "I have never recommended dry brushing the skin–it's irritating and unnecessary," says Heidi Waldorf MD, Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics. "There are much kinder, gentler, and more effective methods to exfoliate."
In fact, there are even claims that dry brushing can create micro-tears in the skin. Waldorf recommends using an exfoliating body wash instead like Neutrogena Sugar Scrub, Dove Exfoliating Body Wash, or Aveeno Clear Complexion Cream Cleanser. If you have keratosis pilaris or acne-prone skin and need to do a bit more, she says you can use any of these products or a hydrating body wash with a gentler brush like the Clarisonic body brush.
And regarding those magical health and detoxing claims? "Absolutely false. There is no science to support that claim. Scraping off your dead stratum corneum cells has no effect on your lymphatics or digestive system. And that's all that 'dry brushing' will do," says Waldorf. So if you consider exfoliation an important part of your bathtime routine, by all means go for it, but at the end of the day there are much better ways to "detox."