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Skin brushing, part two – how to do it

Dry skin brushing is very simple. As I said last time, the basic idea is to brush the entire surface of your skin, using long, quite firm strokes, starting from your hands or feet and moving in the direction of your heart.

There are some incredibly detailed instructions available on how to do a dry skin brush massage, involving specific numbers of brush stroke repetitions and the set order in which to proceed. Following instructions like these mean the whole exercise will take about fifteen minutes or more. Personally, I don’t have the time. To me it is more important that this be something I can incorporate into my ordinary routine and keep doing as close to daily as possible. It may not be as thorough, but this way I am much more likely to actually keep it up. If you, like me, want to follow this more casual approach, there are still some pointers to bear in mind to ensure you get the most benefit out of skin brushing.

  • Use a natural fibre body brush or mitt. A long handle makes it easier to brush your back. Avoid synthetic fibres which can irritate the skin with tiny scratches.
  • Your skin should be dry (as the name suggests). Wet skin brushing (e.g. with a loofah) is another technique with its own benefits, but the type of brushing we’re talking about here is meant for dry skin. Brushing dry means the skin will not be stretched or damaged as the brush glides over the skin in long smooth strokes, and dead skin cells and waste can be dislodged and brushed off without the brush just slipping over the skin.
  • The best time to dry brush your skin is in the morning, before showering. If this time of day won’t work for you, it is still hugely beneficial to brush your skin at any time of the day, preferably always before a shower or bath. The morning is good because the lymph system has slowed down during the night’s rest, and brushing gets it flowing faster again. It also awakens the nervous system and is a great way to clear away a groggy feeling after sleep. It’s ability to stimulate muscle fibres and the circulation also means some people like to dry brush before exercise. Follow with a bath or shower to wash away dead skin cells loosened by brushing and to help clear away toxins.
  • The action to use is very similar to brushing your hair, or brushing down upholstery. You want to be quite purposeful, and use long, sweeping strokes. Be guided by how it feels. It should NOT hurt, but produce a pleasant tingling sensation. If you have fair skin, you might develop a rosy hue, but your skin should NOT become red or feel scratched. Be gentler on delicate skin. Don’t scrub or use any back and forth motions, rather keep sweeping towards your heart.
  • Start brushing either at your hands or your feet (I normally start with the feet), and work upwards and inwards, always brushing in the direction of your heart, so as to facilitate the movement of lymph. There seems to be some confusion over the direction of brushing on the torso. I have read instructions to keep brushing towards the heart, while other sources say to aim for the lower abdomen. Some say to always use a clockwise motion on the abdomen, with others insisting that counter-clockwise is best. The lymphoid system is pretty complex, but basically the lymph moves in a one-way system that begins with tiny capillaries spread throughout the body’s tissues. The system eventually converges to drain the lymph back into the blood supply just before it reaches the heart. Lymph from most of the body is drained via the thoracic duct (which runs up the centre of the torso) into the left subclavian vein, while lymph from the upper right quadrant of the body (the right arm and the right side of the head and chest) drains via the right lymphatic duct into the right subclavian vein. The subclavian veins are situated below the neck just above the heart. For this reason it makes sense to me to continue brushing upwards and towards the heart on the torso, and downwards on the neck, chest (brush the breasts gently and avoid nipples) and shoulders.
  • Pay particular attention to areas rich in lymph nodes, such as the palms, underarms, neck and groin. You may also want to concentrate on areas with cellulite, as brushing regularly may help smooth it away over time.
  • Avoid the face, or use a softer, facial quality brush for this area. I use a baby’s hairbrush with soft natural bristles for my face, neck and breast area (avoid your nipples). You could also use a dry facecloth or a shaving brush.
  • Don’t brush on sore or broken skin.
  • If there is more than one person doing dry brushing in your household make sure you know which brush is whose and don’t share a brush.
  • Wash your brush every fortnight or so and allow it to dry thoroughly. Some sources say you should just dust off your brush and never let it get wet, but I see no reason for that. Just make sure it is thoroughly dry before you use it next.
  • Spend at least five minutes brushing the entire surface of your body, and you can repeat the process once or even twice a day.

If you are keen to give dry skin brushing a try but think you won’t have time to include it in your day, bear these three things in mind (besides all the benefits you’ll gain):

  • Practicing skin brushing before showering or bathing means you hardly need to wash. The brushing loosens dead cells and detritus and opens pores so that the water will simply wash it all away.
  • It also stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce the natural oils that keep our skin from becoming dry. You’ll find your skin will have less need of moisturising.
  • The invigorating effect will get you awake and moving quicker that you otherwise might have.

Next time I’ll concentrate on the lymphatic system and why assisting it with dry skin brush massage is so important.