Lymphatic Drainage Might Be the Answer to Your Skin Concerns — Here's How It Works

Forget your 10-step skincare routine; what if a facial massage could change the look of your skin? With techniques designed for lymphatic drainage, it can. And based on a spike in Yelp searches, this beauty treatment is about to heat up big time.

If you've ever googled what a jade roller or Gua Sha does, you might've seen the term lymphatic drainage, or at least a breakdown of its many benefits. Toned, depuffed, and glowing skin can all be achieved using the method. Before pretty tools were symbols of modern wellness — thanks to Instagram-worthy aesthetics and the ease of at-home use — this is how they became Chinese beauty staples centuries ago.

To better understand how lymphatic drainage works, we reached out to a seasoned expert: celebrity facialist and newly-minted author of Glow From Within, Joanna Vargas. Ahead, she breaks down the connection between the skin and lymphatic system, various massage methods (spoiler: it's not just for your face), and more.

What Is Lymphatic Drainage?

As the name suggests, lymphatic drainage is the process of "draining" (and circulating) fluid from your lymph nodes using massage techniques. "It encourages your lymphatic system to deliver fresh nutrients to your cells and will really wake up your skin," Vargas told POPSUGAR. The result is clear, depuffed, and glowing skin that, according to Vargas, can completely change the look of someone's face.

But the benefits — and the extent of the lymphatic system — aren't limited to your face and neck. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body, with large clusters in the underarm and groin area that are also prone to swelling. For a head-to-toe glow, Vargas offers a full-body massage option at her salons. "The treatment drains the body of excess puffiness caused by stress, lack of sleep, and travel," she said.

How Is the Lymphatic System Related to Your Skin?

Everything is related when it comes to the body, and systems work from the inside out. Take the relationship between diet and skin, for example. The lymphatic system works similarly; it needs our attention to function properly. "It doesn't have it's own pump, so the lymphatic system relies on our own body movement to perform vital functions," Vargas said. "A stagnant lymphatic system will cause acne, breakouts, [and] even full dry skin."

How Does a Lymphatic Drainage Massage Work?

So you're ready to try it out. Where do you start? And how does a lymphatic drainage massage even work? According to Vargas, you've got options: "Worldwide there are many different styles of lymphatic drainage that all seem to be effective." She's trained in Dr. Vodder's Lymphatic Drainage for the face and neck, a gentle, non-invasive technique that focuses on pressure, direction, and speed.

If you prefer an at-home method, Vargas recommends trying a lymphatic drainage massage during your skincare routine (especially while cleansing), and customizing the strokes to your complexion type. "For dry skin, massage the skin in circular motions upward. Start at the base of the neck on the sides where your arteries are. Massage in gentle circles upwards, towards the jaw, up the sides of the face and around the eyes. This will help coax nutrients into the tissue."

For those prone to breakouts, the approach is a little different: "You want to do the opposite motion and start on the top of the face by the eyes," she said. "This will draw the waste away." Regardless of skin type, lymphatic massages should be performed nightly for best results.

Are At-Home Tools Effective For Lymphatic Drainage?

With all of this in mind, you might be questioning where those rollers and stones come into play — and if they're necessary or effective. Vargas personally considers hands to be best for lymphatic drainage, but thinks tools can be useful, too. "Tools can make it easier to deal with if someone feels they are clueless on how to do it. Plus they can be fun to use as gadgets," she said. "I, however, don't use one; hands are the best feeling on the face at night."

One benefit of facial rollers and Gua Sha tools Vargas does like, however, is their ability to temporarily relieve puffiness. They're naturally cool to the touch, which is only amplified when stored in the fridge (a favorite method of influencers and skincare junkies). And if you've ever wondered if the type of stone makes any difference — jade vs. rose quartz vs. amethyst, for example — Vargas doesn't think so. It's all in the technique.