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ConditionsDry Skin-Brushing: DIY for a sluggish immune system and beauty routine all in one

Dry Skin-Brushing: DIY for a sluggish immune system and beauty routine all in one

Dry Skin-Brushing: DIY for a sluggish immune system and beauty routine all in oneDIY for a sluggish immune system and beauty routine all in oneFeeling chronically below par, sluggish and lacking in vitality has become the norm for many of us

Dry Skin-Brushing: DIY for a sluggish immune system and beauty routine all in one

DIY for a sluggish immune system and beauty routine all in one

Feeling chronically below par, sluggish and lacking in vitality has become the norm for many of us. This chronic lack of vitality could be an indication that the lymphatic system is blocked, sluggish or just plain overwhelmed by stress and toxins.

Ignored by medicine unless problems such as lymphoedema arises secondary to, say, breast cancer surgery, the lymph-atic system is an essential part of our circulatory system. The body's housekeeper, it comprises a delicate network of vessels that pump a colourless liquid called 'lymph' all around the body.
Along these pathways are clusters of lymph nodes, 400-700 of them dotted about the body. These nodes filter and purify the lymph, reclaiming the fluid and breaking down pathogens and toxins. As well as cleansing and detoxifying, the lymphatic system reclaims digested fats and proteins, the body's source of energy, and adds them to the body's circulation.

Skin deep
Many lymphatic channels lie just under the skin. Lymph vessels transport excess, waste-charged fluid away from the intercellular spaces and return it to the bloodstream. Lymph acts as a go-between for the transfer of vital materials from blood to the cells, and for cellular debris to the blood. So, blood feeds lymph, and lymph feeds cells, making intercellular lymph drainage a crucial bodily function.

Skin-brushing is considered an excellent way to stimulate the activity of the entire lymphatic system, though there are no formal studies to support such a claim.

Benefits of brushing
There is a vast array of instructions for brushing the skin. Some say start at the head, others at the feet. Some say use long sweeping motions, others support short firm swipes. Still others recommend circular motions of increasing pressure. Traditional practices recommend concentrating on energy channels, while more modern approaches say brush the whole body. But most agree that dry skin-brushing is an inexpensive habit that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine.

To promote lymph flow, one session of vigorous skin-brushing is said to be equivalent to 20 minutes of exercise. Skin brushing can't replace exercise, but it will stimulate the lymphatics, enabling more purging of toxins from the body, which may be especially helpful to those who are sedentary.

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

The products
To find out whether skin-brushing delivers immediate and/or cumulative effects, we supplied 10 PROOF! Panel members with 10 different sorts of skin brushes to be used in a once-daily skin-brushing routine for 10 weeks, using each brush for about a week. Brushes were evaluated on ease and comfort of use, construction, packaging, perceived benefits and/or adverse effects, and value for money. We also asked the panellists to keep track of any cumulative benefits.

To keep things simple, we told them to brush from the extremities towards the heart, using long sweeping strokes and counter-clockwise stokes on the abdo-men. Members could choose whether to start at the head or feet.
We were amazed by the huge variety of brush shapes and sizes available-each claiming to be most effective for dry skin-brushing. For most testers, the major difference was in the bristles. Our brushes were either of bristles or sisal. Bristles tended to be softer, while sisal-made from cactus fibre-is rather stiff. Only Opal stated that vegetable-fibre brushes are suitable for vegetarians/vegans.

Brushes with hard bristles were almost universally disliked. While tradition says that a semi-stiff or stiff brush is best, many panellists felt rubbed raw, particularly by the Japanese Brush and the Japanese Sisal Backstrap. Although Opal believes the Backstrap is a favourite for men, our male testers found it far too scratchy; most of the panel also found it difficult to use on the whole body. Sisal brushes, especially the rubber-handled one by Opal, left scratches on around 70 per cent of those who used it. Similarly, the Sisal Knitted Glove left three users with itchy uncomfortable skin.

Without exception, all of our testers were disappointed by the lack of infor-mation given with each brush. Most had no packaging at all-which is why none achieved a five-star rating. Some had tags explaining how to care for the brush, but not how to use it on the body.

Although skin-brushing is simple and quick to do, few managed it every day. On average, the panellists used the brushes four days a week and spent an average of 3.5 minutes on a full-body brushing.

Around half the testers felt than an improved skin tone and colour were the most immediate benefits of skin-brushing. None noted any rise in energy levels and, although brushing is supposed to improve cellulite, only two saw any im-provement. Nevertheless, the entire panel wished to keep on using their preferred brushes for their temporary, but pleasant, invigorating effects. They all also felt that longer-term brushing might yield other benefits.

It's worth noting that lymph is thixo-tropic-it becomes thicker when force is applied. So, gentle regular movements are more likely to produce the best results in the long term. If your skin is red or scratched after dry brushing, then either you're doing it too hard, or the brush you're using is too harsh.

Paddle Brush
With Natural Bristle ****
Distributor: Opal London
Price: lb3.99
Of all the short-handled brushes, this was the favourite shape: the wider head meant it could cover more skin with each sweep. This made brushing time economical.
This was nice to hold and use, but some complained that it was too soft and prob-ably did not produce much more than gentle exfoliating benefit.

