You may associate a ‘detox’ program with a particular diet, but self-care is really important for detoxification too. Hormones and other chemicals released in response to stress actually add to the toxin load that your body is working hard to reduce. Dry brushing is a self-care technique that may do more than just help reduce your stress. It is both a relaxation practice and a way to physically stimulate your circulation, immune system, and the body’s natural detoxification systems. 

What is “Dry Brushing?”

Dry brushing is a self-care technique with origins in ancient Ayurveda. It involves using a dry, natural bristle brush to brush skin in certain patterns around the body. This practice is thought to exfoliate skin, support healthy blood flow, and encourage the body’s natural detoxification processes and proper immune function. Exfoliation allows for easier detox through sweat, and the massage pattern is meant to move pathogens and cellular toxins through the lymphatic system more efficiently. 

How does “Dry Brushing” work?

This practice should support relaxation through self-massage and may even temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite by bringing more circulation to the skin.

On the surface, dry brushing causes exfoliation (the removal of dead, dry skin cells from the surface of the epidermis). Exfoliation is not only the secret to younger-looking skin, it also benefits detoxification by clearing out pores. While the skin cannot aid your body in detoxification the way the liver or lymphatic system does, it does act as a gateway for toxins coming into the body and can become a breeding ground for pathogens if pores are clogged. While “sweating out toxins” has largely been debunked, scientifically, there is evidence that sweat can contain some heavy metals and fat-soluble toxins, such as bisphenol A (BPA) [1,2]. By clearing your pores through exfoliation, you can prevent toxins from the air from making their way in, and open the channels to sweat some of the bad stuff out.  

Beneath the skin, lymph (or lymphatic fluid), is a clear liquid that carries immune cells (such as white blood cells/lymphocytes) as part of your immune system, helps to regulate fluids throughout the body, and removes toxins and waste products from cells and tissues. You have about 600 lymph nodes, little bean-shaped glands that filter lymph, throughout your body. The most noticeable clusters of nodes can be felt in the groin, armpits, and neck. Lymph carrying waste products from cells travels to the nodes where immune cells target pathogens, and dead cells and cellular waste are then emptied back into the bloodstream to be excreted by the liver and kidneys.

When toxins, pathogens, and cellular waste overwhelm the lymph system, swelling of lymph nodes can occur. You can often feel this swelling with your hands in the areas where nodes are clustered. Kind of like removing debris from a storm drain grate, dry brushing may help to gently push the backed-up lymph through the nodes. These motions may encourage the movement of waste products out of the body and return a steady flow to the lymphatic system.

How should I “Dry Brush” as part of my detox?

First, get a natural bristle brush intended for dry brushing. Some are meant to be held in your palm while others have long handles to help brush the hard-to-reach parts of your back. There are some very affordable options available online. 

Think of the practice as self-massage and consider setting the scene for relaxation before you begin. You’ll want to be in a warm place as your skin will be bare, and you may want to get in the shower or a bath afterward, to wash away exfoliated skin and debris. 

Start with the soles of your feet and brush towards your heart, following the direction of the lymphatic system. Brush every patch of skin gently with several strokes before moving on. Use long fluid strokes on limbs and circular motions on the torso and back. Finish with arms, working from palm to armpit.

After you have completed your brushing practice, wash your body and brush with soap and water. Follow your bath or shower with a moisturizer or skin oil of your choice. It should absorb quickly into exfoliated skin, leaving it soft and flexible. Let the brush dry in a warm, dry place to prevent mildew growth. 

Are there any potential side effects associated with dry brushing?

If you have sensitive skin, it may be irritated by dry brushing. Stop practice or use a gentler touch on areas that become red or itchy. If you have skin conditions such as 

psoriasis or eczema, avoid brushing affected areas, as well as open wounds or sores. A dry brush may cause pain, interfere with healing, and increase the risk of infection in these areas. Other than that, there are few possibilities for side effects, so why not give dry brushing a try?

References

  1. Sears, Margaret E., Kathleen J. Kerr, and Riina I. Bray. “Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review.” Journal of environmental and public health 2012 (2012).
  2. Genuis, Stephen J., et al. “Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study.” Journal of environmental and public health 2012 (2012).