Beauty

The Brush-Off: A Fresh Look at an Old Skincare Treatment

A beauty skeptic tries the new-old skin smoother that everyone from Goop to Miranda Kerr swears by, but bristles at the pain (and the pseudo-science) of dry brushing

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Sun’s out; buns out—with a little dry brushing first (Photo: Andrew Soule)

You haven’t lived until a tiny woman puts all her body weight into scrubbing your epidermis with a firm brush, launching flakes of skin into the stratosphere.

Or, at least, this is what I believe after receiving my first professional dry-brushing treatment at the new Caudalie Boutique Spa at Toronto’s Sherway Gardens. I’m splayed out on a plastic sheet, naked save for a pair of disposable underwear (I’m using the term “underwear” very charitably here) and towels covering my breasts and pelvis. I smell lemony and feel like my skin is on fire.

Dry brushing has been around for centuries, used by Scandinavians, Russians and Turks for exfoliating. It gained popularity in the ’60s thanks to an enterprising Finnish doctor, Paavo Airola, who used it as a purported treatment for arthritis, cancer and heart disease. (There remains no scientific proof that dry brushing has any medical benefits.) Most recently, there’s been another uptick in popularity on account of the green-juice-drinking, organic-zucchini-ribbon-eating types—including Miranda Kerr and Molly Sims—who swear by it, as well as a recent Goop endorsement. (That said, Goop also recommends packing a mini foam roller in your carry-on to stretch with mid-flight, so, you know, grain of salt.)

Dry-Brushing

Dry Brushing: Exfoliate (and supposedly boost circulation) with these insanely plush bristles. Estée Lauder facial dry brush (sold with Re-Nutriv Ultimate Diamond Revitalizing Mask Noir, $375, left)

Dry brushing works exactly how it sounds: running a firm brush across your dry skin—the bristles sometimes made of boar or cactus—to exfoliate and improve circulation. Proponents claim it also strengthens the immune system, reduces cellulite and helps the body drain toxins, all by stimulating the lymphatic system: the sewers, if you will, of our bodies. Opponents maintain it does absolutely nothing; Timothy Caulfield, author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, can barely hold in his laughter when we talk about the alleged benefits. “It might have this temporary impact on the appearance of the skin, causing it to look a little smoother,” he says, “but there is, as far as I know, no good evidence to support it at all. I’ve looked.”

As for the tantalizing claim that it can improve, if not cure, cellulite? “If dry brushing reduced cellulite,” Caulfield tells me, “I promise, we would know.”

Meghan Telpner, nutritionist and author of The UnDiet Cookbook, is a bit more receptive. “The skin is the largest organ, and it’s part of the detoxification system,” she says. “By skin brushing, you’re essentially opening that doorway of elimination so your skin breathes and eliminates toxins better.”

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Acupressure Massage: Replace an aesthetician’s skilled fingers with an ahh-inducing metal roller. Shiseido Facial Massage Roller, $195

Whether you buy into the detox business or not, here’s the rub: dry brushing hurts like hell. Imagine cozying up to an old hairbrush, one where all the rubber protectors on the ends have fallen off, or a cactus that promises kinder skin but is still a cactus. To do it correctly, you have to brush toward your heart, starting with long strokes at your ankles and then moving to circular motions when covering your lymph nodes (located in your neck, armpits and groin). At the very least, it lets you take some time to connect with your body, to get familiar with your grooves and curves and bumps. But did I mention that it hurts like hell?

For a few weeks before my spa treatment, I polish my body nightly with Sephora Collection’s new Dry Revive: Dry Body Brush, $18, and even brush my face. Estée Lauder’s latest mask comes with a— thankfully super soft—dry brush meant specifically for use before applying product. Paired with ample moisturizing, my skin is considerably smoother than its typical weather-beaten state before I even submit myself to the pros at Caudalie.

There, I’m brushed near-raw by my therapist. She spends an inordinate amount of time on my butt, forcing me to wonder, Is there something wrong with my butt? When she’s done, she oils me up and wraps me in sheets and what seems to be a thermal blanket. I bake like a cute hot potato. After 15 minutes, she unwraps me—I am freezing cold now—and massages lotion into my skin. I leave the salon much silkier and only slightly confused by the process.

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Dermaplaning: Gently shave off dead skin and peach fuzz for Hollywood-facialist- like results. Sephora Collection Level Setter razors, $10 for three

A few days later, my skin remains baby soft and a slightly more palatable shade. Now when I slip between my bedsheets, I’m slithery and smooth as I rub my legs together like a sexy cricket, my skin no longer feeling that unbearable tightness that it usually does after a long day. Yes, there’s something distinctly cult-like creepy about being a naked adult woman standing in an empty bathtub, rhythmically brushing dead skin off my own ass. But such is the price for booty beauty.

 

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