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Are you dry brushing yet? How to get the most out of this age-old beauty routine

Here’s everything you need to know about this popular skincare ritual.

Here’s everything you need to know about this popular skincare ritual

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

For the uninitiated, dry brushing is exactly what it sounds like: stroking a specially designed brush all over your body, on dry skin, as a method of exfoliation and self-massage.

It's a beauty and wellness ritual that dates back to ancient times — and it's still in vogue, thanks, in no small part, to celebrities singing its praises. Actress turned controversial wellness evangelist Gwyneth Paltrow is dedicated to dry brushing nightly before getting into her bath, claiming it's "fantastic for circulation" and "helps smooth cellulite." Likewise, supermodel Miranda Kerr has declared herself "a big fan" of dry brushing, buffing "religiously" every morning in an effort to stimulate her lymphatic system and detox her body.

But how much truth is behind these claims? Here's what dry brushing can do (and what it's unlikely to do), and how to make the most of the skincare technique, if you're keen to try it.

What are the origins of dry brushing?

Dry brushing has long been practiced in Ayurveda, the traditional system of Indian medicine that dates back thousands of years. Considered a method of stimulating the lymphatic system, it's also known as garshana.

More recently, dry brushing has become a modern spa staple, as a way to exfoliate skin in preparation for other services. For instance, you can have it added to your body treatment at the Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie Paris in the Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto.

What exactly does dry brushing do for the lymphatic system?

Fans of dry brushing claim the massaging action encourages the flow of "lymph," a fluid that circulates throughout your body and contains infection-fighting white blood cells and other matter.

"Dry brushing helps stimulate the lymphatic system and move the stagnation," says Julie Clark, a Toronto-based holistic aesthetician and founder of skincare line Province Apothecary. She believes that if your lymph flow is sluggish, the fluid buildup can result in everything from dull, puffy skin to cellulite.

As a crucial part of the immune system, the lymphatic system has several jobs, including removing waste products. That's why proponents of dry brushing believe the practice, will — by improving lymphatic drainage — help you flush out toxins.

But Dr. Shannon Humphrey, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at the University of British Columbia, is skeptical about some of these claims.

"Lymph fluid drains through a number of mechanisms, like when our muscles pump and our bodies move. It's likely that dry brushing and massage may boost or speed that process along, but what's the net-net?" Dr. Humphrey says, noting that there isn't good scientific evidence supporting an ultimate benefit for this purported lymphatic effect.

As for the notion that dry brushing helps get rid of toxins, Dr. Humphrey says this is "probably grossly overstated and not supported by the evidence. True detoxification happens through the liver and kidneys."

Is dry brushing a good form of exfoliation?

Dr. Humphrey believes that dry brushing can be an effective and gentle form of exfoliation — as long as your tool has soft enough bristles, your technique is gentle and you're not doing it too frequently. "Skin should not be red or raw or burning afterward," she cautions.

"Gentle exfoliation may possibly help patients with comedonal acne — that is, acne caused by clogging of the pores [such as whiteheads]," adds Dr. Humphrey, though she says she favours tried-and-true acne treatments, like benzoyl peroxide.

Clark warns against dry brushing skin that's broken, infected or breaking out with painful, inflamed pimples; you risk aggravating your skin and spreading bacteria.

Could dry brushing really reduce the appearance of cellulite?

There's no scientific evidence to back up the idea that dry brushing will give you the cellulite-free skin of a supermodel. And while Dr. Humphrey notes that dry brushing can, indeed, boost blood flow to the skin, the results of this are short-lived.

"We have seen that with vigorous massage or increased circulation to the outer layer of the skin, there may be a very temporary improvement in the appearance of cellulite," she says, but as soon as you stop dry brushing, you can expect that effect to go away.

What is the best way to dry brush?

If you're interested in trying dry brushing, first look for a tool with bristles soft enough for your liking. Bristles are commonly made from plant fibres (such as jute and sisal), goat or boar hair, or synthetic fibres, so get your hands on a few different brushes to determine what texture you prefer. Some brushes are also specially designed for sensitive areas, like your face or bikini zone.

Use your brush on dry skin, and remember that there's no need to scrub aggressively or at length, since your dead skin cells should flake off easily and without much effort. To promote lymphatic drainage, Clark recommends starting from your feet and moving upward, brushing in the direction of your heart using long, light strokes until you reach heart-level. Then work from the upper part of your body, including your neck and shoulders, brushing downward toward your armpits. Voilà: softer, smoother, more glowy skin.

In the buff

Daily Glow Facial Dry Brush, $52, provinceapothecary.ca

Tulasāra Radiant Facial Dry Brush, $52, aveda.ca

In the Buff Natural Bristle Dry Brush, $15.95, saje.com

Jute Bikini Brush (Soft), $17.50, shop.kolyanaturals.com

Goop G.Tox Ultimate Dry Brush, $28, thedetoxmarket.ca

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