Does Dry Brushing Reduce Cellulite, Or What Does It Even Do?
Here's the surprising, expert-backed answer.
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Dry brushing is an Ayurvedic beauty practice that uses a bristled brush to brush your body while the skin is dry. It’s typically done in sweeping, circular motions toward the heart, avoiding sensitive areas such as your face and breasts. Admittedly, because of its tough bristles, it isn’t the most soothing DIY skincare ritual, however, many claim that dry brushing has beauty and wellness benefits, including lymphatic drainage, increased circulation, exfoliation, and reduced cellulite.
If the cellulite on your body is a point of insecurity for you, you may be inclined to try dry brushing to see if it reduces the dips on your backside, but before you do, it’s important to know if this tip is worth the hype. To find out, we spoke to two skincare experts to learn all about dry brushing and its benefits.
Can dry brushing reduce cellulite?
In short, dry brushing can reduce cellulite, but the reduction is only in appearance. Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skincare Collection, explains that brushing affects cellulite by “increasing blood flow, which is healthy, but its main purpose is to stimulate collagen production.” This stimulation can help thicken the skin and lessen the appearance of fat cells. It also dramatically increases elasticity, so it’s great for lifting and toning areas with cellulite.
Erum Ilyas, M.D., a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in Pennsylvania, explains that massaging with a dry brush can improve the overall appearance of cellulite by “brushing out” excess fluid. “Dry brushing cannot get rid of the actual fat or improve the strength of connective tissue fibers that have loosened up, resulting in cellulite,” she says. “The only way to do this is to either treat the fat via a noninvasive radio frequency fat removal, liposuction, or tighten the adhesions through a procedure called subcision.”
The verdict: No, dry brushing is not a permanent solution for cellulite, though it can temporarily reduce its appearance.
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Does dry brushing stimulate the lymphatic system?
Another common claim is that dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system. But why and how and what does this mean? Dr. Ilyas explains: “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.” So, it’s the system that moves liquid, fats, and white blood cells away from organs and throughout your body.
Vargas says that keeping your lymphatic system in top shape can improve the look of skin. “The lymphatic system is in charge of both the delivery of nutrients and carrying away waste from skin cells all over the body,” she says. “Consistent dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system and circulation, enhancing collagen production and breaking down unwanted toxins in the body, especially in areas prone to cellulite.”
However, Dr. Ilyas is skeptical about whether dry brushing is necessary at all. “Perhaps by 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,” she says. However, she adds that any type of massage or manipulation of skin will stimulate the lymphatic system in the skin—you don’t necessarily need a dry brush to do this.
If you do choose to use one, remember to brush toward the heart in an upward motion. “Blood needs to return to the heart to re-oxygenate and the lymph returns to a spot right above the heart to clean and get nutrients,” Vargas tells HelloGiggles.
The verdict: Yes, dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system. But is it necessary? Not entirely.
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Does dry brushing exfoliate the skin?
If you’re going to use a dry brush, this is the reason to do so. Due to its abrasive bristles, dry brushing effectively exfoliates the skin. Dr. Ilyas thinks dry brushing can be used to make skin look a little more “polished” temporarily. “There is only a transient benefit to this process and not a long-term benefit,” she says. “Long-term, I suspect the risks of over-exfoliating or exposing our skin to excess bacteria and yeast will likely outweigh the benefits if someone decides to make this a part of their daily routine.”
The verdict: Yes, dry brushing exfoliates, but you don’t need to do it every day.
So, should you dry brush?
Honestly, something about dry brushing just feels good. Those 30 seconds (or more!) of self-care—of doing good for your body—sets a positive intention. I was sent OSEA’s Plant-Based Dry Brush to test, and though I didn’t notice any immediate, dramatic change, it was the routine of dry brushing that I enjoyed most. Even though the lack of a handle on this particular brush makes it hard to use on my back, it felt soothing to brush my legs and arms.
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If you have sensitive skin, you might want to reconsider dry brushing. “Anyone with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis needs to be very cautious in the affected areas so as not to cause more sensitivity,” says Vargas. “Either skip those areas or if they cover larger areas of the body, then perhaps skip this altogether.”
Dr. Ilyas also noted that over-exfoliating can be a bad thing because it can lead to sensitive, inflamed skin. “It can also stimulate excess pigment to be deposited in the skin and lead to discoloration,” she adds. “If performed over open wounds, cuts, or eczema, bacteria and yeast may overthrow and lead to infections.”
But barring that, you’ve got the go-ahead from an otherwise skeptic dermatologist. “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,” Dr. Ilyas says.
The final verdict? If you’re looking to reduce cellulite or dramatically affect your lymphatic system, dry brushing is not for you. However, if you’re looking to exfoliate your skin and spend a minute with your body in the name of self-care, give it a try.