Everything You Need to Do Lymphatic Drainage at Home

While lymphatic drainage has gone viral for the popular before-and-after videos promising a more sculpted look, the practice has origins that date back as far as the 1300s (according to China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, gua sha was used to “scrape away illness,” and it was eventually written into major medical texts during the Ming Dynasty), proving it’s not just graphic tees that are making a comeback. The benefits are much greater than a sculpted jawline or less bloated stomach: lymphatic drainage massage is the holy grail of naturally flushing out toxins, revving up the immune system, rejuvenating cellular function, and minimizing excess fluid retention.

So how does it work? Think of the lymphatic system as the body’s “sewage system,” which has the purpose of helping detoxify and get rid of damaged cells, bacteria, or toxins (read more about the lymphatic system here). With the helping hand of a gua sha, dry brush, or your hands, you can manually manipulate specific areas of your body to encourage the flow of (read: drain) lymphatic fluid toward the lymph nodes where it’s filtered and fed back into the bloodstream. While I’m not one to pass up a solid professional massage, sometimes an at-home pick-me-up on the spot is what we really need. The good news is you can take a DIY approach to boosting the health of your lymphatic system with simple, expert-backed tricks and tools. Read on for a mini tutorial on trying it for yourself—be it your face or body—products and all.

Varuni Palacios, Founder/Principal Facialist at Studio Varuni

Varuni Palacios is the founder and principal facialist at Studio Varuni in Los Angeles, and a California-licensed esthetician, Hydrafacial Master Esthetician, and Face Reality Certified Acne Expert. Her high-touch, high-tech forward facial treatments are science-backed and clinically proven with sculpting, brightening and hydrating goals top of mind.

matthew perry diy lymphatic drainage 1

Matthew Perry, Licensed Massage Therapist and Learning & Development Manager at The NOW Massage

Perry’s approach to bodywork is rooted in his spiritual belief that our body, mind, and energy is a beautiful overlapping web that connects and creates oneself. His intention is to work toward the goal of calming and grounding the mind to bring the body to a balanced vibe of oneness.

For face, neck, and chest

Moving excess fluid out of the facial area translates to a de-puffing, swelling-reduction, dullness-combating effect. “Lymphatic drainage massage of the face, neck and chest can help to reduce swelling and puffiness, improve conditions that stem from inflammation like acne, and increase oxygenation and hydration to the skin cells,” explained Varuni Palacios, Founder/Principal Facialist at Studio Varuni. “After just one treatment, the skin appears much healthier and with a glowing complexion.” Varuni pointed out that unlike traditional massage which works with a deeper pressure to affect the muscular system (read: musculoskeletal system), lymphatic drainage requires a much lighter pressure to affect the lymphatic system, which lies directly beneath the skin. Translation: A light pressure and feather-like sweeping motions will do the trick.

Proponents of facial lymphatic drainage massages can’t get enough of the wellness trend thanks to the aforementioned glowing, healthier-looking complexion it leaves. Other benefits include aiding in improving blood circulation, bringing fresh nutrients to the skin through blood flow, supporting healthy cell production, and taking time for self-care. Technique wise, Varuni recommended gently tapping or pressing with the palms and fingertips to awaken the lymph nodes, followed by a gentle massage from the inner face outward, then down toward the neck, chest, and underarms.

“While you’re in the shower or during your morning and nighttime skincare routine is the perfect time to work with the lymph nodes of the neck, chest, underarms, behind the ears, under the jawline and chin, and near the nose and upper lip,” Varuni continued. Varuni’s favorite tools to call in for back-up? A gua sha stone (just be sure to use it with a facial oil and engage very gentle pressure) and a pair of medical-grade, stainless steel cryotherapy globes to ice your face, neck, and chest daily. “This will help to reduce inflammation (AKA acne and pigmentation), cool the skin, and keep it calm,” Varuni described. “The movement also supports blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, and feels so, so, so good.”

To reduce the build-up of toxins and filter them from the body, Varuni emphasized that the last and most important tip for at-home lymphatic drainage massage is to drink water and stay hydrated.

For full body

If you’ve come across someone wielding a wooden or rose quartz tool of some sort on your FYP, chances are you’ve witnessed an at-home lymphatic drainage session and the resulting hard-to-miss, contoured looks. That’s because lymphatic drainage may help reduce water retention and bloat, which can have a temporary visual slimming effect. But the perks are so much more than just how you temporarily look: “A lymphatic drainage massage is a specialized technique designed to optimize blood circulation, maintain healthy body fluid equilibrium, and enhance immune system functionality,” said Matthew Perry, a licensed massage therapist and learning & development manager at The NOW Massage. “Through gentle and soothing rhythmic strokes, it activates the lymphatic system, facilitating the smooth movement of lymphatic fluid.” By promoting the body’s natural drainage mechanisms, it effectively reduces swelling, stimulates the digestive system, and potentially minimizes PMS symptoms like headaches and pelvic pains. 

Perry’s go-to lymphatic drainage tools to stimulate lymphatic clearing? A gua sha, which can be used by applying gentle, sweeping strokes (always working towards the heart) and a dry brush, using long smooth strokes on dry skin, starting at the feet and brushing upwards toward the heart. “This increases circulation and lymphatic clearing which supports detoxification, boosts immunity, reduces cellulite, and exfoliates for smooth, glowing skin,” he suggested. Whichever method you choose, Perry recommended practicing breathing deeply and calmly to help activate the lymphatic system.

And if you don’t want to buy anything at all…

Your hands and some body oil alone can get the job done too (a mirror might be helpful as well, especially if you’re new to the technique). When performing a lymphatic self-massage, use slow, gentle, and rhythmic strokes and apply them in the direction of the closest lymph node (Sabrina Sweet, a lymphatic drainage massage specialist, calls these The Big 6: below the ears, above and below collarbones, armpits, abdomen area, groin region, and behind the knees). According to a Vogue interview with lymphatic massage expert Flavia Lanini, begin by pressing on the area just below your collarbones to get the drainage started, then press the armpit three times on both sides. Next, shift your focus to the arms and stroke from the elbow to the shoulder on both sides.

To give it a go on your stomach, Rebecca Faria, a licensed lymphatic drainage specialist and founder of Detox By Rebecca, gave a how-to in an interview with InStyle: Start by opening your lymph nodes with light presses, then make circular, clockwise movements around your navel, followed by consecutive up-and-down movements, from your stomach to your lymph nodes. “Then, turn to one side of your body and, using both hands, make pushing movements from the side towards the lymph nodes,” she explained. Don’t forget about the other side!

Finally, to massage the legs, lay the palm of your hands right at the crease of one thigh, and move upwards toward the navel in a wave-like motion. Repeat on the other leg. 

To give your lymphatic system a leg up, follow your hands-on treatment with a sweat session, whether it be a workout, slipping into a sauna blanket, or turning your bathroom into a DIY steam room (because sweating doesn’t have to cost a thing!). By stimulating your lymphatic system to detox through sweat, your body is better able to remove toxins at a cellular level while preparing your lymph nodes for more effective drainage. 

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