Skin Brushing & Why You Should Do It

So there’s this thing that’s been floating around the health world recently.  It’s a fairly new concept to the mainstream posts, but athletes and “hippy-dippy” folks have been using it for a while.  I’ve implemented it into my life over the past several months and have loved it.  So what am I talking about?

Skin brushing.

yerba-prima-skin-brush_grande
Photo credit: Barefoot Provisions, LLC (15)

Uhh… what?  Yes, you read correctly: brushing. your. skin.  Not your hair.  Not the hair on your skin, though it’ll be brushed along with it.  Your actual skin.  Brushing it.

So what exactly does this entail?  It entails using a natural-bristle brush, like this one (15), spending 5 minutes in the shower without the water running before you take your actual shower, and a whole lot of benefits to follow.  These include:

  • Lymphatic system stimulation
  • Detoxification
  • Reduced cellulite & stretch marks
  • Smoother skin
  • Enhanced proprioception (1)
  • Greater lifts & awareness during workouts

So how do we do skin brushing, exactly?  It’s simple, really.  De-robe and stand in a bathtub or shower.  You’ll want to be in one of these two locations because, after all, you’re removing dead skin cells and dirt!  Take the brush and gently use it to massage each area of skin you wish to brush.  Move in strokes that begin at the feet and work their way up toward your heart.  Overlap each stroke to ensure you brush each area effectively.  When brushing your arms, start at the hands and move toward the shoulder.  For the torso, start near the hips and move toward the chest.  It’s quite simple and shouldn’t hurt!  It’ll scratch a bit, especially the first few times you try it, but you should NOT be hurting yourself.

Pretty simple, right?  Here’s some more in-depth information on each of the benefits of skin brushing I listed above, if you’re interested in the “why” behind trying this for yourself.

Lymphatic System Stimulation

The lymphatic system (2) is often ignored in the health world and has finally recently received more attention for its many contributions to our bodies.  This system is responsible for the delivery of disease-fighting white blood cells to our various parts and ridding the body of unwanted materials.  The best way I’ve heard its operations described is that it’s basically like another circulatory system, but it doesn’t deliver blood and has no internal pumps (i.e. a heart) like veins and arteries do.  It’s like a water bottle: there’s liquid in it, but the water isn’t actually going to shift around unless something pushes the water bottle over.  Since there is no pump to move the fluid in the lymph around, it will actually sit still in your body if it is not stimulated to move… Newton’s First Law (4), yes?

So how do we get the lymph to move around more?  Obviously we need to move it ourselves.  I mean if you’re cool with toxins just hanging around in your body for long periods of time, then I guess you don’t need to move it.  But I’d like to keep that crap out of me, thanks.  One way to get it going is to move your body.  Literally.  Go for a walk.  Throw around some weights.  Just being active allows the lymphatic system to move around and do its job better.  But skin brushing is just another way to stimulate the lymph (5), and with this method, you have the power to control the direction it’s pushed.  By stroking the brush in the direction of the heart as I described in the intro to this post, you’re following the same basic pattern that the lymph nodes want to push their fluid to effectively detox the body and bring more white blood cells to their worksites.

Detoxification

Pretty closely tied with the benefits to the lymphatic system’s functions.  According to NaturalNews.com, the skin eliminates over 1 pound of waste per day, including dead skin cells, dirt, toxins, and pretty much everything else your body and/or skin comes in contact with (6).  By brushing that top layer of dead stuff off, you’re just accelerating the process while stimulating the lymphatic system to work quicker and more effectively.

Reduced Cellulite & Stretch Marks

What the WHAT?!  These are two things that so many people have issues with, including myself.  I’ve had stretch marks on my hips from I have no clue what since at least senior year of high school… probably because my legs are weirdly long and still haven’t seemed to stop growing yet.

Anyway, Edward Smith et al (3) patented one of the methods for skin stimulation to reduce both cellulite and stretch marks, and they report that surface skin stimulation via brushing has the following benefits:

  • Stimulating lymph flow
  • Increasing blood flow
  • Stretching the connective tissue fibers
  • Remodeling the dermal interface with the subcutaneous adipose tissue (meaning that the fat cells are moved around and “remodeled”)
  • Promoting cellular activity via stress-orientation (i.e. the cells are “woken up”)

All of the above bullet points (including the one on lymph flow, as I’ve already covered) basically rejuvenate the skin and allow the body a greater chance to repair itself.  The stimulation (“stress-orientation” of the cells) helps break apart some of the surface-level fat deposits (7) that cause the dimpled appearance known as cellulite.  As for stretch marks, the expedited removal of dead skin cells allows for faster replacement by the layers beneath, promoting skin tightness and reduction in appearance of those pesky stretches (8).  Think about how scars fade over time.  It’s the same concept, but you’re helping the process move faster by getting rid of that dead top layer each time you brush.

Smoother Skin

Again, pretty much a reiteration of the above reason.  If you’re consistently brushing off the dead and rough top layer of skin, the end result will be the reveal of the softer layer from beneath, which is very nice to touch!

