Lymphatic drainage facial massage is a technique used by many estheticians to improve the look of their clients’ skin. I’ve certainly used it on my own clients, and I remember it making a HUGE difference for one client in particular. She was referred to me by a plastic surgeon after having had a full facelift six months prior. At this point, she was unfortunately still experiencing the type of very visible swelling you would expect to see in the first few weeks following surgery. I performed lymphatic drainage massage on her three times a week for two weeks and was truly amazed to see that nearly all of her swelling went away. For whatever reason, her body was still hanging onto fluid post-surgery and couldn’t properly flush it out. Thanks to lymphatic drainage facial massage, we were able to get those stagnant fluids circulating again. It was such a good feeling to be able to help her achieve the confidence she had been going for in the first place.
Now granted, not everyone will see results as dramatic as these, but I believe lymphatic massage can be a powerful tool when it comes to managing certain skin conditions and supporting the overall health of your skin. In this post, I talk more about the benefits of lymphatic drainage for the face and tap into a certified expert to bring you the best advice for performing lymphatic facial massage on yourself at home. Keep reading to get to the good stuff to keep your skin glowing and flowing!
Meet the Expert
For this post, I tapped into my good friend and fellow esthetician Joanna Vargas. Joanna is sought after by many high-profile clients for her magic hands and proficiency in lymphatic drainage massage. She’s actually one of the few estheticians I know who is officially certified in this type of massage.
“I am certified in Dr. Vodders Lymphatic Drainage for the Face and Neck,” Joanna said. “Becoming certified in lymphatic drainage massage for the face and neck was honestly pretty challenging—I am incredibly proud of that certificate. I do it on my clients regularly.
What is Lymphatic Drainage Massage?
Lymphatic drainage massage is a technique that uses light pressure and specific motions to gently drain excess fluid.
According to Joanna, the lymphatic system mirrors the circulatory system and is made up of vessels, tissues, and organs to help the body manage fluid balance, defend it from infection, and deliver nutrients while carrying away toxins and waste.
Lymph, the fluid that travels via the lymphatic system, contains oxygen, glucose, amino acids, and other vital nutrients, giving life to every cell in our body. It also carries away toxins and impurities, making the lymphatic system vital to our immune system and overall health.
The lymphatic system relies on muscle contraction, diet, exercise, and physical manipulation to function normally. Unlike the circulatory system, your lymphatic system doesn’t have its own pump. That’s where lymphatic massage comes in!
What Are the Benefits of Lymphatic Drainage for the Face and Skin?
In medical settings, lymphatic drainage is used to help patients with lymphedema (chronic swelling due to damage or removal of lymph nodes, usually as part of cancer treatment). It’s also been shown to reduce swelling and visible puffiness in those recovering from injuries.
Research is still a little bit behind when it comes to the aesthetic effects of lymphatic drainage, but it’s starting to catch up! In fact, a 2015 study was the first to find a link between impaired lymphatic function and sagging of the skin. Needless to say, this could have exciting implications for preventative aging treatments.
According to Joanna, the benefits of lymphatic massage are extensive. “Because the lymphatic system plays a huge role in immunity and healing,” she said, “the benefits to lymphatic massage are endless. For the skin, conditions like puffiness, acne, dryness, dullness, and even skin sensitivity can be improved and even resolved by simple lymphatic stimulation because it helps the body do what it’s meant to do: heal. You have the highest concentration of lymph nodes in your face and neck, so this means lymphatic drainage massage can really produce results!”
“I love ending a facial session with thirty minutes of lymphatic drainage massage,” Joanna added. “Obviously de-puffing is important, but so many people just have skin that looks unhealthy to me. Stimulating the lymph ensures that healing and real rejuvenation will occur, and this way I know I have done everything possible to restore wellness to that person’s skin.”
How to Give Yourself a Lymphatic Drainage Massage
While it’s great if you can get in to see a professional like Joanna who knows how to perform lymphatic drainage massage, this isn’t always an accessible option (especially during a pandemic!). Luckily for my readers, Joanna was kind enough to share expert advice on how to do your own lymphatic facial massage at home.
How to Prep for a Lymphatic Facial Massage
Joanna recommends doing lymphatic facial massage a few times a week, if not nightly, during your regular nighttime routine. “I prefer doing it at night because this will help de-puff you for morning and encourage your skin to repair while you sleep,” she said. “I suggest performing facial massage after the serum step in your routine.”
What You’ll Need
To get started, you’ll need either a facial oil or a nice, rich moisturizer. “The technique I’m certified in uses no cream or oil for slip,” Joanna said, “but when I teach clients for home, I definitely think having a bit of slip makes it easier.” Try Pro Remedy Oil.
Should I Use a Massage Tool?
If you scroll through beauty or skincare accounts on Instagram, chances are you’ll catch a glimpse of massage tools such as jade rollers and gua sha stones. The popularity of these lymphatic drainage massage tools has definitely increased, but Joanna isn’t a fan of all of them.
“While I encourage everyone to learn how to do massage with their own two hands (my preferred method), some people find that daunting,” she said. “If I had to choose a tool, I would vote for a gua sha stone. It’s a fabulous way of massage, and it works.”
“Jade rollers, on the other hand, just aren’t my jam. They’re a challenge for me because people drive it in a ‘back and forth’ method, which doesn’t really move the lymph along its proper pathways so it can drain. It is a form of facial massage, but it’s not lymphatic drainage at all.”
You can read more about my opinion of jade rollers and other at-home skin devices in this post.
Now for the actual technique! Keep in mind that, when performing lymphatic massage on your face, you always want to use very light pressure. This is true whether you’re using your hands or a massage tool. The reason for this is that lymph vessels are very delicate and applying too much pressure can crush them, meaning fluid won’t be properly drained.
As for the actual massage technique, Joanna suggests starting at the neck and following this method:
You can repeat this process as many times as desired.
A word of warning from Joanna? Never massage inflamed acne! Applying pressure over active breakouts can increase inflammation or scarring and may spread bacteria, causing further breakouts.
While lymphatic drainage massage for the face is generally considered safe, talk to your doctor first if you have any health concerns—especially conditions such as congestive heart failure, blood clots, kidney problems, infections, or circulation problems.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about lymphatic facial massage! When done correctly, it’s such a great way to support your overall skin health. Whether you’re looking to up your skincare game or simply indulge in some relaxing self-care, I highly recommend giving lymphatic facial massage a try.
Thanks so much to Joanna for her valuable input!
Want my thoughts on how food may or may not affect your skin? Read this post.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”