Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/25/2021
Exfoliating, the process of stripping away dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin, is one of the most effective things you can do to slow down the effects of aging and reduce your risk of dealing with acne breakouts.
Most of us are familiar with exfoliation scrubs, creams and ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs).
Recently, there’s been an increasing level of interest in dry brushing -- an exfoliation technique that involves gently brushing your skin using a small brush with firm bristles.
Instead of using chemicals to exfoliate, dry brushing your face removes old skin cells manually through friction. Fans of dry brushing claim that it can prevent certain signs of aging, get rid of acne, revitalize your skin and even improve things like blood circulation and digestion.
Below, we’ve dug into the science behind dry brushing to find out whether or not it’s effective at preventing aging, acne and other common skin care problems.
We’ve also looked at some of the other claims made about dry brushing to find out whether or not they’re backed up by real scientific research.
Finally, we’ve explained how you can dry brush your skin to strip away dead cells and give it a fresh, youthful appearance.
Dry brushing is an exfoliating technique that involves brushing your face using a dry brush -- a small, firm-bristled brush that’s designed to strip away dead skin cells.
The same technique, albeit using a larger brush, is also used to strip dead skin cells from your body.
Dry brushes are readily available and inexpensive. You can purchase face or body dry brushes from most skin care and beauty retailers.
The practice of dry brushing has a long history that may originate in ancient cultures. Today, it’s easy to come across ads and recommendations for dry brushing on social media platforms like Instagram, often with influencers and celebrities recommending it as a skin care technique.
Dry brushing has grown hugely in popularity over the last few years. In fact, data from Google Trends shows that between 2010 and 2020, about 10 times as many people searched for terms like “dry brush.”
Like with many other recent health trends, while some of the benefits of dry brushing are real, others range from slightly exaggerated to outright scientifically incorrect.
For example, there’s no question that dry brushing is an effective way to strip away dead skin cells. If you brush your skin before showering, you can strip away dead cells and wash them away in a quick, efficient process.
Removing dead skin cells has numerous benefits, from reducing the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles to preventing acne breakouts.
Dry brushing can also improve blood circulation to your face, although the benefits of this for your skin are debatable.
While dry brushing definitely helps with exfoliation, some of the other purported benefits of dry brushing aren’t as thoroughly supported by science.
For example, supporters of dry brushing claim that it can improve your digestive health, make cellulite and stubborn fat disappear, flush harmful toxins out of your body and generally make you feel more energetic and full of life.
Let’s go through these claims one by one.
Currently, there’s no scientific evidence to show that dry brushing has any effect on your ability to digest food. In fact, the scientific information that’s currently available doesn’t show any real link between the exfoliating process and your digestive system.
There are also no studies showing that dry brushing gets rid of cellulite or difficult-to-lose areas of body fat. While the increase in blood circulation caused by dry brushing might make cellulite temporarily less visible, dry brushing doesn’t actually cause your body to burn fat.
Like many other health products, dry brushes are often promoted as devices for “detoxing” and eliminating harmful substances from your body.
While some substances that can make their way into your body aren’t ideal for your health and wellbeing, there’s no need to dry brush your skin in order to filter them out.
This is because your body has its own internal detoxification and waste removal system in the form of your liver, kidneys and colon. These organs work 24/7 to filter and eliminate toxins and waste products from your body and function just fine without dry brushing.
As for making you feel more energetic, although there’s no evidence that dry brushing actually increases your energy levels, the feeling of the dry brush against your skin may stimulate your nervous system and make you feel a little more perked up.
All in all, while dry brushing can be good for your skin, its other supposed health benefits aren’t backed up by much in the way of real science.
Dry brushing your face is a simple process that you can do in just a few minutes a day. Follow the instructions below to dry brush your face using the correct technique:
Buy a dry brush. You can buy dry brushes online or from your local drugstore or beauty retailer. Look for a dry brush that uses natural bristles. Check that the brush is designed for use on your face before you purchase.
Choose the right time. It’s best to dry brush your skin before you take a shower. This way, you can wash off any exfoliated skin that’s left behind from the process.
Gently brush your face from the top down. Starting at your forehead, gently use the dry brush to remove dead skin cells. Make sure not to apply too much pressure, as this may irritate your skin.
Continue brushing, moving down your face. After you’ve brushed the skin near your forehead, move down to your cheekbones, nose and jawline. Use short, light strokes to clean away dead skin cells without damaging the deeper layers of your skin.
Avoid sensitive areas of skin. Try to avoid dry brushing in sensitive areas, such as the skin around your eyes.
Clean your skin. After you’ve finished brushing, take a shower or cleanse your face in the sink. Be careful not to overuse cleansing products, as your skin might feel sensitive from the dry brushing process.
Gently pat your face dry and apply moisturizer. Gently pat your face dry with a clean, soft towel. If you use a moisturizer, it’s important to apply it after exfoliating to make sure your skin stays hydrated.
If you go out in the sun, apply sunscreen. Your skin may feel slightly more sensitive after you use a dry brush or other exfoliant. Keep yourself protected by using SPF 30+, broad spectrum sunscreen whenever you spend time outdoors in sunny weather.
You can use the same process to dry brush your body. For optimal results, look for a body brush with a detachable handle that allows you to easily reach your back, thighs and other areas.
After you’ve finished dry brushing, follow the care instructions provided with your brush to clean away any dead skin and prepare it for the next use.
Make sure to never use a dry brush on skin that’s cut, scraped, scratched, sore or burned. You should also never dry brush skin with visible signs of infection (bacterial or fungal), or skin that’s inflamed or affected by any type of disease.
It’s best to exfoliate regularly to keep your skin looking fresh, healthy and youthful. However, it’s also important not to over exfoliate. Start by exfoliating every few days. If your skin feels itchy or irritated after exfoliation, adjust your schedule to give your skin more time to recover.
If you experience any severe or persistent redness, itchiness or other issues after dry brushing, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider.
Dry brushing is one of several ways to remove dead skin cells and improve the appearance of your skin. While it offers several benefits and certainly has an old-fashioned, simple charm, it’s not always the best way to exfoliate.
If you have dry, acne-prone or sensitive skin, you may find that using a mild chemical exfoliant produces similar results to dry brushing with less irritation.
Common chemical exfoliants include alpha-hydroxy, beta-hydroxy and dicarboxylic acids such acids such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid and azelaic acid.
You can find these products in many over-the-counter cleansers, creams and other exfoliating treatments. We’ve talked more about the best exfoliants for different skin types in our detailed guide to chemical and mechanical exfoliation.
Dry brushing is a great way to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Like other methods of exfoliating, it can make fine lines and wrinkles less obvious, give your skin a more youthful appearance and reduce your risk of dealing with acne breakouts.
However, some of the other claimed benefits of dry brushing, such as getting rid of cellulite or improving your digestion, aren’t supported by any scientific research.
Dry brushes are cheap, making it easy to add one to your collection of skin care tools. To get started exfoliating with a dry brush, follow the step-by-step instructions provided further up the page.