Enhanced Proprioception

This is a super cool finding.  Proprioception is defined by Pysioroom.com as “the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position” (1).  An occupational therapist by the name of Patricia Wilbarger has recently developed the Wilbarger Approach to Sensory Defensiveness using dry brushing (9).  Sensory Defensiveness is basically the abnormal response to normally non-noxious stimuli touch stimuli (10).  By providing joint stimulation and pressure from brushes, Wilbarger has proven that children suffering from sensory defensiveness were able to improve their body’s perception of dangerous vs. non-dangerous touch stimuli and gained greater awareness of where their body was in relation to itself at all times (11).

That super-scientific first sentence on this benefit is all leading me to say that while the subjects in the Wilbarger studies were using sterile, hospital-grade synthetic brushes and needed to participate in therapy to retrain their bodies to understand touch, this same type of stimulation can work on everyday Joes that simply want to control their movements better.  The gentle skin stimulation I’m referring to in this article wakes up the nerves just beneath the skin and awakens blood flow (12).  Those two factors allow anyone a heightened sense of awareness of their body in relation to itself and the things around it.

Greater Lifts & Awareness During Workouts

Hear me out on this last one.  In the same way that skin brushing can enhance spatial awareness in everyday activities, it can also improve your performance in the gym… especially for weightlifters.

By stimulating the nerves and reactivating blood flow to the areas that are brushed, the muscles below the areas you target are “woken up” and that increased blood to those areas have the potential to aid in better performance.  Throughout this article, I’ve referenced nerve ending stimulation via brushing.  However, I’ve failed to mention that the majority of your nerves are found in the fascia, which is analogous to a thin, sinewy casing of every muscle.  Not only does it encase each muscle, it encases each muscle fiber, each muscle fiber bundle, each muscle, AND entire groups of muscles spanning from the head to the feet (14).  When we “wake up” our nerves via skin brushing, we’re actually stimulating the fascia’s sensitivity (13).  Having fascia that is more in-tune and trained to adapt to the demands you place on it (in this case, lifting a heavy weight) will make you progress leaps and bounds quicker than someone who doesn’t take care of their fascia (13).  This is why you might see a powerlifter brushing their skin in a competition before stepping up to take their max lift.

Final Thoughts

We don’t give enough credit to our skin’s resiliency, especially with everything that hits it in our modern world.  By taking the simple step to brush the skin, you’re giving yourself a far greater chance at avoiding illness, improving weight loss, killing it in the gym, and looking great while you’re at it.  Give this method a test run for a month and see what it can do for your own wellbeing!

(1) n.a. 2016.  Using proprioception to enhance rehabilitation.  Pysioroom.  Retrieved from http://www.physioroom.com/injuries/supplements/proprioception.php

(2) Zimmermann, K. A.  July 9, 2015.  Lymphatic system: facts, functions, & diseases.  LiveScience.  Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/26983-lymphatic-system.html

(3) Smith, E., Oblong J. E., Samuel J. T., Bissett D. L., Bascom C. C., Kelm G. R.  Method, kit and device for the treatment of cosmetic skin conditions.  Patents US 20030069618 A1.  Retrieved from https://www.google.com/patents/US20030069618

(4) Hall, N.  May 5, 2015.  Newton’s laws of motion.  FirstGov.  Retrieved from https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/K-12/airplane/newton.html

(5) n.a.  n.d.  Skin brushing.  Center for Lymphatic Health.  Retrieved from http://www.lymphatichealth.com/skin-brushing/

(6) Jockers, D.  June 4, 2013.  Dry brushing to detoxify your body.  Natural News.  Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/040615_dry_brushing_lymphatic_system_detox.html

(7) McCluskey, C.  July 16, 2012.  7 tips to naturally reduce cellulite.  Mind Body Green.  Retrieved from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5479/7-Tips-to-Naturally-Reduce-Cellulite.html

(8) Editorial Staff.  n.d.  How to dry brush your skin.  Detox & Body Cleanse.  Retrieved from http://www.detoxandbodycleanse.com/beauty-and-spa/how-to-dry-brush-your-skin/

(9) n.a.  n.d.  Wilbarger approach to sensory defensiveness.  The Wilbarger Approach to Treatment of Sensory Defensiveness.  Retrieved from http://wilbarger.tripod.com/id3.html

(10) n.a.  n.d.  Sensory defensiveness.  The Wilbarger Approach to Treatment of Sensory Defensiveness.  Retrieved from http://wilbarger.tripod.com/id2.html

(11) Reder, R. D. et. al.  2009.  Autism brushing protocol.  Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.  Retrieved from Deep-Pressure Proprioceptive Protocols to Improve Sensory …

(12) Sutherland, L.  March 6, 2013.  Why you should start dry brushing today.   Mind Body Green.  Retrieved from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7955/why-you-should-start-dry-body-brushing-today.html

(13) Meyers, T.  March 23, 2011.  Fascial fitness: training in the neuromyofascial web.  Idea Health & Fitness Association.  Retrieved from http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/fascial-fitness

(14) n.a.  n.d.  Fascia.  Anatomy Trains.  Retrieved from https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/

(15) n.a.  2014.  Natural skin brush by Yerba Primal.  Barefoot Provisions.  Retrieved from barefootprovisions.com/…/skin-and-body-brush-by-yerba-prima

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