Lymphatic Drainage Massage Explained

If you have read any of the other blog posts on Skinfit Studio, you will have most likely bumped into my obsession for facial massage. The benefits are endless, and one of the most important features of this technique is lymphatic drainage. The art of facial massage has become so tuned into the modern trends of the beauty world, through futuristic facials tools and influencer’s self are routines, that we often overlook why we are doing it in the first place.

And it doesn’t look like we are going to be booking in for any facials in the UK for at least another 6 weeks, so I thought it would be useful to cover this technique, a habit that you can quit easily adopt a home during the isolation period. This post will tell you all about the lymphatic system, the benefits of lymphatic drainage massage and how to carry it out effectively at home. 

What is lymph?

Lymph is a clear fluid that flows through our lymphatic drainage system. Lymph maintains the fluid balance in the body by bathing the tissues of organisms and absorbing fatty acids. 

This complex structure is made up of lymph vessels and lymph nodes; these nodes are situated all over the body and the main ones to remember to carry out facial massage are those that are situated in the neck. 

The lymph catches bacteria in the body and carries them to the nodes where it is filtered and effectively destroyed. This action accounts for the swelling and tender feeling we experience in areas like the throat, the underarms and groin, when we are affected by infection or disease.

Bacteria, particles and sometimes cancerous cells can gather in the lymph nodes causing it to enlarge. Fluid can sometimes accumulate in the tissues which causes mild to severe swelling on the face and body, known as lymphedema. The face can also experience swelling as a result of injury, allergic reaction and infection. Puffy eyes is a common symptom of facial swelling and diet, the temperature of our environment, overall health, dehydration and age.

What is lymphatic drainage?

Lymphatic drainage uses massage movements to encourage the drainage of lymph in the body. 

There are two types of lymphatic drainage, Manual (MLD) which should only be carried out by a qualified professional and Simple Lymphatic Drainage (SLD) which can be easily carried out at home by YOU. There have been many clinical studies published to show how Manual Lymphatic Drainage can dramatically reduce swelling in an area following surgery, and is a technique regularly adopted by practitioners carrying out post-op care. In contrast, Simple Lymphatic Drainage also referred to as ‘self-massage,’ has an easy-to-follow design so that the patient to carry out at home, in order to relieve the sometimes-painful symptoms associated with swelling. 

But in more recent years this technique has exploded in the media and strategized the marketing for the beauty tools we buy, and the influencers and experts we listen to. Self-massage is something that has become quite popular amongst beauty consumers, spoken of and taught often on social media for a variety of different reasons.

The features of simple lymphatic drainage:

Easy to carry out

Lymphatic drainage massage is not complicated to perform, which I will explain more of later on this post. 


Lymphatic drainage does not have to involve jade rollers, pressure tools and Gua Sha to work. You can quite simply use your hands with some facial oil, which makes this an affordable practice to obtain.

You can DIY

You do not need to book an appointment, consult with a professional or get a qualification before you start. This wonderful skill can effectively replace your usual facials during the lockdown period.

The benefits of lymphatic drainage:

Despite the claims of so many professionals and companies out there, lymphatic drainage will not mimic the effects of a facelift. It is not the perfect replacement for skincare. No way will it achieve the same result of a professional treatment such as microdermabrasion, skin peels, microneedling and lasers. Lymphatic drainage will not get rid of your acne, even though it may help assist the natural process of filtering bacteria in the body. And there is no evidence to show how lymphatic drainage can offer any kind of long-lasting ‘anti-ageing’ effect.’ 

However, there are some benefits:

Soothes muscle tension

There are 42 muscles in the face that are working day and (some of the) night to help us to chew when we need to, and create facial expressions. The soft, light strokes of lymphatic drainage will help to relieve the forgotten pressure that builds up in these facial muscles.

Reduces swelling

There is a great deal of evidence to show how Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) can reduce swelling in the face and body, especially post-surgery. Although there is a lack of research to show how simple lymphatic drainage can achieve the same effect, there are thousands of reports and testimonials to show you how it can reduce facial swelling, including puffy eyes.

Improve facial contours

Because lymphatic drainage decreases the amount of swelling in the face, your facial profile can instantly look ‘lifted’ AND facial contours become more defined and noticeable. Do note that this is only a temporary effect, that can last anywhere between a few hours to a few days.

Can help to reduce cellulite

If you have looked into cellulite treatments, you will most likely have stumbled upon the dry-brushing technique to ‘get rid’ of your cellulite. Dry-brushing the body, exfoliating and massage techniques all encourage lymphatic drainage which can help to slightly improve the appearance of cellulite. Studies to support this claim are limited however and remember to consider the whole picture when treating cellulite – there are other contributing factors, some out of our control, like genetics, age, hormones, lifestyle, diet, alcohol and smoking consumption etc. 

Boosts wellbeing

Guess what? Spending 20 minutes on just you, performing a relaxing facial and neck massage will help to relieve any daily stresses and anxiety and boost your overall mood. 

Is lymphatic drainage right for you?

Lymphatic drainage is an extremely low risk practice if you and your lymphatic system are healthy. You should not carry out lymphatic drainage massage if you are feeling unwell or if the area is sore, inflamed, infected or wounded in any way.

If you are experiencing regular swelling on the face (or body) consult with a doctor or consider the root cause rather than masking the problem. A normal healthy person should not experience a lot of facial swelling; however, bacteria can still build up and there is no harm in promoting healthy lymphatic drainage with the following techniques.

How to perform a lymphatic drainage massage

Lymphatic drainage can be performed at any part of the day – in the evening to unwind or as part of your morning routine to address facial puffiness. Most experts say that a once to twice weekly lymphatic drainage massage is fine, and you should spend around 20 minutes performing it.

Cleanse your skin first and make sure your hands are also clean before applying an oil-based product to give you a handy glide to your massage.

The most common mistake when carrying out this technique is using too much pressure. If you can feel the muscle as you are massaging, you are being too firm. The skin should not look flushed in any way after a lymphatic drainage massage, unless you are extremely touch-sensitive. Movements should be gentle, light enough to gently move and stretch the skin. This is why I prefer using my hands for lymphatic drainage as I have more control over my pressure, in comparison to using heavier tools such as a Gua Sha stone. 

Begin your massage from the top of face, starting at the forehead and finish the routine at the base of the neck. Remember, lymph flows downwards, so all of your light, slow movements should be finished by stroking down towards the ear, and down the neck.

If you finish too soon, repeat the process, starting from the forehead and finishing at the neck. Contrary to this if you don’t have 20 minutes (which is unlikely during quarantine) and you want to focus on just one specific area such as the eyes or neck – you can just focus on that for 2-5 minutes, just remember to drain down the neck, towards the lymph nodes.

Lymphatic drainage is the perfect skill that anyone can adopt during a time like this. Although the results will never compare to a facial from your aesthetician or local spa, the effects are noticeable enough when the routine is carried out regularly. Lymphatic drainage can help brighten tired eyes, create a brightening lifting effect, give you a time-out session during those darker days and promote better skin health. It’s practically a free method if you have some facial oil already lying around somewhere and is an easy thing to carry out. Start today and you will not be disappointed.

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