How Dry Brushing Works & More On Lymphatics

A while ago, I put dry brushing in the same unicorn-based category as oil pulling. The articles out there on the subject made claims that were wildly broad, that sounded way too good to be true, and–for some–were downright inaccurate. As a result of what seemed like misinformed concepts, I was relatively turned off to the entire idea. Which is too bad, because I currently love it and wish I had started earlier. Whoops!

The more I learned about dry brushing and the entire topic of lymphatics, dry brushing began to make more and more sense. And my dedication to incorporating the practice daily began to grow. I currently do it every morning…and that’s because I stuck a nail in the wall directly next to my shower and hung my brush up to remind myself! If it’s in my line of sight, I do it and am much more happier for it!

The Benefits of Dry Brushing

The concept of skin exercise is actually a really important one. So much so that I previously did an entire blog post dedicated to the subject of skin exercise.  We don’t think much about our skin besides how it visually looks like from the outside (we think A LOT about that!)…but there is actually a lot going on just under the surface of our outer most later! Blood vessels, nerves, tiny muscles we never think about, glands, immune tissues, and, of course, lymphatic vessels (which, to be fair, could go under the immune tissue category as well) all course just below our skin.

So while it may not be true, as claimed, that dry brushing will fix all your ills, dry brushing can and does provide a whole host of benefits.

We’ll go into the benefits for the lymphatics and detoxing in the body of the post but in short, dry brushing can:

  • Make your skin look smoother by stimulating blood flow, promoting the integrity of tiny blood vessels under your skin, and removing dead skin cells.
  • Help decrease the appearance of cellulite: this one is tricky because it always gets said that dry brushing will get rid of cellulite…and I think that’s a bit misleading! Cellulite, like acne, is way more complicated than a lot of people want you to believe. But dry brushing can promote lymphatic drainage of intercellular fluid and help rebuild the tissue matrix to decrease the outpouching of fat stores that make up cellulite. By doing both these things, it can make your cellulite look better and less pronounced. Beyond that, weight loss, muscle building, and foam rolling can all also help.
  • Promote healthy nerve firing and proliferation. Good input and feedback to the nerves of the skin, based on regular and natural changes to our environment is integral to the health of the nervous system. Since we so often exist in a smooth, sterile, and temperature-controlled environment, helping to broaden our nervous system input through our skin by dry brushing, getting messages, laying out on the grass, and exposing our skin to various temperatures (provided it’s safe, of course) can all help our skin health out.
  • Upkeep small peripheral muscle health underneath our skin.  Just like nerves, muscles in our skin, like the ones that are associated with hair follicles, shivering mechanisms, and ones in the blood vessel walls all need to be stimulated for good skin health. Again, our monotone and temperature-controlled environment limits the input our skin gets. Dry brushing, contrast showers, as well as the other stuff mentioned in the point above, can all help us in this regard.

How Dry Brushing Works & More On Lymphatics

How Lymphatics Work

Before we can get to how dry brushing impacts the lymphatics, its first important to understand how this system in the body works.

The lymphatic system is a broad system that includes main immune centers, such as the bone marrow, thymus, and spleen, as  as the lymph nodes throughout the body and the vessels traveling between them and throughout the entire body.

This complex interweb of lymphatic vessels is extensive throughout our tissues and, unlike the blood vessel system, is an open system. This means that the system has “a start” and “a stop”. This is simplistic, but you can functionally think of it as starting in all of the tissues of the body and ending by dumping all of the lymphatic drainage into some of the largest blood vessels closest to the heart.

Lymphatic vessels, like blood vessels, range from very big to teeny tiny. They are also similar to blood vessels in that some of the smallest, most superficial lymphatic vessels don’t have muscles in them (to propel the fluid inside forward) while the bigger ones do. The flow in all these vessels, regardless of size, is kept forward moving and unidirectional by one-way valves throughout the vessels and the squeezing/movement of muscles around the lymphatics that stimulate flow (another reason that staying active is to important for vein and lymphatic health!).

