You may have seen this treatment advertised at a nearby spa, but a lymphatic massage of your face is something that’s very doable in your own home—every night! Sometimes called a “mini face-lift,” this facial massage has all kinds of benefits for your complexion.
What is the lymphatic system?
Let’s start at the basics—the lymphatic system is part of your body’s complicated internal systems, tissues, and organs. Specifically, it’s part of your body’s natural defenses in the immune system.
What your lymphatic system does, is filter your blood to detect potentially harmful things like bacteria and creates white blood cells to protect your body. This action is controlled by your spleen, the largest part of the lymph system. Auxiliary elements of the system are lymph vessels, and lymph nodes, of which there are hundreds scattered throughout your body.
Lymph nodes produce and store white blood cells that fight infection, almost like a local fire department that can respond quickly to an emergency. They also act as small filters for lymph, a clear substance that carries in germs or bodily waste—like dead cells—to be disposed of.
This is why when you’re sick, you often have swollen lymph nodes —this is because they’re working harder than usual to fight something like an infection.
Fortunately, because the lymphatic system is so large and not concentrated in one place, you can live without elements of it. For instance, some people have their tonsils removed as children—your tonsils are a large cluster of lymphatic cells. Some people even need to have their spleens removed for medical reasons, like cancer, though they tend to be more susceptible to infections.
What does this have to do with your face? As you might have guessed by now, there are also lymph nodes in your face, around your orbital bone, cheeks, and towards the side.
Why you should be doing lymphatic drainage on your face
Your body naturally circulates lymphatic fluid as we move (unlike our blood, which has our heart to pump it, the lymphatic system relies on gravity and pressure), the same way it circulates blood. However, obstructions can cause lymph fluid to build up, causing nodes or other parts of your body to become swollen or take on a puffy appearance.
The beauty of a manual lymphatic drainage massage is that it accelerates the natural transportation process. For people with lymphatic disorders or recovering from face-surgery, scientific research has shown lymphatic drainage massages to be very beneficial. Now, that evidence is being applied to everyone, whether they have a diagnosed lymphatic issue or not.
A 2015 study sponsored by the beauty company Shiseido found a link between impaired lymphatic function and skin that appears sagging or dull, and claims that swelling due to a clogged lymphatic system can result in additional accumulation of subcutaneous fat in the face.
It’s no wonder lymphatic drainage massages are sometimes called “mini face-lifts” because of how they can noticeably appear to lift skin afterwards.
Some additional skin care benefits of a lymphatic drainage massage include helping to unclog pores and clear up acne, improve circulation, and brighten skin.
According to practitioners of lymphatic drainage massages, they can also have the benefit of speeding up healing time for acne scars and spots, as well as improve allergy symptoms in the face—nasal congestion, watery and itchy eyes, and redness.
How to give yourself a manual lymph drainage massage
You can use tools we’ve talked about in the past—like a jade roller or Gua Sha stone—to aid in the massage process. However, you can also do this at home with only your clean fingers, no tools necessary. Before starting, listen to your body. If you are currently suffering from a respiratory infection or have a fever, you should wait until you’ve recovered to perform this massage.
All of the lymph nodes in your face drain down your neck and collarbones. To begin, open up these nodes by gently pulsing down the sides of your neck (under your jaw and ears) until you reach your collarbones. As you are trying to drain your lymphatic system, always pulse out or downwards.
Prep your face by cleansing your face with our Deeply Cleansing Milk and apply an oil or moisturizer like our Facial Recovery Elixir. Facial lymphatic massages are best performed at night and with a very light pressure. The goal here is to excite the lymphatic system, not the circulatory system, so you shouldn’t be making your skin red at any point.
Using clean hands, take your first two fingers and pulse outwards starting at your temple. Go down the side of your face to right past your ears. Repeat this same motion three times. After that is complete, you can move on to different parts of your face.
Start just above your eyebrows and do the same as before, pumping out and down three times. Repeat this process in the eye area going from the inner corner of your eyes, your orbital bone, the corner of your nostrils, above your lips, and your chin. After massaging each of these spots, you can then run your hands down your neck to encourage more drainage.
For a fun experiment, take a series of before and after pictures over the course of a week to see if there are any changes in your skin.