Dry brushing is the juice cleanse of the beauty world. All of the chicest crunchy granola celebs (we see you, Gwyneth Paltrow) are doing it—between their Bikram classes and runs to the local organic farmers’ market, that is—and it’s supposed to cure, well, basically everything, including poor digestion, cellulite, and whatever bad thing happens when your lymph nodes aren’t draining (there is no less appealing phrase in the English language than “lymphatic drainage”). Frankly, the whole thing has always sounded kind of silly to me, but with summer right around the corner and my legs looking pretty dull after a winter spent tucked away, I decided to dedicate a month of my life to it.
First, a primer for those of you who haven’t spent one twelfth of a year entrenched in the world of dry brushing: In essence, dry brushing is a combination of exfoliation and massage that involves taking (brace yourselves) a dry brush and moving it over your body in slow, circular motions two to three times a week. The firm bristles of the brush give your skin a thorough exfoliation while the pressure helps to stimulate your circulation and, yep, lymphatic drainage, which in turn is supposed to help the body eliminate toxins.
As is the case with many supposed cure-alls, a lot of claims have been made about dry brushing that are at best unstudied and at worst flat-out untrue (any Allure reader can tell you that no topical procedure can magically banish cellulite, though things like massage can temporarily make it appear smoother). But there is some basis for some of the claims—when it comes to softer, more even skin, exfoliation is your friend, and a boost in circulation from the brushing can definitely leave skin more plumped and radiant in the short term.
With a vacation in Cabo on the horizon, I broke out the brush I got for Christmas but hadn’t actually used (thanks, Mom!) and set myself a twice-weekly regimen. The process was simple (brush, shower, moisturize like crazy). And while it added another five to ten minutes to my preshower routine a couple of times a week, it wasn’t too much of a commitment (more on that in a minute). The firm-bristle brush was distinctly scrubby, which, being a fan of hard-core exfoliation, I enjoyed, but even I found brushing my chest area to be uncomfortably intense, so sensitive types, beware.
The first week gave the the most noticeable results—just not in the way I’d hoped. Where previously my skin had a dull, I-didn’t-shave-all-in-March cast to it, after my first two dry-brushing sessions, my skin cried out with a thirst that even my most heavy-duty of moisturizers could not quench. Then it started to peel. A lot. Like, full-on post-sunburn peeling. In the saddest way possible. I honestly considered calling the whole thing off right there. Still, I am a dedicated beauty reporter, so with the desperate hope that things could only go up from there, I soldiered on. On the upside, the tiny flakes of skin sloughing off of my body with every motion did a good job of disguising any unsightly dimpling on my upper thighs, so I guess it did hold up on the cellulite-fighting promises.
Week two was a marginal improvement on week one (possibly because I had already shed the entire outer layer of my body like a snake). My skin didn’t seem to be quite as insatiable in its need for lotion, and, glory of glories, the peeling had stopped. There didn’t seem to be any other notable differences in my skin, but at that point just not peeling was such a relief that I didn’t even mind. My skin was slightly more hydrated, but no one was calling me up to get my freakishly radiant skin in their moisturizer campaign, so all in all, it was something of a wash.
I learned an important lesson during the third week of my experiment: You can dry-brush too hard. Having spent two days with an uncomfortable raw spot behind my left knee (why I got overzealous with the back of my knee even I cannot explain), I once again considered whether keeping up with process was worthwhile. While my skin did seem slightly more glow-y, and even my usually oblivious boyfriend commented on my skin’s satin-like softness, I wouldn’t swear that the difference was more than a solid in-shower scrub could have given me. But the thing that stuck out, now that I had spent all of this time, was less the shocking change in my skin and more a realization about my own beauty tendencies. Where I would think nothing of a daily exfoliation routine for my face, plus regular use of masks, serums, and all manner of other beautifying potions, I had found that making the time to do a prettifying ritual for my body seemed like so much more of a hassle. I began to feel bad for my poor, neglected body, forever the runner-up in my beauty routine, and I vowed to see the dry-brushing through to the end as an apology of sorts.
With just one week to go before vacation, week four was, naturally, filled with all of my usual last-minute attempts to become a beach goddess despite not having seen the inside of a gym in months. Planning: I’m good at it. Between last-ditch-effort planks and that haircut I’d been putting off for too long, I also found myself rushing off to the waxing studio where, to my surprise, my technician actually commented on how smooth my skin looked. “Thank you,” I said, “I’ve been dry-brushing.” “Oh, that’s the best,” she said, nodding approvingly, as if I had suddenly become a member of an elite club.
So how did it all work out in the end? Well, there were definitely some lows (if my skin never peels like that again, it will be too soon). I can’t say that my life (or my lymph) has seen any dramatic change, and my cellulite has not disappeared as if by airbrush, but coming out at the end of it, I have to say I have a sunnier view of the ordeal. Maybe it was the compliment from a complete stranger who knows a thing or two about skin; maybe it’s just my legs, where the little ingrown hairs that tend to crop up on my calves have disappeared. Maybe it’s the flush of the tropical sun on my (heavily sunscreened) smooth skin making me feel just a little bit more like a beach goddess. Whatever the reason, I’m thinking I may not be packing away the dry brush just yet.