Yes, you read that correctly. Brush your skin. Let me take a detour to physiology to explain why.
The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It acts as protection for our internal organs, and also works as a secondary organ of elimination (primary organs of elimination being the liver, lungs, intestines and kidneys). We secrete sweat and oils through our skin that help our bodies maintain a state of homeostasis, or balance. Dry skin brushing can help slough off dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, and promote healthy production of oils, both of which improve the skin’s ability to eliminate properly.
Additionally, just under the skin lies the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is comprised of a network of vessels that carry, among other things, waste material from circulation (dead bacterial/viral cells, dead white blood cells, excess interstitial fluid) back towards the heart. When the lymph reaches the superior vena cava (the big vein that leads into the heart) the fluids get re-incorporated into the blood so that when they reach the liver and kidneys, the waste can be properly filtered and eliminated through excrement.
Pretty cool, right? I think so.
Exercise helps with lymph flow - contraction and relaxation of muscles helps to keep things moving. Daily (or a couple times a week) dry skin brushing can help give a little boost to the lymphatic system, with the added benefit of gently exfoliating the surface of the skin.
Lastly, some important how-to’s: The key words here are DRY and GENTLE. The skin needs to be DRY because the skin’s surface is more vulnerable to micro-injury when it’s wet. We don't want that. And use GENTLE strokes. You want to create a pleasant scratchy sensation, but it should never hurt, and you definitely don’t want to puncture the skin. You should never brush your skin over an open wound, or skin lesion of any kind. It is important to use a brush with natural bristles that are medium to firm, and to clean it with soap and warm water on a regular basis. It helps if the brush has a long handle so you can reach your back too! If you do have a skin condition of any kind, check with your doctor first to see if skin brushing is right for you.
Dr Katy Morrison, ND LAc is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist at Well and Good Natural Medicine in Rockland, ME.