Strigils: Is it Time for a Comeback?

03 Nov

If you’ve been following along with the Cellulite Investigation, you know dry brushing is an effective component of a holistic anti-cellulite strategy. The simple act of brushing the skin with a dry body brush is an easy way to enhance lymphatic circulation. It also removes dead skin cells which helps the skin perform its function as a secondary detox pathway.

Yet no matter how consistent I am with my dry brushing regimen, for me, dry skin brushing is not enough to properly exfoliate the skin.  My skin is not particularly dry, but often after a soak in a hot bath, I am amazed at the amount of dead skin cells that slough away when I lightly scratch my fingernails against my skin. A loofah is not effective at removing these dead cells, so I went in search of a better bath tool. That’s when I came across the strigil.

What is a strigil?

A strigil is a common bath instrument used in ancient Rome.  After a workout, Roman athletes would cover their skin in oil and then scrape off the excess with a strigil. Considering how effective oil is at cleansing the skin, the Romans seem to have been onto something that we have since forgotten (for more, see this post on Oil Cleansing).

A strigil is a metal tool with a handle on one end and a curved metal arc at the other. You can see a depiction in the artwork to the right, a painting called “Strigils and Sponges” by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. Strigils were an important part of the bath culture in ancient Rome. They are often depicted in statues of Roman athletes and related artwork of the time (such as this Roman sign for a public bathhouse. The text translates as “a bath is good for you.”)

Strigils For Our Time

The only legacy left of strigils in our modern culture is the word streak, which comes from the Latin strigilis, meaning “to touch lightly.”1 Other than word etymology and ancient art, the strigil is no where to be found in modern society.

My search for a strigil to use in my bath routine has been largely unsuccessful. A similar tool is used to scrape water and dirt from horses, but it has a different arc than strigils.   I suspect it would not be an effective tool for exfoliation. The blade has to be thick enough not to cut the skin but sharp enough to effectively lift the dead skin cells.

Most of the info I’ve found about strigils claims they are no longer used because, unlike in Roman times, soap is now widely available. But I think there’s still a place for strigils in the modern cleansing regimen. What do you think? Any ideas on where I can find a strigil to test out for our investigation?

A Cellulite Investigator Update

Thanks for stopping by The Cellulite Investigation.  Things are a little quite around here at the moment.  I’m taking an extended break as I get married and settle into married life and a new home.  Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon!

Comments

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herama says:
11/3/2010

Hope my link got through. Not appearing, so don’t know if site allows posting of links.

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Comments are only held for moderation if they contain two or more links (or if it’s from a new commenter). I checked the queue and the spam/trash bins and I don’t see any other comments from you. I’m dying to know if you found a retailer for strigils! Can you resend or email me the link? Thanks, herama!

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Laurie says:
12/1/2010

In “Green Barbarians”, she tried a silicon spatula, a loofah sponge, and frosting spreader and a credit card. She liked the metal spatula and her husband liked the loofah.

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I read about the credit card idea elsewhere, too. That’s funny. My first thought was to try a metal spatula but it didn’t work for me. I’ll have to read her book and see if she used oil beforehand. I found a few good alternatives since I wrote this post. More about that soon. Thanks for the info, Laurie. Green Barbarians seems like a book worth reading –I love those!

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Deb says:
1/8/2011

This may sound very odd, but I have what sounds like a strigil for brushing my cats. It’s called a Shed ‘n’ Blade, and it’s a loop of lightweight metal anchored at both ends in a leather handle. One edge of the arc has small teeth; the other edge is smooth. When you pull the toothed edge along the animal’s coat, it pulls loose hair and dander off the coat. (We used to use it on a yellow lab, too, and it took out tons of fur.) I could imagine using the smooth edge, lightly, as a strigil. Just an idea, but perhaps one no weirder than using a credit card or frosting spreader!

