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Skin brushing

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Photo: Wix

What is skin brushing?

I’m often asked by patients that seek natural skin remedies or treatments about skin brushing. It’s important to understand the risks and benefits to decide if it’s worth trying. Skin brushing is often performed with a bristle brush that is brushed across the body. The method itself focuses on brushing ‘towards the heart’ and claims to exfoliate, improve lymphatic circulation, reduce cellulite and remove toxins.

What is skin brushing used for?

Dry brushing has been claimed to reduce cellulite, stimulate the lymphatic system, and exfoliate the skin, among many others. Let's examine each of these claims.


Myth or not | Dry brushing reduces cellulite.

Before talking about dry brushing and cellulite it’s important to understand what cellulite is. Cellulite is the term used to refer to the dimpling of the skin on the buttocks and thighs that occurs when fat underneath the skin pushes through the loose connective tissue in the skin. It results in the ‘lumpy bumpy’ appearance of the skin. This appearance can look worse when bloated or with extra fluid in our soft tissue. Dry brushing claims loosely that it can improve the appearance of cellulite. This may be somewhat possible by reducing the excess fluid in the soft tissue by massaging or ‘brushing’ it out. However, dry brushing cannot get rid of the actual fat or improve the strength of connective tissue fibers that have loosened to result in the actual cellulite. The only way to do this is to either treat the fat (noninvasive radio frequency fat removal or liposuction) or tighten the adhesions through a procedure referred to as subcision.

Final verdict: Myth.
RELATED | Dr. Erum Ilyas discusses dry brushing with Hello Giggles


Myth or not | Stimulate the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system in our body is a system of vessels designed to absorb or remove excess fluid in our tissues. These vessels have one-way valves that prevent the backflow of fluids once entering the vessels. Perhaps massaging out the excess fluid in our skin dry brushing could potentially encourage the movement of fluid from our soft tissue into the lymphatic system.
Final verdict: Maybe not a myth.


Myth or not | Exfoliate the skin.

Dry brushing does exfoliate the superficial skin cells by the abrasive nature of the surface of the brush.
Final verdict: Not a myth.


Is there any scientific evidence to support the use of dry brushing or skin brushing?

There is little to no scientific evidence to support this practice. Using a bristle brush over the body will clearly exfoliate dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. If performed gently and not too aggressively this is not necessarily harmful. However, over-exfoliating has its own issues. It can lead to sensitive, inflamed skin. It can stimulate excess pigment to be deposited in the skin leading to discoloration. If performed over open wounds, cuts, or eczema, bacteria and yeast may overthrow and lead to infections.
Any type of massage or manipulation of the skin will likely stimulate the lymphatic system in the skin which serves to remove excess fluid from tissues but this does not necessarily require a brush to do so. Massage of areas of the body with cellulite can improve the overall appearance of cellulite but, again, this does not necessarily require a brush to do so. Although I cannot find a study that evaluated the number of bacteria that builds up in bristle brushes, there are studies that show that bacteria may start to build up in loofah sponges if not maintained and can spread infections. I tell my patients that if they feel a benefit to skin brushing and they do not have any underlying skin conditions then it is likely harmless to do.

Are there any recommendations on how to maintain the skin brush to reduce the risk of infection?

I simply recommend cleaning the brush routinely to reduce the risk of infection and switching it out as frequently as a toothbrush, every few months. If someone is seeking simple exfoliation then using a body scrub containing sea salt or sugar or an apricot scrub that is rinsed down the drain as opposed to reused will have fewer risks associated with it!

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