How to Mimic a Lymphatic Drainage Massage at Home
Sure, it might be called a massage, but a lymphatic drainage massage is nothing along the lines of any candle-lit, essential oil rub-down you've experienced in the past. Rather than targeting your muscles to help loosen any stress-induced knots à la a Swedish massage, this type of treatment focuses on your lymphatic system, working to move fluids throughout your body. Proponents (who, BTW, include Lana Candor) say it can do everything from reducing swelling to boosting your immune system. And, let's be honest, who doesn't want that?
Here's the thing though: Lymphatic drainage massage isn't necessarily something that you can do yourself at home, at least not if you are expecting the same results as you'd get from a professional treatment. "It's recommended to get a licensed massage therapist with lymphatic drainage training to really get the job done," says Mysti Cobb, a massage therapist specializing in lymphatic drainage massage at BIÂN Chicago. It requires specialized training in order to be done both correctly and most effectively — not to mention that the relaxation element is diminished when you're DIY-ing, notes Cobb. (Though she does add that if you really want to try it on yourself, there are YouTube videos and even online classes that can be helpful.)
Don't feel like sitting through a virtual lesson and just want to start reaping the potential perks of lymphatic drainage massage? You don't have to. See, there are things you can do at home that experts say will mimic the effects of a lymphatic drainage massage and offer some similar benefits — dry brushing your body and gua sha-ing your face. Here's what you need to know.
What Is the Lymphatic System?
"It's a network of tissues, vessels, and organs that work together to move a colorless, watery fluid called lymph through the body," explains Cobb. Considered part of the immune system, the lymphatic system has several functions, including producing and releasing lymphocytes or white blood cells that protect your body from foreign invaders or pathogens, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It also plays an important role in transporting and removing waste products that are produced through a slew of natural bodily functions and or the body simply has no use for and needs to remove to prevent any accumulation. And that's exactly why it's often easiest to think of the lymphatic system as a filter, she says.
Lymph sweeps through the body, collecting toxins or other harmful substances (e.g. bacteria and viruses) and inflammatory triggers (e.g. alcohol, sugar) so that they can then be excreted as waste, adds Giselle Wasfie, D.A.C.M, founder of Remix Acupuncture Integrative Health in Chicago. It does this by pushing the lymph toward lymph nodes — bean-shaped glands that are located throughout the body, such as in the armpits, neck, and groin — that then help remove any harmful substances and waste byproducts, says Isabel Lazo, founder of Isa Lazo Skincare.
"If you're in good health, exercise regularly, and have a strong immune system, your lymphatic system and/or lymphatic drainage isn't something you need to be overly concerned with," Wasfie points out. That said, if you've been struggling with shut-eye, eating poorly, partying more than usual, or simply feeling sluggish, groggy, or puffy, some type of manual action that gets the lymph system moving can be very helpful, explains Wasfie.
What Is a Lymphatic Drainage Massage and Its Benefits?
See, the lymph system is located very superficially — almost immediately underneath the skin, says Wasfie. And that's why the treatment is often extremely gentle. "The technique consists of a combination of little, gentle strokes and a slightly deeper 'pumping' action used over the main parts of the lymphatic system, such as on the neck, armpits, chest, abdomen, and upper legs," explains Cobb. "Moderate to deep pressure would actually end up bypassing the lymph system." During a professional lymphatic drainage massage, you'll likely lay on a massage table and receive treatment for anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the provider's offerings. Cost can also vary but, on average, range from about $75 to $100 for an hour-long session (Related: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Giving Yourself a Massage at Home)
One of the massage's main perks is reduced swelling and overall puffiness, according to the experts. This is due in part to the fact that the treatment's helping to flush out excess fluid in the face or body, explains Lazo, who adds that it's also part of the reason why you may need to urinate quite a bit post-session. (Related: The Mind-Body Benefits of Getting a Massage)
Cobb says lymphatic drainage can also help bolster your immune system, as moving the lymphatic fluid through your body helps get rid of the pathogens it collects along the way, as well as helps distribute infection-fighting white blood cells. And while your lymphatic system can do this on its own, the belief is that by manually manipulating your nodes, you're able to speed up the process. Cobb also notes that, like with other massages, a lymphatic drainage treatment might be able to help reduce stress and anxiety; most people find themselves feeling very rejuvenated and relaxed after a lymphatic drainage massage, she says. (See more: The Mind-Body Benefits of Getting a Massage) Improved sleep, glowing skin, and a more contoured appearance (because of the diminished fluid retention) are also all on the list of potential pros from the treatment, says Lazo.
