Sculpted, glowing skin usually seems exclusive to celebrities and A-listers who have an aesthetician on call and a closet full of medical-grade serums. But as glamorous as that all sounds, it's not necessary. Mastering and maintaining a healthy glow requires only a few products and one crucial technique: lymphatic massage.
Despite the skepticism the practice met when it entered the beauty zeitgeist, lymphatic massage is no joke. It's rooted in tradition and far from new, but the results are so good that people have continued to incorporate the added step into their routines for years — it's even becoming a part of skin-care brands' ethos. While some are only just jumping on the bandwagon now, Clarins incorporated the practice into its 70-year-old brand DNA, even developing a unique lymphatic drainage method that encourages skin-care-lovers to be their own experts at home.
Intrigued? We spoke to board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist Onyeka Obioha-Lolagne, MD, about the effect lymphatic massage — and drainage (it's not as gross as it sounds, we promise) — can have on your skin.
What Is Lymphatic Drainage?
Although the effects of lymphatic massage seem like magic, they're not; it all starts inside your body, specifically with the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system quietly works as your body's sewage system by removing bodily waste and toxins. Two crucial parts of the lymphatic system are your lymph, a watery fluid that lives within the circulatory loop of the body, and your lymph nodes, the security checkpoints that monitor lymph flow and produce cells and antibodies to fight against infection. If your doctor has ever put pressure on your neck while in for a checkup, it's because they're checking to see if your lymph nodes are inflamed, which could be an early diagnostic sign of infection.
Although the lymphatic and circulatory systems fundamentally mirror each other, the lymphatic system doesn't have a pump (i.e. the heart) to keep it moving. Because of this, there's sometimes a buildup of fluid in that massive network of vessels and nodes. Your lymphatic system doesn't necessarily need a 10-minute massage to work properly (valves are largely how it functions), but it doesn't hurt, especially if your goals are surface level. Massaging, especially places in which lymph nodes are primarily located, can increase lymph drainage and reduce unnecessary fluid retention.
How Does Lymphatic Massage Benefit the Skin?
Lymphatic massage promotes lymphatic drainage, which is the process of draining stagnant lymph from the body. Gentle massaging, patting, or pressing can, among other things, improve lymph flow, stimulate circulation, and reduce water retention.
Although there isn't a lot of current data on the effect lymphatic massage can have on the skin, we do know there is some proof in the pudding. "Theoretically, through clearance of excess fluid and toxins, lymphatic massage may lead to decreased swelling and inflammation," Dr. Obioha-Lolagne says. Despite popular belief, lymphatic massage hasn't been proven to reduce signs of aging — that you can leave up to your skin-care products.
Lymphatic massage can benefit all skin types, but Dr. Obioha-Lolagne says it's best for people who experience facial swelling and inflammation, especially around the eyes, and those who just find it relaxing. Your body contains more than 600 lymph nodes, and while many of them are located in your neck, groin, and armpits, they're scattered all over your body, so the benefits of lymphatic massage can extend from head to toe.
How to Try Lymphatic Massage at Home
There are many ways to facilitate lymphatic flow — gua sha stones, jade rollers, or dry brushes can help stimulate lymphatic drainage and increase circulation to bring to life the depuffed result you're looking for. But as fun as tools can be, they aren't always necessary. All you need is a product that helps create some slip to the skin and your hands.
First, choose your topical; you'll want something that will prevent you from tugging on your skin. If most of your puffiness is localized around the eye area, you might want to consider using an eye cream for your daily massage, like the new Clarins Double Serum Eye. This eye cream uses 13 plant extracts, like turmeric and wild chervil, to target the delicate needs of the eye area. This serum also uses a two-phase formula that provides instant hydration while visibly brightening the skin; even better, it offers just enough slick for gentle massage.
The age-old trick of using your ring finger to apply eye cream isn't a secret, but Clarins takes it a step further. While there are a few different ways you can encourage lymphatic drainage, the brand's draining pressure method is one to seriously consider, and it's just three easy steps: warm, apply, and drain. After warming the product in your hands, use your fingertips to press the product into the skin — press, not tap. This firm but gentle pressure — moving from the inner corner of the eye to the outer — promotes microcirculation to help visibly reduce dark circles and puffiness. In combination with a product like the Double Serum Eye, you might also expect to see firmer skin.
All-over drainage requires a little more product, like the Clarins Double Serum, which offers slip and a load of ingredients to support your glow. This formula uses 21 plant extracts, including turmeric, to visibly firm, smooth, and improve radiance. Since we know you can't solely rely on a lymphatic massage to address visible signs of aging, a serum like this serves as your perfect pinch hitter. The fluid texture is due to its two-phase formula, which uses a ratio of water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients, similar to the skin's hydrolipidic barrier (a protective film that helps skin maintain moisture while preventing it from external aggressors).
The same draining pressure method can be used for the face, too. After warming up the serum, apply it using both hands for even distribution, pressing it into the skin. Once applied, slowly and firmly press the skin again, moving from the forehead to the neck to support lymph drainage. Dr. Obioha-Lolagne says to massage or press the skin in the direction of lymphatic flow. The consistent pressure is what helps move lymph accumulation from the center of the face toward your lymph nodes, where it'll be filtered and pushed on through the lymphatic network. Dr. Obioha-Lolagne says you can also pair the massage with deep-breathing exercises to help promote better lymphatic circulation — no celeb status required.