I Finally Found a Dry-Brushing Alternative That Doesn’t Feel Like Torture

Photo: Getty Images/Shalom Ormsby Images Inc.
As a wellness journalist, I often hear experts talk about the importance of regularly stimulating the lymphatic system—the network of lymph nodes, fluid, and vessels that play a crucial role in our immunity and our body's detox processes. And as much as I want to attend to my lymphatic health, the truth is that most at-home treatments that address it are straight-up unpleasant.

Take dry-brushing, for example. The Cleveland Clinic hails it for promoting lymph flow and drainage, but it huuuurts. Or maybe that's just my non-existent pain tolerance talking. Alternating between hot and cold water in the shower (AKA "contrast showering") is another anecdotal technique for keeping your lymph moving, and yet this, too, feels rather torturous. Oh, and I got really excited when a fitness expert told me that rebounding on a trampoline is great for your lymphatic health, so I ran out and bought a mini-tramp. Sadly, I found out that I get motion sickness after only a few minutes of bouncing—and there's not a ton of evidence to show it does anything for your lymphatic health anyway.

So when I received an email about Olio Maestro ($249)—a new body-care line that's said to give your lymphatic system a workout while reducing cellulite—I was instantly intrigued. I didn't care so much about the second part, since I am very much on board with the cellulite acceptance movement, but a painless alternative to dry-brushing that supposedly takes no more effort than slathering on some moisturizer? Sign me up.

Actually, I didn't dive in quite so unreservedly. Once my box of Olio Maestro's body oils and tea arrived in the mail, I had a few questions for its founder, Jasmine Scalesciani-Hawken. A former nutritionist, Scalesciani-Hawken started perfecting Olio Maestro's formulas over a decade ago, as an alternative to the chemical-laden cellulite creams her clients wanted to use. Today, the system consists of three products: two stimulating body oils and a tea that, as a system, are meant to help stimulate the lymphatic system and smooth skin. Oh, and there's also a $15 suction cup that you can use to massage in the oils, which is said to improve circulation and lymphatic drainage while softening the fascia. Scalesciani-Hawken says that for best results, you should use all of the products together, but they're also all effective on their own.

So what's the connection between the lymphatic system and beauty? "I call this 'functional beauty,' a way to activate or work out your lymphatic system," explains Scalesciani-Hawken. "If it's really clean and everything's moving efficiently, the skin starts glowing, you feel more vibrant, and you have that natural, healthy look."

Here's how the whole system works, according to her: The body oils are filled with potent essential oils that are believed, in traditional medicine, to benefit the lymphatic system—including grapefruit, lemon peel, juniper, and cypress—plus circulation-enhancing ingredients including black pepper and coffee. Applying them with the suction cup creates another level of lymphatic stimulation, similar to what happens when you get a cupping treatment. And the tea takes things to the next level thanks to herbs like cleavers, which are used by herbalists to boost lymphatic function.

Given that there's nothing sketchy in any of the products—just sweet almond oil and essential oils for the body products and herbs for the tea—I figured I had nothing to lose by giving them a try. Following Scalesciani-Hawken's instructions, I started my day by suction-cup massaging the first of the oils to my abdomen, thighs, and butt, which felt really soothing first thing. Like dry brushing, she says you can use them from head to toe, but since the oil set isn't cheap, I decided to start with my bottom half, which still offers up benefits. "Imagine this is a circuit and there’s one part that’s clogged—if you start unclogging that area, it will affect the entire system," she explains. The oil has a warm, spicy smell—one that's invigorating, not overpowering—and my skin drank it up quickly, without any residual greasiness.

At night, after my shower, I repeated the process with the second oil and the suction cup, applying it to the same areas in a circular motion. (This felt especially dreamy after my evening workouts.) This one smells more floral, thanks to rose and geranium oils, and it has the same light, non-greasy finish as its sister.

After two weeks of using the system, I can't say that I feel any different, physically. Perhaps it's because I didn't drink the teas religiously—Scalesciani-Hawken recommends sipping on a mason jar-sized serving throughout the day, every day. Or maybe my lymphatic system was in good shape in the first place. Some experts argue that healthy people don't need to worry about lymphatic stagnation. According to Andrew Weil, MD, normal physical activity is enough to keep your lymph circulating.) But the skin on my legs and butt definitely seems smoother, especially right after suction-cupping the oils on.

Beyond that, however, the biggest takeaway for me is the self-care piece. I've always looked at body care as being kind of frivolous—I don't even usually think to put on lotion after getting out of the shower, since I'm usually dashing off to make dinner or meet up with friends—but this forced me to slow down, twice a day, and throw some kindness and attention towards the parts of my body that I usually don't pay a second glance. It took the promise of capital-h "health benefits" to get me there, and if my new ritual is also invisibly improving my lymphatic wellness in some way, great.

Your lymphatic system affects the upper half of your body, too—here's how a lymphatic drainage facial could help with acne. And if you were wondering why even super-fit women have cellulite, here's your answer

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