Lymphatic drainage and the lymph system are having a moment right now—and rightfully so. The lymphatic system is crucial for our circulatory and immune systems to function optimally. Did you know that it also is a key factor in achieving a lasting glow to your skin? Keep reading so we can show you how!
By: Hayley Wood, L.E. N.T.P.
IN THIS POST:
- How the lymphatic system works
- How lymphatic drainage massage can help your skin
- At-home ways to promote lymphatic drainage
- Final lymphatic drainage tips
As popular as the practice of lymphatic drainage has become, it also is drastically misunderstood. Being an underrated health system for a long time will do that, I suppose. With that being said, let’s start with diving into how the lymphatic system works.
How the lymphatic system works
The lymphatic system is best described as a network of tissues, vessels and organs that work together to pump your lymph fluid back into the circulatory system. This process helps to make sure that a) your blood pressure and volume are balanced, and b) your immune system can fight infection. It does this with three main parts:
- lymph fluid: a watery-like fluid that flows through your lymphatic system
- lymphatic vessels: the pathways your lymph travels
- lymph nodes: inspection points where the lymph is analyzed for infection
We even have lymphoid organs such as the spleen, thymus, adenoids and tonsils, along with lymphoid tissues found all over the body—including in the skin. The lymph fluid starts out as blood plasma that gets pushed out of our capillaries into our capillary beds. Here they are able to spread nutrients for your cells and then back into the capillaries. What doesn’t get reabsorbed will then filter through the lymphatic vessels and get inspected at one of the many hundreds of lymph nodes that we have in the body.
What is most important to remember about the lymphatic system is that it can be a great pathway to supporting your immune and circulatory systems. This in turn impacts the skin’s long-term health and immune response.
RELATED: We’re kinda obsessed with these facial tools and My personal review of buccal facial massage (with before and after photos)
How lymphatic drainage massage can help your skin
There are a range of ways to combat lymphatic congestion, which can cause a myriad of health consequences. Let’s start by talking about the professional massage technique called Manual Lymphatic Drainage or MLD.**
MLD is the practice of meticulously and gently pumping the skin’s lymphatic points to support drainage. Drainage helps decongest any lymph stagnation, which results in better circulation for the area. And, you guessed it, a glowing complexion.
Supporting a healthy flow for lymphatic circulation will help combat lymphatic congestion. Some ways that the skin can indicate lymphatic congestion are through dark circles, itchy and dry skin, and even cellulite.
Another wonderful side effect of MLD is that it is purposefully slow and rhythmic to calm the autonomic nervous system, which controls our fight or flight response—which is also great for skin health.
RELATED: This DIY body scrub will have your whole body glowing and these 5 tips are the best for removing blackheads.
At-home ways to promote lymphatic drainage
Since it isn’t always possible to get a professional MLD treatment, there are other ways to help support your lymphatic flow—even with your current self-care routine. When it comes to lymphatic drainage, it’s often misunderstood as something we can turn on or off like a light switch. Instead, we want to encourage our lymph to do what it does best with supportive techniques that can simultaneously help your skin feel radiant. Here are 3 at-home recommendations to consider.
Movement & Breathwork
This is the easiest way to support your lymphatic system as you are most likely doing a version of this already. Movement and breathwork create flow to the circulatory system, and also allow you to sweat out toxins and build-up that may be causing stagnation. When we are moving, like in a mindful yoga practice, it provides both movement and breathwork to encourage lymphatic drainage.
Other options? Try a 10-minute rebounder routine, or this WIM HOF breathwork exercise.
These practices can help with lymphatic congestion that cause cellulite and dark circles. So remember, find your flow to get that post-workout glow!
RELATED: These are the best body tools for promoting glowing skin.
Commonly known as a wonderful exfoliating technique, dry brushing can also help with circulation and support the lymphatic system. The fine bristles of a dry brush, like this one from OSEA MALIBU, gently stimulate circulation at the lymphatic level to help soften the appearance of cellulite and uneven skin. Dry brushing is safe to do on areas of skin that are not infected or have an open wound.
To get started, move the brush from the top of your feet upwards in long, yet gentle strokes, towards the heart. You can follow this graphic as well.
The face can also be dry brushed with a smaller brush such as this Daily Glow brush from Province Apothecary. This provides a gentle exfoliation as well as stimulation for the circulation needed for proper lymphatic flow throughout the body, which can also help with puffiness in the face and dark circles.
Quick tip: After you shower or bathe, apply a layer of your favorite oil to damp skin. To help the oil absorb, you can use your body brush as a finishing step to help with overall absorption of the oil.
One of the most effective ways to support your lymphatic system is massaging your body and face. This practice can be an opportunity to create a habit of slowing down from our hectic lives. Massage is also useful as a self-inventory tool to discover any areas of tension and tenderness on the body and face.
How to self-massage: After your shower or face wash, apply a hydrating oil of choice all over the skin you are looking to revitalize. The key to a successful self-massage is to gently pump your hands in a slow, wave-like pattern to pulse the flow of your lymphatic movement. Long, circular motions work well to help with absorption of nutrients in the skin and oxygen flow. This self-massage practice is subtle yet effective in helping lymph flow which can support any dry or itchy areas of the skin.
Final lymphatic drainage tips
Once you’ve found your favorite way (or ways) to help support lymphatic drainage, we recommend that you drink lots of water. Lymph is 95% water, which helps support the flow.
Also consider avoiding any alcoholic beverages and heated spaces like saunas or steam. Any heat or alcohol may constrict flow in the lymphatic vessels, furthering congestion. Learn more about how alcohol can impact the skin here.
Have you tried any of these techniques? Which lymphatic supporting practice will you be try next?
**It is important to know that there are some MLD contraindications including an acute infection, hyperthyroid, thrombosis and low blood pressure. If you have a lymphatic system disease or disorder, any active cancers, or in some cases diabetes, circulatory massage is not recommended. In this case, we recommend connecting with a MLD specialist for support.
TNK Team Note: This article contains affiliate links. TNK uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TNK stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.
Annabelle RomeroJanuary 23, 2023
Hi, to my knowledge steam can help the lymphatic system. Do you have references to backup why steam/saunas are not good for lymphatic drainage?
Nicolle MackinnonApril 27, 2023
We chatted with Hayley and here’s what she said: “This is from my training with the Dr. Vodder Manual Lymphatic Drainage technique—heat can cause vasodilation which creates increased blood flow. It could be too much to increase lymph flow and blood flow through so it’s best to watch our body temperature.”