What is lymphatic drainage and how can you do it at home?

It's trending in salon, but what is lymphatic drainage? The experts reveal all

What is lymphatic drainage - woman having lymphatic drainage massage in spa
(Image credit: Getty)

Countless experts and celebrities swear by it, but what is lymphatic drainage and does it have any real beauty benefits? Since January 2022, Treatwell has seen a 41% uptake in bookings for lymphatic drainage massage - meaning it's become one of the most sought-after treatments for summer. We've quizzed the experts to find out why. 

Manual lymphatic drainage is a beauty treatment that specifically targets the lymphatic system (hence the name). “The lymphatic system is a network of tissues, vessels, and organs that forms part of the body’s immune system,” explains Sana Kirse, expert therapist at Neville Hair & Beauty (opens in new tab). “It essentially acts as a one-way drainage system that moves fluid (aka lymph) from body tissue into blood circulation,” she continues. 

“Unlike the circulation of blood, however, the lymphatic system has no pumping mechanism to move the fluid around the body,” explains Nichola Joss (opens in new tab), celebrity facialist and skincare expert, “meaning that those with a more sedentary lifestyle may have a sluggish lymph system.” Enter lymphatic drainage massage. Said to flush out toxins, bolster glow, and even aid sleep – we break down everything you need to know about this must-try treatment. 

What is lymphatic drainage? The experts explain all

what is lymphatic drainage?

“The fluid or lymph in the lymphatic system helps remove waste and toxins from the body,” says Dr. Galyna Selezneva (opens in new tab), aesthetic doctor and body contouring specialist. But because it relies on physical movement to flow, the lymph can become sluggish – “poor diet, dehydration, stress, hormones and an unhealthy lifestyle can all play a part here,” says Kirse. 

Selezneva uses the analogy of a motorway: “Think of all the vessels in your body as motorways - some bigger, some smaller, some carry blood and some carry lymphatic fluid. If there are traffic jams along the way, nutrient-rich blood won’t be able to travel freely and infection-fighting lymph won’t be able to get to the organ that needs help. Lymphatic drainage prevents traffic jams and is thus key for a healthy body."

While exercise and drinking water aid lymphatic drainage, in the realm of beauty, “manual lymphatic drainage is a type of massage that will stimulate lymph movement towards the lymph nodes,” says Joss. So, if you're wondering are massages good for you? The answer is yes! We break down the benefits below.

 

What are the benefits of lymphatic drainage?

We know how it works in theory, but what is lymphatic drainage actually beneficial for in practice? “Manual lymphatic drainage has several health and beauty benefits,” says Kirse. These, say the experts, are the key benefits: 

  • Improves blood flow and promotes circulation
  • Reduces bloating and water retention
  • Strengthens and regenerates cells
  • Boosts glow and tones skin 
  • Improves the immune system 
  • Improve the efficiency of the digestive system
  • Boosts energy and promotes alertness 
  • Can relieve stress while promoting better sleep 

What professional treatments can boost lymphatic drainage?

“When it comes to professional treatments, I highly recommend Endsopheres Therapy,” says Selezneva. “It is a non-invasive treatment that can be used on the face and body to stimulate lymphatic nodes and move fluid,” adds Kirse who is also an advocate. How does it work? “It uses a compressive micro vibration system that essentially gives the skin a workout to provide deep lymphatic drainage,” explains Selezneva. It’s pain-free, has zero downtime, and feels like a firm massage. 

Joss recommends a professional manual massage. “My bespoke full body lymphatic drainage massage involves the application of very light pressure with long, gentle rhythmic strokes to increase the flow rate of the lymph system and help rid the body of toxins and reduce water retention,” she says. Other in-salon treatments may use the addition of tools - “we use a pump to remove the toxins and liquids that the body retains,” says Micheli Calmon, Treatwell lymphatic massage expert at The House Of Massage.  (opens in new tab)

How to do lymphatic drainage at home

woman giving herself a lymphatic drainage massage with jade roller

(Image credit: Getty)

Learning about lymphatic drainage doesn't always have to lead to a super-pricey spa visit. To spare the cost of an in-salon treatment, the experts assure that there are several beauty treatments at home that can also aid lymphatic drainage. 

“The easiest way to activate lymphatic drainage at home is by dry body brushing,” says Selezneva, “not only does it promote blood circulation, but it also exfoliates dry skin just as well as the best body exfoliators.” To do this, invest in a body brush then, “start with the legs and make long, sweeping strokes in the direction of the heart to work with the body’s lymph flow,” suggests Kirse. 

“Puffy, dull skin can be a good indicator of a sluggish lymphatic system,” says Selezneva. To boost lymph flow, Selezneva recommends a facial at home. “Using the tips of your fingers, massage the lymph nodes under your ears and down your neck,” says Kirse. “With gentle pressure, move towards the side of the face, along the jaw, and below the cheekbones,” Kirse recommends combining light vertical strokes with gentle pressing motions and using one of the best gua sha tools or best facial rollers, too. For more guidance, Joss offers online 1-2-1 video consultations where she teaches clients how to massage their faces at home to stimulate lymphatic drainage.

Beauty treatments aside, Kirse adds that “walking long distances, jogging and swimming can all encourage lymphatic movement.” She also recommends herbal teas: “burdock and dandelion stimulate diuresis and the expulsion of excess fluid.”

The best products to boost lymphatic drainage

Herbivore Jade Facial Roller | RRP: $32/£29

Supercharge your skincare regime with this dual-ended roller (for the face and under the eyes) It glides across the facial contours to take down puffiness and melt away tension. Top tip? Store it in the fridge for an extra cooling boost. 

Skin Gym Rose Quartz Gua Sha | RRP: $32/£42

Use this utensil with your favorite facial oil to sculpt and contour your face for a more defined, plumped-up complexion. We recommend using the groove to release tension along the jawline. 

Dr. Barbara Sturm Body Brush Soft | RRP: $35/£25

This luxurious soft-bristled brush can be used all over the body in long, circular motions to boost blood circulation and improve skin texture, tone, and tightness.

The Organic Pharmacy Detox Body Oil | RRP: $68/£36

Powered by a detoxifying blend of juniper, grapefruit, and rosemary oils - this lightweight body oil helps tone and nourish skin while leaving limbs softly scented. 

Westlab Himalayan Salt | RRP: $6.99/£4.99

Add a generous scoop of these salts to your evening bath and soak for 10 to 20 minutes while the Himalayan salts increase circulation, improve absorption of nutrients and remove toxins for a radiant, healthy glow. 


woman&home thanks Sana Kirse of Neville Hair & Beauty, Nichola Joss of The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge, Dr Galyna Selezneva and Micheli Calmon of The House of Massage for their time and expertise. 

Emma Stoddart is a freelance beauty journalist and self-confessed skincare aficionado with over five years’ industry experience. Emma has worked for some of the UK’s top women’s titles including Net-A-Porter, Stylist and Grazia. Her experience spans online and print as well as producing editorial shoots with some of the industry’s biggest artists, including Val Garland. Asides from working with them behind the scenes, she’s also had the chance to interview the likes of Patrick Ta, Pat McGrath, and Sam McKnight for all their insider tips and tricks.