Massage Mitt ****
Distributor: Neal's Yard
Price: lb7.25
This reversible mitten has a softer side of natural sisal woven into an unbleached cotton base, and the other side with larger loops of sisal for a more invigorating massage. The lack of instructions with this glove meant that none of our panel picked up on the fact that the mitt could be used both ways. Most used the sisal-only side and found that the mitt shape allowed them to cover more body in less time. Softer than Opal's sisal glove, a few still complained that it irritated their skin. Some considered this one too expensive.

Massager ***
Distributor: Opal London
Price: lb5.99
This round soft-bristle brush is studded with soft rubber 'buds' to provide more firmness to the bristle and more oomph to your brushing routine. Well-constructed and nice to look at, most of our panel liked this brush, though many felt disappointed that they could not feel the rubber on their skin. A cotton strap is supposed to hold the brush on the palm, but women with small hands found it too loose to use comfortably. An adjustable strap would have made this a near-perfect brush.

Round Body
Brush With Natural Bristle ***
Distributor: Opal London
Price: lb3.99
This traditional sauna-style beechwood body brush is of soft natural bristle. The head was a little too small for some, but it produced the same comfortable feel on the skin as the Paddle Brush, and was of the same sturdy construction.

Long-Handled Brush ***
Distributor: Simply Nature
Price: lb7.50
A wider handle and a more pleasing construction made this the favourite of the two long-handled brushes, even though it was the more expensive of the two. This one also came with a brief instruction leaflet-the only one that did.
The bristles were quite stiff and a few complained of skin rubbed raw initially, though about half our testers found it invigorating. Some dampened the brush before use-which helped-though both the skin and brush should be absolutely dry for effective skin-brushing.

Body Brush With Rubber Handle & Sisal ***
Distributor: Opal London
Price: lb5.99
Another sauna-style brush, about 70 per cent of our testers complained that, used dry, it scratched their skin. This was a pity since the brush's design was very popular. The slightly longer handle with the rub-ber grip provided a good handhold and reached more of the back without having to stretch. This brush, but with the Paddle Brush's head, would have been ideal.

Back Brush With Natural Bristle **
Distributor: Neal's Yard
Price: lb6.50
This brush was harder to hold, and had marginally stiffer bristles than the similar brush made by Simply Nature. It's removable head has a soft cotton strap to aid grip when brushing the upper body. Less expensive than it's rival, most of our panel felt it was simply too harsh to use dry.

Sisal Knitted Glove **
Distributor: Opal London
Price: lb3.99
Compared with the Neal's Yard mitt, most of our panellists felt this one looked cheap. Again, there was disappointment that this glove came with no instructions but, most of all, there was the complaint that it left scratches-even welts-on the skin. Three of the testers found they had very itchy skin after using it. About half said they would continue to use it, but only when wet.

Japanese Sisal Backstrap *
Distributor: Opal London
Price: lb9.99
"An instrument of torture" is how one of our panellists described this back brush. Despite Opal's idea that it would be good for body brushing, most of our testers could not figure out how to use this bendy, 65-cm-long cylinder of prickly cactus fibres effectively. Especially recommended for men, none of the male members of our panel liked it very much.

Japanese Brush *
Distributor: Opal London
Price: lb2.99
Looking rather like an old-fashioned loo brush, this loop-shaped brush with a wide rope handle claims to provide an invigora-ting cleanse. The sisal bristles were dislik-ed by all but one of our panellists who complained that using this only left them feeling scratched and sore.

Just lymphing along? Try this

Dry skin brushing is for everyone unless there is broken skin, eczema, psoriasis or varicose veins. Done first thing in the morning, and followed by an alternately hot and cold shower, it can help to keep lymph flowing. Other ways to keep things moving include:
o Jumping. Small trampolines called 'rebounders' help reduce lymphatic congestion. Bouncing up and down causes the one-way lymphatic valves to open and close simultaneously, thereby increasing lymph flow many times over. Rebounding is safe, gentle and low-impact exercise that can burn more calories than jogging, and can convenient-ly be done in your home.
o Drinking . Make sure you are getting enough water each day. Chronic dehydration can slow and stagnate the flow of lymph.
o Cutting out aluminium-containing antiperspirants . These cause sebaceous glands to swell shut, and may also cause the lymph nodes in the armpits to close, blocking lymphatic drainage to the breast. Regular deodorants don't affect lymph flow.
o Raising the arms over the head . Doing this for a few minutes every day will help to facilitate axillary (armpit) lymph flow. Sitting with the feet raised is good for drainage from the legs to nodes in the groin area.
o DIY massage . Massaging specific drainage points yourself will support and maintain good lymph health. Gently massage the small depression at the base of the throat and the nodes in the knees, groin and armpits.

Manual lymphatic drainage

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is an advanced therapy in which a practitioner uses a range of specialised and rhythmic gentle pumping techniques to move the skin in the direction of lymph flow. There are many different types of MLD, including the original Vodder method as well as Leduc, Foldi, Casley-Smith and Asdonk methods.
MLDUK is a professional association of manual lymphatic drainage practitioners. Their website ( can help you find a skilled practitioner in your area as well as provide information on lymphatic disorders with links to other organisations. You can also contact MLDUK by phone on 01592 748 008.

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