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Not weird at all Deb! I prefer to think of it as “creative.” Can you believe my sister-in-law found a modern strigil at Ross?! She gave it to me for Christmas. Apparently QVC was selling them last summer. Unfortunately, they’re not selling them anymore. I’m going to write a new post about it soon. Thanks for your comment!

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Deb says:
1/9/2011

Boy, that looks like a cool tool! It reminds me of the trick a friend taught me (which he learned in the Army in the early 70s, but is also an Ayurvedic technique), of scraping your tongue with a thin silver spoon in the morning after you brush your teeth. It gets off a film of goo you’d have to see to believe, and leaves you with fresh breath and a clean-tasting mouth. Much better than brushing the tongue!

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Wow, we are on the same wavelength, Deb! I just started using a tongue scraper. It really does work well.

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Charlie says:
3/22/2011

Try looking for the Pro Body scraper – I have yet to try it, but my wife just showed me the web page and I told her it would be a perfect birthday present as I too am looking for a modern strigil. There is also something called the bodyflik that looks a bit more like a traditional strigil, though it is labeled as a squeegee to get water off after a shower (I am sure if it works for water, it should work for oil and grime as well).

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Thank you Charlie! How cool is that?! This is the first company I’ve seen that is actually manufacturing a “modern strigil.” I love how they have a curved and straight edge. Very clever. And you can’t beat the price: $5 seems like a bargain. http://theprobodyscraper.com/

The bodyflik looks interesting, but I don’t know how well it would work for exfoliation. It needs to have just the right metal edge, and this one looks like it’s all plastic.

Since I wrote this post, I did find a “modern strigil” although it’s doesn’t seem to be in production any more. It’s called the Exfol-Away and they used to sell it at QVC. I wrote a post about it here: A Modern Strigil: Exfol-Away From QVC. I love it.

Thanks so much for the info, Charlie! I’m sure my fellow cellulite investigators will be interested in this info, too.

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Matt Dalton says:
9/15/2012

First of all I don’t know if you’re still at it over here at this site as the last comment was 2011 BUT if you do get this, you can use a gua-sha tool for a strigil. Water buffalo horn is the most common but whatever kind you want it wouldn’t always form the most perfect arc but pretty close and pretty effective. I use one all the time for exactly this purpose:)
Matt Dalton

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Hi, Matt. Sorry for the late response. Where do you purchase the gau sha tool? We looked into them a couple years ago but I never bought one. I’m happy with my LeEdge but am curious to try this too.

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Mark says:
7/10/2013

I’m male, so it will seem odd that i’m looking for this but, I’m allergic to a handful of the most common chemicals in high street soaps, sodium based compounds. So I’m just looking for a basic cleanser/soap alternative. The best I’ve found so far is a parafin based cream, (called aqueos at least in the uk) but it’s pretty terrible at removing heavy duty dirt especially things like ink that aren’t just on the surface, and it leaves a residue behind that often leaves me feeling more dirty than when I started.
so, I’ve been increasingly thinking about a strigil, while it’s unlikely to be ideal, it may be better than what I’ve put up with for years.
amazon have le edge for under $/£10
http://www.amazon.com/Le-Edge-Full-Body-Exfoliator/dp/B00565D6XW

Does anyone have another suggestion?
I’m averagely hairy if that makes a difference and don’t want to have to shave everywhere to make this work…

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Pixie says:
1/6/2014

Hello.
I discovered the website yesterday and decided to have a go at some bathroom magic!
I had a hot essential oils bath in which i gave myself self massage with coconut oil. After soaking for a while i oil scraped using a spoon then had a hydro therapy style shower. I felt great afterwards.
Today however, my butt and thighs are completely covered in not just the red spotty rash but very nasty looking bruising. Ive had to cover up all day due to it looking so brutal.
I am not sure if it has made much of a difference to my cellulite but I was wondering if anyone could tell me if this is a normal reaction and how long it takes to go away as i am a little concerned!
It looks terrible and i bruise easily and am worried i have done serious cell damage?
Thank you in advance,
Pixie.

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