Benefits of Dry Brushing

Our skin is constantly renewing itself, developing new layers as the old cells die. These dead layers build up on the skin's surface and usually fall or are rubbed off, revealing the fresh new skin below. However, certain factors, such as dehydration, cold, dry weather, and the natural aging process contribute to an excessive buildup of dead skin cells and a reduction of new cell growth. This buildup results in dry, dull skin and clogged pores that trap bacteria on the skin’s surface, leading to acne and other skin problems. This can lead to self-image issues and a loss of confidence. However, we can help our skin maintain its natural glow by exfoliating regularly. 

What is Dry Brushing?

Dry brushing is an exfoliation technique that originated in Egypt about five thousand years ago. A stiff brush of animal hair (bristles) was run over the body to loosen dirt and dead skin. Some believe that dry brushing in India was an ayurvedic technique practiced to improve blood circulation.   

As an exfoliant, dry brushing helps remove dead skin cells, revealing the newer skin beneath. Brushing the skin also promotes increased blood circulation, which contributes to the production of new skill cells.   

Dry brushing can be a great addition to your skincare regimen, but to get the maximum benefit, there are some things you should consider, including the stiffness of the brush and the sensitivity of your skin. 

What Kind of Bristles are Used for Dry Brushing?

Traditionally, dry brushes are made from stiff animal hair – most commonly boar bristles, horsehair, and goat hair. Boar’s bristles are the stiffest and good for experienced dry brushers. Horse and goat hairs are softer and better suited for more sensitive skin or people new to dry brushing. The animals are usually shaved to collect the hair, and many companies assure that their methods are cruelty-free. However, if you prefer a vegan alternative for dry brushing, you absolutely have alternatives!

Sisal and jute are both popular vegan alternatives for dry brush bristles. The fibers of these plants are harsher than animal bristles and provide a deeper exfoliation. However, improper usage can irritate the skin further, so sisal and jute brushes are recommended for experienced dry brushers. Synthetic bristles such as nylon are softer than plant bristles, while still providing a vegan option for dry brushing. Nylon works well for the face, sensitive areas of the body, and people new to dry brushing. 

Choosing the Best Dry Brush for Your Needs

When choosing a dry brush, your skin is the most important thing to consider. Bristles that are too harsh can inflame the skin, while bristles that are too soft may not provide the most effective exfoliation. When possible, test potential dry brushes by rubbing them along the inside of your forearm with medium pressure for a moment. You want the bristles to have a nice, firm feel. If the bristles feel “scratchy,” try and find a less abrasive brush. Likewise, if the bristles feel too soft, you may want something a little firmer. 

Select a brush with a large head size for your body, and use a smaller brush for your face. Long-handled brushes are ideal for hard-to-reach areas like your back, and some brushes even have a detachable head for easier handling while brushing your legs and arms. While natural bristles are generally the most recommended, the truth is that the best brush is ultimately up to you and what your body needs. 

Can Dry Brushing Damage Sensitive or Thin Skin?

While dry brushing is a wonderful means of exfoliation, it is not recommended for everyone. Certain skin conditions can be exacerbated by dry brushing, resulting in rashes, acne, or other infections. If you have thin skin, sensitive skin, or a condition such as eczema or rosacea, you should consult with a dermatologist before dry brushing. Likewise, you should never dry brush an area of your skin that has open cuts or scrapes. Doing so increases the risk of bacteria entering the area and resulting in an infection.  

Because the face and neck are more sensitive areas of the body, you should not dry brush these areas until you have become accustomed to dry brushing the rest of your body. Additionally, you want to use a brush with softer bristles, such as goat, horse, or nylon, and start with light pressure to acclimate your skin to the process. 

Getting the Maximum Benefit from Dry Brushing

For the most beneficial dry brushing, skincare professionals recommend dry brushing before you step into the shower. Starting with the top of your feet, gently run the brush along your skin, applying medium pressure. If you are uncertain about the proper amount of pressure, start with a light touch and test an area of your skin, gradually adding pressure until you can feel the bristles pressing into the skin. This may take some practice – you want enough pressure to remove dead skin cells and increase blood flow, but not so much pressure that the bristles are being crushed against your body! As you brush, stay in tune with your skin. Some reddening is normal after a few strokes, but you should not see any scratches or abrasions. If you do, move on to another area of the body and lighten the pressure on your skin.

You want to use long, circular motions, slightly overlapping as you work your way up your legs towards your torso. Always brush towards your heart, as that follows the circulatory system's natural direction and helps stimulate blood flow. Work up the front and back of your legs, over your bottom and the small of your back, and over your torso. Once you reach your heart, take the brush and begin working up your arms, starting with your hands, up the arms, and down your chest (again moving towards your heart). 

Remember to adjust pressure as you brush more sensitive areas such as your inner arms, inner thighs, breasts, and stomach. If you are brushing your face and throat, switch to a smaller, softer brush. After you have finished brushing, shower as usual in warm – not hot – water. Towel dry, and then moisturize well. If you are going outside, apply sunscreen since your newly exfoliated skin will be more susceptible to sunburn.

Although it is best to dry brush before the shower, so you can wash the loosened skin particles off, there are times when you may want to dry brush after the shower (particularly if you have been working in the yard or have otherwise gotten very dirty) to avoid getting excess dirt on your brush. If you dry brush after your shower, towel dry as usual, lightly spritz your brush with body oil and follow the steps above. Once that is done, you can either step back into the shower and quickly rinse the loose flakes off or dust yourself off with a towel before moisturizing as normal. 

If you are new to dry brushing or have sensitive skin, the recommendation is to dry brush once a week. As your body acclimates to the process, you can gradually increase the frequency to two or three times a week as needed. 

Don’t Forget Brush Hygiene.

Dirt, dead skin, and bacteria will gradually build up on your brush, so proper brush hygiene is essential. After each session, lightly brush off the bristles of loose dirt and skin, then spritz the brush with an antibacterial spray (many people use a blend of witch hazel and tea tree oil, both of which have natural antibacterial properties)

Generally, you should wash your body brush after four sessions (every two to three for a face brush). Start by gently brushing off the bristles, then carefully place the brush bristle-side down into a bowl of warm water and gentle soap or baby shampoo. Make sure you don’t get the wooden part of your brush wet since wood absorbs moisture, promoting mold and bacterial growth. Gently swish the bristles in the mixture, then swish the bristles in clean water. Repeat the rinsing process with fresh water until suds stop appearing. Place the brush bristle-side down on a towel to absorb excess moisture, and then either hang in a dry, sunny spot or secure the towel with safety pins and dry with other clothes on the gentle cycle in your dryer. Never leave your brush in a damp area.

When done properly, dry brushing is a wonderful technique for exfoliating, increasing blood circulations, and promoting new cell growth. Some people find the process relaxing, and dry brush in the evenings before going to bed. Others prefer dry brushing in the mornings because they feel invigorated by the increased blood flow. Find what works best for you, and enjoy your fresh, glowing skin! 

For more tips on health, wellness, and beauty, visit Eva-Marie Berry’s blog


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