It’s generally not nice to give someone the brush-off—but when it’s your own body you’re brushing, you do yourself good, I heard from Mao Shing Ni, PhD, DOM, LAc, author of Secrets of Longevity. Dr. Mao was referring to dry-brushing, a technique used to strengthen the body’s immune system and encourage removal of toxins. Though scientific evidence is limited, common sense and experience support its use. Here’s why…

The lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system, helps clean the body’s tissues and maintain its balance of fluids. It includes lymph vessels that carry lymph fluid through the body… plus lymph nodes that filter out waste, toxins and pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. But because its pumping system is not very efficient, lymph fluid—and the toxins it carries—can get stuck and accumulate in nearby tissues, causing swelling, impairing blood flow and increasing infection risk. As Dr. Mao explained, dry-brushing your skin stimulates the surface nerve endings, activating movement in the lymph vessels and pushing lymph fluid onward toward the lymph nodes, where toxins can be eliminated. Bonus: It also improves skin health and appearance by increasing blood flow and exfoliating dead skin cells.

What you need: Buy a long-handled body brush with natural bristles at a spa, cosmetics supply store or online (about $7). Avoid nylon or plastic bristles, which generate static electricity.

What to do: Perform the five-minute dry-brushing routine described below at least twice weekly—preferably in the morning, Dr. Mao recommended, because it is invigorating and because the lymph system is most active then. Using long, smooth strokes, brush your bare skin firmly enough to make it flush a bit but not so hard that it causes discomfort. Dry-brushing generally is safe for everyone except people who bruise very easily or have extremely fragile skin, Dr. Mao said.

Important: You must brush in the proper order and direction to keep lymph fluid moving toward the major lymph nodes (which are in the armpits, groin, neck and collarbone area) and the heart (so toxins can be eliminated via the circulatory system). For each area below, give three to five strokes. Do not brush your face because facial skin is delicate. Also skip any area where you have skin irritation or injury, such as a rash, cut, infection or patch of eczema or psoriasis.

Brush in this order…

  • Along the inside of each arm from fingertips to armpit… then along the outside from fingertips to shoulder.
  • Along the inside of each leg from toes to groin… then along the outside from toes to hip.
  • From the crown of the head down the back of the head to the base of your neck… then from the crown down each side of the head, behind each ear.
  • From beneath your chin down each side of your neck (not the front of the throat) to your collarbone.
  • On the entire front of the torso, stroking down from the navel area to the crotch… then stroking up from the navel to the collarbone.
  • On each side of the torso, brushing down from the waist and over the hips… then up from the waist to the armpit.
  • On the back of the torso, stroking down from the mid-back to the bottom of the buttocks… then stroking up from mid-back to the shoulder area, until the entire back has been brushed.