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Does Dry Brushing Really Work?

Brush for dry brushing
Laurel Naversen Geraghty, MD - Blogs
By Laurel Naversen Geraghty, MDBoard-certified dermatologistJanuary 16, 2020

Dry brushing has been around since Ancient Greece. Yet with each passing year, this skincare treatment only seems to gain more popularity - and more celebrities who swear by it. But what exactly is dry brushing, and should it be a part of your regular routine?

The treatment is much like it sounds: You make short swipes of a stiff-bristle brush over dry skin, moving gradually from the outer extremities (the feet and hands) toward the heart. This can be done as part of a spa treatment - or in your own bathroom.

Devotees claim that dry brushing has myriad benefits, including exfoliation, improved circulation and lymphatic flow, smaller pores, cellulite reduction, detoxification of the body, and improved digestion. It’s reasonable to expect exfoliation and a temporary circulation boost from dry brushing (like with any form of massage), but the other promises are not backed by science. (Detoxification is performed by the liver and kidney, by the way - not a brush applied to the skin.)

Dry brushing is not something that dermatologists typically recommend or consider necessary for skin or our health, though many people enjoy dry brushing and tolerate it well. But it’s not for everyone. Avoid dry brushing if you have open wounds, sensitive skin, cystic acne, or scaly pink rashes (such as psoriasis or eczema), since it could worsen inflammation, compromise the skin’s barrier, contribute to fine cuts or breaks, or even scarring. Dry brushing should also be skipped whenever there’s an active skin infection, or you could risk spreading the germs around. Examples include athlete’s foot (red, scaly rashes caused by fungi or yeast), skin warts (caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV), or bacteria (which may present as honey-colored crusting on the skin, or pimple-like bumps or pustules).

Dry brushing may help to exfoliate keratosis pilaris - a condition of small, rough bumps on the upper arms - but it could also contribute to fine breaks or tears in the skin. That’s why dermatologists often recommend smoothing lotions as a better alternative. Look for one containing lactic acid, glycolic acid, or salicylic acid, such as CeraVe SA Cream for Rough & Bumpy Skin, AmLactin Lotion, or Gold Bond Rough & Bumpy Cream.

Dry brushing can be too harsh or abrasive for the face; a gentle scrub or a chemical exfoliant (such as a solution or cream containing glycolic acid) is a safer, more reliable way to brighten the complexion.

Like with anything, moderation is key. Dry brushing too briskly or too often (more than once or twice per week; in fact, once or twice per month is plenty for most people) could contribute to dryness, irritation, fine scratches or other tiny skin injuries (what dermatologists call microtrauma).

But if dry brushing doesn’t seem to cause any problems and offers an energizing, exfoliating boost, there’s little harm in enjoying this age-old trend.

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About the Author
Laurel Naversen Geraghty, MD

Laurel Naversen Geraghty, MD, is a Stanford-trained dermatologist, former Glamour beauty editor, and journalist who has written for The New York Times, Glamour, Allure, Real Simple, Women’s Health, and other publications. She has made many television appearances and co-hosted The Dermatology Show on Sirius-XM throughout medical school. Her personal skincare blog can be found on Instagram and Facebook.

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