Understanding the Science of Lymphatic Drainage Will Change Your Skin
"Lymphatic drainage" is a buzzy term right now in the skincare world. It's touted as the main benefit of jade rolling, gua sha, and Kansa massage... but that's where most of the information on lymphatic drainage stops. We know it's good for us, but we don't know why.
While writing this article on Kansa massage, I decided to dig a little deeper. Why was lymphatic drainage so important? Doesn't the lymph drain naturally? Why does it need our help? I sifted and sorted through mostly-over-my-head medical studies and scientific articles until I could piece together an overview of the science of lymphatic drainage, as it relates to skincare.
HOW DOES THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM WORK?
The lymphatic system is, in short, the body's way of detoxing naturally. The lymph collects excess fluid and waste from every single cell in the body, then filters that fluid. The good stuff is cycled back into the circulatory system, leaving the lymph nodes full of all the toxins they've removed. This isn't a bad thing, though — the lymphatic system simultaneously produces immune cells to kill bacteria and stop infections from spreading to other parts of the body. (Anyone else fascinated by our bodily functions?)
However, just because that's how the lymphatic system is designed to work doesn't mean that's how it's actually functioning on a daily basis. There are many lifestyle factors that contribute to toxin build-up in the lymph; like dehydration, inflammation, eating too much salt, and not getting enough exercise. So, basically, there's a good chance your lymph isn't getting the love it needs.
The area where lymphatic build-up tends to be most noticeable? The skin, of course. There are lymph nodes in front of the ears, along the jawline, under the chin, around the cheeks; and when toxins are stagnating there, it can lead to acne outbreaks, dullness, excess oil, and general puffiness. (Aaaand I'm officially grossed out imagining that toxin build-up sitting under my skin.)
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT YOUR LYMPHATIC SYSTEM?
If you're noticing breakouts in front of your ears, on your chin and jawline, and under your cheekbones, then your lymph is likely to blame — meaning that no matter how many topical creams you slather on, the problem won't get better until you dive a little deeper. The real solution lies in supporting your body's natural detoxing mechanisms.
Use a jade roller, gua sha tool, or Kansa wand to massage the entire face, with a special focus on the lymph nodes. This helps drain the excess fluids and toxins hiding out in the lymph — you'll notice an immediate improvement in inflammation.
Typically, your face is puffy when you wake up — that's because you haven't been moving, so the lymphatic system hasn't been draining. When you skip a workout in favor of a weekend-long Netflix binge, it has the same effect. Make sure you're exercising in some way (even just a mile-long walk) a few times a week to keep the lymph moving. Yoga is perfect for this!
Herbs can be incredibly powerful allies for the lymphatic system. Make an herbal infusion a few times a week with burdock root, violet leaves, dandelion root, or nettles to support lymph movement (more specific benefits of each herb along with exactly how to make herbal infusions are outlined in my free ebook). Ginger root is also a great lymph-cleanser when used in tea or fresh juice, and astralagus supplements can help support lymphatic flow as well.
As one of my favorite skincare experts, Angela Peck of Wholistic Skin + Care, says: "No flow, no glow.”