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Q&A: What are the benefits of skin brushing?

12 April, 2012

Q – I’ve heard that brushing your skin with a stiff brush can help improve circulation and get toxins out of your body. I like the idea in theory but I don’t particularly enjoy the feeling of skin brushing. Am I doing something wrong?

 

A – First a little history and background and then some practical advice!

Skin brushing has been practised by many different cultures throughout history and its benefits can be seen fairly quickly with regular practise. It is a simple traditional way to address some very modern problems.

The feeling of being chronically under par, of being sluggish and lacking in vitality has become the norm for many of us. A healer might say we were lacking vital energy, a practitioner of Chinese medicine might say our Chi is low.

Another way of looking at it is that this chronic lack of vitality is an indication that the lymphatic system is blocked, sluggish or just plain overwhelmed by stress and environmental toxins.

Stimulating lymph flow

The lymphatic system is an essential part of our circulatory system.  It’s the body’s housekeeper composed of a tiny, delicate network of lymphatic vessels all over the body that pump a colourless liquid called lymph around the body.

Along the lymphatic pathways are collections of lymph nodes – 400 to 700 of them – dotted around the body. These filter and purify the lymph, reclaim fluid and break down pathogens and toxins. As well as cleansing and detoxifying, the lymph system reclaims digested fats and proteins, the body’s source of energy, and adds them to the body’s circulation.

The superficial lymph vessels terminate just below the outer layer of skin and flow back into the deeper lymphatic vessels. Any blockage at the superficial lymphatic level will result in congestion throughout the whole lymphatic system.

Skin-brushing is considered an excellent way to stimulate the activity of the entire lymphatic system – though no formal studies exist to demonstrate its effectiveness. It can also be a useful addition to any detox regime.

When it comes to promoting lymph flow, one session of vigorous skin brushing is said to be equivalent to 20 minutes of exercise. Skin brushing can’t replace exercise, of course, but it will stimulate the lymph system, which will allow more purging of toxins from the body, and may be especially helpful to those who are sedentary.

Dry skin also brushing helps to remove the top layer of old, dead skin and opens the pores, encouraging detoxification and improving skin tone and colour.  The gentle stretching of connective tissues, afforded by regular skin-brushing, helps to increase and regenerate the production of collagen and elastin fibres. Used regularly it may also help reduce the appearance of cellulite.

Brush gently

Given its benefits lots of people attack the process of skin brushing very vigorously in the hopes of a quick result and can be disappointed when it hurts!

The best advice is to be gentle with yourself. You are encouraging your body to do something it wants to do naturally, not forcing it to do something unnatural.

Skin brushing is performed on dry skin and skin should always be brushed in the direction of the heart. Ideally it should be practised early in the day, rather than at night as the effect can be quite stimulating to the whole system. A simple daily routine would look something like this:

Start from the soles of the feet, (left side first) then move from ankle to knee in sweeping strokes (both front and back of the leg), following with the knee to the top of the thigh.

Buttocks can be a little sluggish from a sedentary lifestyle, so give firm strokes in an outwards direction, followed by circular movements. Follow with strokes from the lower back up towards the mid back.

Next, brush from the fingertips, down the arms towards the chest. Brush both the top of the arm from fingertips to the shoulder, and the underside from finger tips to the armpit, where gentle circular movements are good to stimulate lymph flow.

It is best for women to avoid brushing the gentle skin of the breasts, but do brush the neck and the throat working from the nape of the neck forwards, and from the jaw line down towards the chest.  Finish up with gentle clockwise circular movement across the abdomen.

Your skin may feel a little sensitive at first, so begin gently and increase the pressure as you become used to the effect over time. Avoid hot baths after the procedure, but a warm bath or shower will help wash away dead skin for a truly fresh feel. A good natural moisturiser applied at this point will really be able work its full effects.

Choose the brush that suits you best

If you skin still feels sensitive consider if you are using the right kind of brush. If a bristle brush is too hard, opt for a softer sisal brush instead. A short handled body brush or one that fits in the palm of your hand may make it easier to find the right pressure for your skin’s level of sensitivity . Likewise a massage mitt like this one from Neal’s Yard Remedies may be more comfortable fit for you.

Once you’ve found the right implement you’ll find that dry skin brushing is an inexpensive and healthful routine that can easily be incorporated into most people’s daily lives.