How Dry Brushing Helps Lymphatics

This lack of muscle around the tiny, superficial lymphatic vessels close to the level of the skin is one of the reasons that dry brushing is so important. While we tend to only think of the larger vessels, there are lymphatic vessels just immediately under you skin surface and they are EVERYWHERE…if you’ve ever cut yourself, you’ve undoubtedly transected a bunch of them.

Side note: the very superficial nature of these vessels are why you really don’t need to press hard with your dry brush to get all the effects. Whenever someone says dry brushing hurts, I always remind them that it is still very effective if you only press very lightly. These are very delicate tissues in the body and you’re not doing them many factors by mashing on them for the sake of “more is more”.

Dry brushing in a unidirectional matter from the periphery of the body and towards the heart aids these smaller vessels in the propulsion of fluid so that it can get dealt with appropriately by other organ systems. Here’s a graphic to help you visualize the direction. of brushing that is most helpful. I generally start down at my feet and use large strokes to work my way up.

Dry brushing also helps mobilize the fluid in and between cells of the peripheral tissues so that it can be more effectively absorbed by the lymphatic vessels.  The movement of our muscles usually do this pretty effectively for us…but let’s be honest, we don’t always use our bodies in the most complete way (just like we don’t eat healthy absolutely all the time!) so it’s nice to have another thing in your arsenal.

THMO Skin Care Routine

Dry Brushing Basics

If dry brushing seems like it’s for you, my personal suggestion would to make it a regular thing in your routine for several weeks so before making your final call on the benefits.  Just like most other health things, you’ve not going to dry brush once and wake up with amazing skin…so stick with it for a little while to get the full benefits.

I got this brush off Amazon and like it a whole lot.

I wash mine in a mixture of witch hazel, Dr. Bronner’s castile soap, tea tree oil, and water.  Or I just take it in the shower with me and wash it with my shampoo bar!

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12 replies

  1. I have been dry brushing for over 30 days now thanks to GingerNewtrition. I love it! I was just talking with my husband last night and asking him if my skin felt softer. He said oh wow, yes! Also, my skin hasn’t been near as dry. Not sure if this is due to dry brushing. Thanks for all you do! I just watched your periscope. It was awesome!

    • That’s so cool! So glad you’re getting good results with it. I miss it when I skip a day! How awesome is Megan?? I love working and learning with her 🙂

      Thanks so much for joining me on the Periscope, I had so much fun doing it! Looking forward to doing it again soon. Is there a topic you want to hear more about?

  2. Hello! Thanks for sharing this information! First I’d like to say I’m new to dry brushing and didn’t think about it until I was diagnosed with lymphedema in both of my feet, ankles, and legs. This is extremely difficult and very important to me because I work as a nurse. I’m trying to figure out which brush I should use and when I should do dry brushing. Also anything that touches my feet hurts really bad because they are very sensitive to any touch and temperatures!!! I have taught myself how to do very very light circle messages to help. I’m learning more about the lymphatic system and how important it is to our bodies!!! So if you could please letell me know what type of brush I should use and when that would be awesome! Thanks again!!!

    • My pleasure! So sorry to hear you’re dealing with those lower extremity issues, I can totally relate to being on your feet all day! I think it’s ok to use a regular dry brushing brush but very gently, like you’re already doing. Alternatively, you can get a very fine boar bristle brush that you would normally use for your hair and use that instead since it is softer. Otherwise, you can give your legs and feet a massage with your hands/muscle roller/tennis ball so that you can control the pressure a little better. The lymphatics are very superficial so any of those can help get to them 🙂 I think the best time to do it is before showering but if you’re standing most of the day, doing it before bed might be a good idea as well.

      I hope that all helps! Let me know if I can answer anything for you 🙂

    • There are special dry ski brushes which are usually wooden with natural bristle hairs on them. They can be found on Amazon, at Whole Foods, and lots of smaller natural food stores 🙂

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