We’ve all seen the mesmerizing videos on Instagram where a relaxed, glossy face is methodically kneaded. And thanks to the mainstream popularity of things like Gua Sha, we know those movements aren’t just for show. A lymphatic drainage face massage can depuff, detoxify, and lift our skin, sculpting a glowier, taut complexion with nothing more than hands.
And though “lymphatic drainage” is officially in the beauty zeitgeist, that doesn’t always mean we fully understand the ins and outs of how it works. (I self-identify as a skincare junkie, and even I get a little lost on how to explain it beyond it’s good for depuffing!)
For a little enlightenment, we turned to the pros—celebrity facialist and brand founder Joanna Vargas; plastic surgeon and Solvasa co-founder Dr. Ritu Chopra; and Jordan Dorn, co-founder of Zuma Nutrition—to get a fuller understanding of the process, and how to do a lymphatic drainage face massage at home.
Featured image by Michelle Nash
What exactly is lymphatic drainage massage?
Part of our immune system, the lymphatic system is responsible for carrying waste and toxins away from (and bringing nutrients to) every cell in the body. But unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump. It relies on things like movement and breath, so it can easily become stagnant, which could lead to acne, puffiness, and dry, dull skin.
“Lymphatic drainage massage is a type of massage that encourages the natural drainage of lymph by manually pressing and massaging the skin at certain areas, pressing in the direction of the heart,” Dorn explains. “As lymph carries waste products from the tissues, it returns them to the heart to be purified and removed.”
Dorn notes that while a lymphatic drainage facial massage can be done by a licensed professional, an alternative version can be done by yourself at home.
How can you tell when you need lymphatic drainage?
Because it doesn’t have a pump to keep things moving, it’s easy for our lymphatic system to get backed up. “So even if there are no noticeable signs like puffiness, anyone can benefit from a lymphatic drainage massage, as it encourages the movement of lymph and ensures that this fluid doesn’t get backed up,” Dorn adds.
Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage Massage
If you can’t already tell by now, the lymphatic system is an under-the-radar power player in our bodies. Naturally, when nutrients are being properly delivered and waste is being properly drained, the health benefits that show up on our faces are vast.
- Reduces the appearance of cellulite.
- Supports detoxification.
- Improves skin elasticity.
- Promotes relaxation.
- Helps the body maintain proper blood circulation.
- Improves circulation.
- Reduces swelling.
- Aids in digestion.
- Helps clear acne.
- Can help reduce wrinkles, especially in the glabellar area (aka the 11s).
How long will it take to see results from a lymphatic drainage face massage?
Our pros unanimously gave our favorite beauty answer: immediately.
“However, the effects of the massage will vary from person to person,” Vargas notes. “If you have a very backed up lymphatic system, you may not notice benefits for a few sessions. If you have very little or no blockage in your system, you may not notice any observable benefits at all. In either case, the massage will encourage the movement of lymph, which carries with it toxins that could otherwise negatively affect your system. This has tremendous benefits for your health and immunity.”
We love a high-tech skincare tool here at Camille Styles, but the lymphatic system can get a little boost with and without something chargeable. Our own Nihel Ayari, who has dealt with chronically swollen lymph nodes, admits to doing 100 jumps each morning just to help get things moving.
But if you do want to invest in some at-home lymphatic care, our experts are well-versed in the art of lymph drainage.
*Dr. Chopra also notes, “Avoid rollers because they’re generally designed to move back and forth and it’s important to treat the skin in one direction.”
Lymphatic Drainage Massage Best Practices
“It only takes three minutes, so commit to doing it every day for 21 days so that it becomes a habit.” — Dr. Ritu Chopra
“When using a wand, start along the side of the neck to mimic a lymphatic drainage massage and then go from middle to the sides of the face in order to deliver the best result.” — Joanna Vargas
“Be sure to use sufficient pressure and always move in one direction, towards the lymph nodes.” — Dr. Ritu Chopra
And for a hands-on technique to encourage the lymphatic system to drain all through the body, Jordan Dorn shares a few helpful steps.
- Take 10 slow and deep breaths in and out, filling and emptying your lungs completely with each breath. This helps move lymph fluid through your lymph vessels and lymph nodes.
- Using a dry brush, brush your skin toward the direction of your heart, repeating each stroke a few times.
- Place the index and middle fingers of each hand on either side of your neck, just below your earlobe. Stretch the skin by gently sliding the fingers down toward the shoulders, then release. Repeat five times.
- Cup your palm under your armpits and gently press up toward your shoulder 10 times.
- Cup your palms under your knees and gently press up 10 times.
How to Do a Lymphatic Drainage Massage at Home
For a step-by-step tutorial of manual lymphatic drainage massage, we spoke with Gianna de La Torre, acupuncturist and co-founder of Wildling, a holistic beauty brand that focuses on beautiful, thoughtfully-crafted tools for time-tested skin rituals. Below, Gianna shares tips, instructions, and specific massage techniques to help you get the most out of your at-home lymphatic massage.
1. Detoxify + Dry Brush
- Dry brushing stimulates lymphatic flow and warms up the tissues for gua sha. Use before a shower. Think up the limbs and down the core.
- Using gentle short upward strokes starting at your ankles and moving up your leg (think of motions like you’re shaving).
- Next, do the same motion moving from wrists to shoulders.
- Follow with gentle circular strokes in a clockwise motion around the stomach (starting from your right side, over the top of your belly button, and down the left side).
- Finish your core with downwards strokes from shoulders to the groin.
- Moisturize with your favorite body oil (we love the OSEA Undaria Algae Body Oil). This creates slip and ensures the tool will slide across the body rather than pulling.
3. Release + Smooth
- Following the dry brush steps with your gua sha or body tool, use upward strokes from ankle up over the bum, from wrist to shoulder.
- Move to your chest and do rounded strokes over and under each breast moving towards the armpits.
- Repeat the circular motions around the stomach.
- Finish with strokes around the core, moving from shoulder to the groin.
Prefer a video? Below, Joanna Vargas takes you step-by-step through an easy DIY tutorial.
This post was originally published on June 18, 2022, and has since been updated.