How You Can Mimic a Lymphatic Drainage Massage At Home
ICYMI above, lymphatic drainage massage is a tricky technique for a non-pro to master. But you can score similar benefits by DIY-ing alternative treatments. Instead, you might want to...
Try Dry Brushing
"Dry brushing is an ancient technique that's amazing for lymphatic drainage," says Lazo. While a professional lymphatic drainage massage will have more profound results, this is a much easier, more accessible way to at least reap some of the similar benefits (promoting the flow of fluid, de-swelling, etc.) she notes. So Essentially, you're using a dry brush to mimic the gentle, sweeping motions of the masseuse's touch.
Cobb suggests choosing a natural fiber dry brush with a long handle, which will make it easy to reach all areas of your body. One to try: Chikoni Dry Bath Body Brush (Buy It, $9, amazon.com). Per the name, you should always use a dry brush on dry skin, ideally before you take a shower. "Start at your feet and move up your body, brushing the skin in wide, circular, clockwise motions," advises Cobb. Brush your feet, legs, and midsection, then finish with your arms, brushing upward toward the armpit (and making sure to get all sides). Ideally, aim for about five to 10 strokes per area; the whole process should take approximately three to five minutes, she says.
The added benefit? Not only does dry brushing get the lymphatic system moving and helps flush out excess fluids, but it's also a great method of exfoliation, notes Lazo. (Hence why hoping in the shower afterward to wash off all that dead skin is a good idea.) Both she and Cobb add that regular dry brushing can even help minimize the appearance of cellulite, by flushing out excess fluid and reducing the swelling that makes skin appear puffier and dimples more prominent. Ideally, dry brushing at least two to three times per week is enough to reap all of these benefits, says Cobb. However, so long as you don't have any type of irritating skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis, you can even dry brush daily, notes Lazo, who adds that it makes a great addition to your daily self-care routine. (Related: Can Gua Sha Scraping Therapy Alleviate Muscle Pain?)
Use a Gua Sha Tool
"Gua sha literally translates to 'scraping stasis'," explains Wasfie, adding that, when done on the face, it not only helps with lymphatic drainage, it can also help improve product penetration and have a lifting effect. First, find a good gua sha tool, such as the Re:Wand Face Tool (Buy It, $80, remixlife.style) that Wasfie created as well as the Lanshin Intro Gua Sha Tool (Buy It, $35, net-a-porter.com) shop.lanshin.com). Wash your face and apply your favorite serum or facial oil; you definitely need some type of lubrication to ensure you don't end up tugging or damaging the skin, cautions Wasfie. As you glide the tool across your skin remember that less is more. "You really don't need to apply any pressure at all," says Wasfie, who says this light touch is all you need because the skin on the face is thinner than that on the body.
Hold the flat edge of the tool flat against the skin, and start at your chin, lightly gliding it outward along your jawbone, and repeat three to five times. Go up to the corner of the mouth, and move it toward the exterior part of your ear, three to five times. Glide it along the cheekbone, three to five times, then move along your orbital bone under the eye toward the temple, three to five times. On the forehead, move up from the brows to the hairline, you guessed it, three to five times. Then repeat the whole thing on the other side of your face. It sounds like a lot, but once you get the hang of it, the whole thing should take less than five minutes, says Wasfie.
The most crucial part of the process, however, is the final step. Once you've gua sha-ed both sides of the face, use the tool to move downward on your neck, going toward the collarbone, three to five times on each side of the neck. "This is important because you want to ensure you flush out all of the lymph that you just got moving," explains Wasfie. Moving down the neck will help push it out toward the lymph nodes located near the collarbone, she says. (Up next: Eyebrow Pinching Is the Lymphatic Drainage Massage You Need to Try)