How a 3-Minute Bathroom Ritual Revolutionized My Mornings and Turned Into a Self-Care Routine That Sticks

published Mar 9, 2021
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Confession: I’ve never liked mornings and I’m not about to start any time soon. I found it hard to start the day back when it involved putting on “work” clothes, heading out for a commute, and eating a quick breakfast on the train… and I’m certainly not finding it any easier now that all I have to work with is the jump from night pajamas to day pajamas and the promise of yet another Zoom call coming very, very soon.

Late last year, reeling from seasonal mood swings and a bad habit of hitting “snooze” on  my alarm five times in a row, I realized that something had to change. Mornings were never going to be my “she-has-her-life-together” movie montage moment, but there had to be steps I could take to make myself dread them a tiny bit less. 

Enter dry body brushing,  my secret weapon against the monotonous limbo that is semi-permanent isolation living. 

A quick, simple, and inexpensive technique, dry brushing involves massaging your dry body in long, firm strokes using a natural stiff-bristled brush. And while dry brushing isn’t going to solve my bigger problems,  I’ve been performing the ritual all over my entire body most days since January 1st,  almost as soon as I get up, and it’s proven a small distraction from… everything else. 

I was initially anxious to “get it right,” as it seems almost too simple to be true, but I quickly learned that it’s all about what feels right for you rather than following any strict guideline. As long as you ease yourself into the practice with lots of extra care, and watch out for irritation or signs of discomfort, there is really no way to go wrong. I’ve been experimenting with different pressures to find my optimal one, making sure to follow up with a rich moisturizer straight away, and love the way my skin feels softer and smoother overall. 

If you’re unsure about the movements, you can do what I did and watch this YouTube tutorial which has close to a million views, then try to follow along on your own. You might soon discover where your sweet spots are: Just lightly brushing over a certain area on your calves, on the back of your knees, or your upper arms could prove such a welcome distraction from the hustle of everyday life and the chaos of pandemic living. 

The biggest benefit remains that I’ve found it to be a three-minute ritual that puts my body and wellbeing first, and therefore tricks me into feeling like I’m starting the day having already accomplished something. Even on mornings when I have to summon all of my energy to get out of bed, I rarely skip on reaching for my brush, because I know I can count on it as a moment to connect with my body and start my day with intention. Dry brushing will never be the magic solution to the world’s problems, but it is a simple and inexpensive ritual I’m going to keep up. As a bonus? My legs will be the smoothest they’ve ever been and my alarm-snoozing tendencies a thing of the past. 

So what exactly does dry brushing do?

It exfoliates the skin to stimulate cell renewal, help your products work more effectively, and even prevent ingrown hairs

Like any form of exfoliation, it eliminates “dead skin cells, called keratinocytes, which can sit on the top of our skin and show up as dry and rough patches,” says Dylan Greeney, MD. “Exfoliating can leave the skin feeling smoother and allow topical products to absorb more readily, which in turn makes the skin look generally more ‘glowy’ and healthy.” It can also prove helpful in dealing with ingrown hairs, as excessive cell buildup is often the cause of the problem. 

It’s a moment to feel present and focus on your body: it promotes relaxation and invites pleasurable sensations

“Dry brushing encourages you to take a moment and focus on your body,” adds Lubna Khan-Salim, MBBS, BSc, MRCS, a surgeon and skin specialist. “Even if aesthetically there’s no life-changing improvement, feeling good about the body you live in is always a goal worth achieving.”

Experts say the best time to dry brush is in the morning, just before a shower, as it could help you feel energized for the day. Dr. Aegean H. Chan, MD, FAAD, a dual board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist, explains that “the brush strokes from dry brushing may simulate massage, which has been shown to elicit a parasympathetic nervous system response, promoting relaxation. Additionally, there are neurons present in the skin that are activated via massage and transmit a pleasurable sensation.

Credit: Clara Doti/

What does science say?

But if some dry brushing benefits seem too good to be true, that’s probably because they are. Some claims, like cellulite reduction, “should be met with skepticism,” warns Dr. Khan-Salim. (Besides, the appearance of cellulite is totally normal, and is nothing to be scared of.)

There is no clinical evidence in the literature to support the claims dry brushing aids in digestion or the appearance of cellulite,” she says. “It’s likely that what people interpret as cellulite reduction is a temporary plumping of the skin from increased blood flow.”

Dry brushing might help blood and lymphatic circulation, but any promises to this effect should be taken with a grain of salt. “The lymphatic and circulatory system work synergistically to remove waste from the body,” Dr. Khan-Salim notes. “It’s up for debate whether you actually need to manually stimulate circulation, as movement does that alone, but studies do show that easier circulation is better for skin overall so there is no harm in this technique.”

While much of the evidence around the practice is anecdotal, what we do know is that the beauty ritual has been around for thousands of years. Examples of similar practices can be found in many places, including Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, ancient Greek and Roman culture, as well as Scandinavian and Turkish tradition. Fast forward to now: The practice can now be found among treatments at many spas.

How to Start Dry-Brushing:

Medical professionals recommend starting slowly in an effort to avoid over-exfoliating and potentially irritating the skin.

When it comes to correct technique, skin therapist and beauty expert Joyce Connor says to try “starting at your feet, holding the brush in one hand and following each brushstroke with a hand stroke using the opposite hand.” She recommends using “a natural bristle brush that isn’t too spiky and scratchy on the skin,” as synthetic fibers could prove too harsh for the intended use, and looking out for soft to medium stiff bristles. When it comes to different types of handles, a hand-held brush that’s easy to grip will give you more control over the movement, while one with a long handle will help reach places like your back and your elbows. 

Make sure to clean the brush regularly the way you would a washcloth or other tool that touches your skin: Use warm, soapy water to shake dead skin cells from the bristles and let your brush dry fully before its next use.

“Start with once a week, and apply the brush using light upward sweeping strokes directing towards the heart,” says Sarah Brown, a clinical aesthetician and skin consultant at Renude.

“A few overlapping swipes per area can be enough,” notes Dr. Khan-Salim. “Be wary of going over the same area too many times as this can break skin integrity and may cause bleeding.”

While it’s important not to overdo it, you should also take some time to figure out whether dry brushing is for you: As is the case with most types of exfoliation, it’s not suitable for every skin condition.

“You should not dry brush if you have dry skin, sensitive skin, atopic dermatitis (eczema), any active rashes, or open skin wounds,” Dr. Chan warns. “If you feel any discomfort, pain, or irritation, you may be overdoing it. The skin on your neck, breasts, and in folds like your armpits tends to be thinner, so try to use reduced pressure in those areas, and do not dry brush your face.” Dr. Greeney also notes that some conditions, like keratosis pilaris, might actually be made worse if you over-exfoliate, so be sure to talk to your doctor or dermatologist before you start dry brushing regularly.