If you’re well-versed in wellness trends, you may have heard of something called a lymphatic drainage massage. And, even so, you may still wonder what the heck it actually is. To understand what a lymphatic drainage massage is, it’s helpful to have a rough idea of what the lymphatic system is — and why you need to “drain” it — in the first place.
If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before doing lymphatic massage.
To make a long biology lesson short, the lymphatic system is a complex network of vessels, tissues, and organs (including the spleen) that transport a clear fluid — referred to as “lymph” — towards your heart. For analogy’s sake, think of your lymphatic system as an internal scrubber for your body. Lymph “bathes” your cells by flowing through glands called lymph nodes. In doing so, the lymph removes waste, bacteria, viruses, and unnecessary proteins. This is a good thing!
On occasion, though, lymph can build up in the lymphatic system, leading to puffiness and subpar circulation. A facial lymphatic drainage massage aims to drain this built-up fluid, and recirculate it through the lymph system. Does this all sound complex? Don’t worry — we’re breaking it all down for you, including the benefits of lymphatic drainage and tips to DIY it yourself.
Benefits of a Facial Lymphatic Drainage Massage
Lymph nodes in the facial region are located along the neck area, around the sinuses, behind the ears, and under the chin. Most professional facial lymphatic drainage massages target each of these node hotspots, starting from the clavicle and working up to the forehead.
Celebrity aesthetician Sarah Akram says lymphatic drainage massages are similar to any other type of massage. “In standard massage therapy, your therapist works out ‘knots’ in your muscles,” she notes. “The same principle applies to lymphatic drainage, only we are moving the lymph along in the body.”
Board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale® New Haven Hospital, Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, also gives credence to lymphatic drainage massage — particularly as it pertains to the face. “Lymphatic drainage can reduce puffiness under the eyes and bring blood to the surface of the skin,” she says, noting that these effects can improve skin’s appearance.” If the skincare benefits of a lymphatic drainage facial aren’t compelling enough, here’s another kicker: lymphatic drainage facials feel really good, making it a very nice treat-yourself moment.
Important Health Considerations Before DIYing Lymphatic Drainage Massage
Lymphatic drainage massages are generally considered safe. However, it’s important to check with your health care provider if you have congestive heart failure, are at high risk for blood clots, have an active lymphatic infection, a fever, or if you’re experiencing swelling without a cause. You should also not massage any areas that might be infected. Basically, if you’re at all concerned that this treatment isn’t a good fit for you, ask your provider before proceeding — it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
How to DIY a Lymphatic Drainage Massage at Home
Though usually performed by a professional esthetician, you can actually complete a lymphatic facial drainage massage at home. All you really need is your fingers — although a jade roller, gua sha, facial vibrator, and/or cryosticks can add a soothing touch!
If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before using a gua sha or rolling tool.
The massage process can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, and can be performed anytime you’re feeling puffy. If you’re eager to try it out yourself, begin by cleansing your face thoroughly. Next, grab your favorite serum or face oil (the product itself is up to you — though you might want to select something very slippery to facilitate gliding movements!), and apply to your fingertips or tool of choice.
Then, begin applying gentle pressure — Dr. Robinson advises “soft brushing movements” — over the lymph node areas. Start by massaging the skin just above the clavicles, and work your way up the neck, which also contains lymph nodes. Akram says you can also press your index finger and thumb together and firmly massage in long strokes from your chin toward the lymph nodes behind your ears. Again, this should be gentle; if it doesn’t feel good, you’re probably applying too much pressure! Gentleness is particularly important when you reach the area around the eyes, Dr. Robinson notes, as the skin is much thinner and more sensitive. “Use your fingers or a small tool,” she says, “[and] remember to not pull too hard.” (If you notice your face oil is absorbing and disallowing a smooth glide, feel free to add more!)
Once you finish the whole face, you can repeat three to five more times in each area. Finish by completing the rest of your usual skincare regimen. “You’ll know the massage worked because you’ll start to notice subtle shifts in how you look and feel, such as reduced undereye puffiness,” says board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bella Skin Institute℠ in Beverly Hills, California, Anna Guanche, MD. “The lasting results are variable — anywhere from a few hours to days. For lasting effects, it’s important to drink a lot of water, eat unprocessed foods, and support your body in the detoxification process.” Then, just lean back and bask in the glow of your sculpted, more luminous complexion — you’ve earned it!
Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson is a paid Allergan® consultant.