Lymphatic Drainage Massage: What It Is, Does It Work, and How to DIY It

Cosmopolitan posted "Lymphatic Drainage Massage: What It Is, Does It Work, and How to DIY It" in which Dr. Purvisha Patel explains that, since our lymphatic system doesn't include its own drainage mechanism, professional therapeutic massages can help to break apart what gets built up (and becomes visible on our faces).

Does it feel good? Yes. Does it work? Let's discuss.

Pull up a TikTok hack, and I can bet you that I've tried it. I've slept with robe sashes in my hair for heatless curls, made a ceiling light fixture out of string (it was lockdown, and I was bored), and more recently, tried the Mary Phillips “reverse contour.” But every now again I come across a DIY on TikTok that sounds too good to be true and too bad of an idea (lookin' at you, hyaluron pens). I scroll with a decent amount of skepticism, so when I saw videos touting a needle-free facelift called lymphatic drainage massage, I was intrigued but unconvinced. A relaxing treatment that feels like a massage and sculpts your face with zero downtime? No way.

To be clear, lymphatic drainage massage is not a new concept, and as I looked into it further, I realized I'd heard of something similar called gua sha, a traditional Chinese technique that uses massage to improve circulation. But what I didn't know was how effective it was. Could it actually be a substitute for injectables or even facelifts?! I turned to the experts, board-certified dermatologists Purvisha Patel, MD, and Aanand Geria, MD, for the facts. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about lymphatic drainage massage for the face.

What causes lymphatic buildup in your face?

You know when you wake up sometimes and your face looks all puffy and swollen? That's likely because of lymphatic buildup. Dr. Patel explains that like the circulatory system, the lymph system is a series of channels in the body that connect the lymph nodes. “Unlike the circulatory system, lymphatic channels do not have valves or muscle in the vessel walls, so fluid can go to areas of most gravity, resulting in swelling,” Dr. Patel says.

What does a lymphatic face massage do?

Lymphatic drainage is when that swelling or puffiness within the lymphatic channels around your eyes and cheeks is relieved. According to Dr. Patel, lymphatic channels can pool lymph fluid overnight when you're sleeping and not moving, and gravity drains them down to the lymph nodes in your neck. “A massage or facial can be beneficial as it increases the movement in our face to decrease the amount of fluid that pools,” Dr. Patel says.

According to Dr. Geria, light, rhythmic strokes combined with gentle pressure can encourage the flow of lymph fluid throughout the body, which can help to reduce puffiness and swelling in the face and even improve skin tone and texture. “Incorporating lymphatic drainage techniques into your massage or facial treatments can be a beneficial way to support your body's natural healing abilities,” he says.

Does lymphatic drainage work on the face?

Not only can lymphatic drainage potentially reduce inflammation in the skin, Dr. Geria says it can also help reduce swelling, redness, and irritation and improve the skin's appearance and texture. “However, it should be used as a complement to medical treatments prescribed by a healthcare professional, not as a solution,” Dr. Geria argues. “While lymphatic drainage can help manage these skin conditions, it's important to speak with your dermatologist before trying new skincare techniques or treatments to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your needs.”

And as for lymphatic drainage massages being like needle-free facelifts, don't get your hopes up. While these massages can provide some benefits for the appearance of the face, Dr. Geria says they should not be relied on as a solution for more significant signs of aging. “By reducing puffiness and promoting lymphatic drainage, your face may appear slimmer and more sculpted, and improved circulation and lymph flow can potentially lead to brighter, more radiant skin." However, Dr. Geria notes, "the results of lymphatic drainage massages are generally temporary and may require ongoing treatments to maintain.”

What are the disadvantages of lymphatic drainage massage?

Although at-home lymphatic drainage facials are generally safe, according to Dr. Geria, they're not totally without risk, either. As is the case with most other DIY treatments, it's best to consult a professional before giving it a shot, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Even if you've been cleared to try it, you'll want expert advice on the proper technique because applying too much pressure or making stuff up can lead to bruising or skin irritation. “It is very important to move in the direction of the lymph basins, or this can increase the swelling,” Dr. Patel adds. “Technique is everything.”

So, yes. As with everything skin, please seek out a licensed esthetician or dermatologist to guide you on proper techniques and help ensure the treatment is safe and effective for your needs. “Additionally, an esthetician can provide a more comprehensive treatment that may include additional techniques and products to enhance the benefits of lymphatic drainage,” Dr. Geria says.

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