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People are dry brushing their skin for a glow-up. But does it actually work?

By Adam Cheung

13 October 2023

GQ Magazine. View online:

Every January, millions of people across the globe swear that this year will be the year that they fully reinvent themselves. But, last year, the Kween of Wellness that is Gwyneth Paltrow took to Instagram to reveal something that she had been doing on her own journey for balance and good health: dry brushing.

Since then, some of the world’s most beautiful people like Alicia KeysJosephine Skriver, and Miranda Kerr have all come out to say that dry brushing plays a huge part of their daily skincare routine. It’s also blown up on platforms like TikTok too, with the #DryBrushing tag gaining almost 140 million views (and counting).

But, what’s the deal? Does dry brushing really work? Or is it just another social media fad that everyone seems to be falling for? We’re going to find out if all the hype is worth it, or if it’s all just a little bit silly.

What is dry brushing?

While dry brushing your skin sounds like a new trend, its roots actually date back thousands and thousands of years to the ancient Greeks and Japanese. In the 2nd century, it was used as part of Ayurvedic rituals in India (basically, an alternative medicine system that’s all about the mind, body, and spirit), and now, it’s something that we’re all doing from the comfort of our own homes.

As its name kinda already states, dry brushing involves moving, well, a dry brush all over your body in long, pressured strokes. A combination of exfoliation and massage, it’s meant to lift any dead skin cells and increase blood circulation. Some people also claim that it can do other things like encourage lymph node drainage and prevent cellulite.

What are the benefits?

“Dry brushing can provide benefits in a number of areas,” says Mark Poole, managing director and founder of skincare range Bare Addiction. “The motion of the brushing pattern and coarse bristles can help remove dead cells from the skin’s surface, and the massaging action can help stimulate blood flow across the treatment area and even the whole body too. Furthermore, it can provide the feeling of alertness, wakefulness, and relaxation, which is great for those of us with busy lives.”

Dry brushing will also apparently help the body release toxins through sweat. The bristles on the brush supposedly stimulate the pores and open them up, making it easier for the body to sweat, which in turn reduces the amount of toxins flowing through the lymphatic system. “The idea that dry brushing can stimulate the lymphatic system is something that has been making a lot of headlines over the past couple of years,” says Dr Magnus Lynch, consultant dermatologist and laser surgeon. “While many have sworn by this claim, there’s very little evidence to actually support it.”

“There is also no proof to support that dry brushing can benefit your cardiovascular health and immune system,” says aesthetic medical practitioner Dr Bhavjit Kaur. “On top of that, while there are a lot of famous people who say it can reduce cellulite long term, this isn’t entirely true either. Dry brushing can temporarily plump up your skin, but this usually disappears after a few hours.”

In a 2011 study by the Faculty of Medicine of São José do Rio Preto, researchers used a series cellulite treatments on 14 patients aged 19 to 36 over a two-week period. After ten sessions, they found that there was “no further reduction in the circumferences” of their cellulite. Hmmm.

Who should avoid dry brushing?

Dry brushing is not made for all of us. “If you have inflamed, infected, or broken skin, I would recommend avoiding dry brushing,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Mia Jing Gao. “Individuals with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and acne should steer clear from it. I also generally do not advise dry brushing over the face and neck as the skin in this area is thinner and more sensitive.”

“If you are on vitamin A medications such as isotretinoin, acitretin, and alitretinoin, keep away from dry brushing,” says Dr Angela Tewari, consultant dermatologist of Dermatology Studios. “Also, if you use topical steroids on your skin or are on blood thinners, I would strongly suggest avoiding it altogether.”

Are there any side effects to dry brushing?

“Generally speaking, dry brushing is usually safe,” says Lynch. “However, as you can probably imagine, if it’s done too aggressively or vigorously it could cause some inflammation of irritation.”

“With that in mind, do it gently for an appropriate amount of time and in the right direction,” says Kaur. “If you brush too often or too hard you’ll experience some of the aforementioned side effects, or more serious ones like micro tears or cracks and damage to the skin barrier. It’s also essential that you keep your brush clean, as not doing so can result in things like warts, cold sores, and lots of other nasty things. If this happens, speak to your GP or a healthcare professional as soon as possible.”

How often should you dry brush your skin?

“The frequency for dry brushing can depend largely on individual tolerance and skin type, so start infrequently and then slowly build it up,” says Poole. “For those of you who don’t have overly sensitive skin, dry brushing can typically be done once or twice per week. Don’t take a hot shower straight after as this can cause your skin to dry out further and always use a suitable brush.”

“If you have sensitive skin, I’d recommend not doing it too regularly, as not only will your brush begin to dislodge dead skin cells, it can also begin to cause areas of normal skin to break, resulting in cuts, soreness, and bleeding in some cases,” says Tewari. “If you think your skin is on the more sensitive side, dry brushing once every two weeks will suffice.”

“This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but make sure you apply plenty of moisturiser after dry brushing to keep your skin nice and hydrated,” says Gao. “Opt for a cream, oil, or serum that’s made from natural ingredients. Nothing with anything artifical.”

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