Does Facial Lymphatic Drainage Massage Actually Work?
Lymphatic drainage face massages are trending on TikTok—yielding some curiously dramatic before and afters—and popping up on spa menus from coast to coast. Like most wellness trends, their purported benefits sound great on paper (er, screen): Decreased puffiness, glowier skin…sold! But are these fresh-faced effects legit or over-blown? (Is the sculpted jawline in that TikToker’s video really a result of massage?) And is there even a difference between a lymphatic facial massage and a regular one?
We tapped three experts (all of whom, spoiler alert, had a slightly different take on the topic) to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say re: what a facial lymphatic drainage massage can and can’t do for your skin, and how to try it on yourself, if you’re so inclined.
First, let’s talk about the lymphatic system.
Before we can get to the “drainage massage” part of things, it’s helpful to understand what the lymphatic system is and the purpose it serves. Per the Mayo Clinic, the lymphatic system consists of a network of tissues and organs including lymph nodes and channels. Lymph—excess fluid that’s present in bodily tissue—moves through these channels and ultimately drains into the bloodstream, which helps maintain balanced fluid levels in the body, Jennifer Levine, MD, a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon in New York City, tells SELF.
The lymphatic system also plays a major role in your immune system. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped glands—found in the armpits, groin, abdomen, and yep, the face and neck—that act as guards, stopping foreign substances from entering the body, Dr. Levine explains. When they trap these molecular intruders they can become enlarged, hence why swollen lymph nodes are sometimes a symptom of infection. Lymph nodes also produce disease-fighting white blood cells, which are then transported throughout the body via those lymphatic channels.
What is a lymphatic drainage massage?
There are different techniques, but the overall goal of any lymphatic drainage massage is to help improve the flow of the lymph with a very targeted type of motion, using either a tool or the hands, Kseniya Kobests, MD, board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore Einstein Advanced Care in New York City, tells SELF. Proponents claim that the lymphatic system sometimes needs this encouragement because—unlike the circulatory system, which is driven by the heart—it doesn’t have an organ helping it pump and move fluid.
However, according to Dr. Levine, your lymphatic system is remarkably good at working on its own, without any type of manual assist. “A lymphatic drainage massage isn’t going to make your lymphatic system do something it wouldn’t do otherwise. What it can do is help it work a bit faster,” she explains. To that point…
What are the potential benefits of a facial lymphatic drainage massage?
All of the experts we spoke to agree that the primary benefit is moving excess fluid out of the facial area, and that translates to a de-puffing effect. It’s usually instantaneous, although Dr. Levine is quick to note that any type of reduced swelling or puffiness is only temporary. “There’s anecdotal evidence that this kind of massage will move the fluid, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to come back,” she says. These de-puffing, swelling-reduction benefits are why lymphatic drainage massages are sometimes recommended after plastic surgery, be it on the face or body. (Dr. Levine says that she doesn’t suggest it to her patients because she doesn’t think it’s necessary, but notes that it’s certainly not harmful as long as you’re careful around areas that are healing.)
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