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What Is Lymph & Lymphatic Drainage?

What Is Lymph & Lymphatic Drainage?

I often talk (whether in my articles, on social media, or in-person) about lymphatic drainage being great for our skin health, and it occurred to me recently… perhaps not everyone knows what lymphatic drainage is.

Have I become one of those annoying people who speaks in lingo and just expects everyone to know what I’m saying??

I do hope not! And just in case, I thought I’d share the “what, where and why” of lymph, the lymphatic system, and lymphatic drainage.

What are we even talking about?

The lymphatic system is a system within our body which bears some similarities to our circulatory system. You can think of the lymphatic system as the circulatory system’s trusted sidekick… think Batman & Robin, Asterix & Obelix, Snoopy & Woodstock… you get the idea.

In fact, for every blood vessel in our body, there is an accompanying lymphatic vessel. And while the blood vessels heroically deliver nutrients to our cells, lymphatic vessels remove waste fluid that is pumped out of our cells.

Lymphatic cells also transport our immune cells, which travel around our body making sure everything is in check and as it should be.

One main difference between our circulatory system and our lymphatic system is that the former is powered by a strong pump – our heart, which pumps our blood through our arteries and veins. The lymphatic system doesn’t have such a pump, and mostly works by the power of gravity.

What effect does this have?

Have you ever woken up in the morning and noticed puffy eyes looking back at you from the mirror?

Well you see… gravity doesn’t work so well when you’re lying down.

And so, as we sleep, this lymphatic fluid – all the stuff that has been drained away from our cells, ready for removal from our body – can come to settle around our eyes (and in other places, too, but the eye area is perhaps the most noticeable).

And then, once we get up and start moving around, the effects of gravity kick in and the lymphatic fluid can be delivered to the lymph nodes – these are like filtering stations where our white blood cells destroy any unwanted bacteria or invaders.

What is lymphatic drainage?

As you can probably already see, we talk about lymphatic drainage because that is what the lymphatic system does – drains the toxic waste from our cells and tissues.

And when we talk about lymphatic drainage as skin specialists, health practitioners, facialists, etc, we’re generally talking about manual lymphatic drainage – i.e. manually (with hands or other tools) supporting the lymphatic system in its processes by manipulating the liquid the system is transporting.

Why would we want to do that?

Because, as I said, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump to keep everything moving as effectively and efficiently as is optimum for its functioning. And with many of us leading more sedentary lives, sitting at computers during the day and on the couch in the evening, our lymphatic system can start to stagnate.

And that’s not good. So sometimes it is helpful to give the lymphatic system a helping hand to get things moving again.

How do we do that?

There are many ways, and I want to go into some of them in more detail in a future article. For now, here are a few to get you started…

  • stretch, walk, and move your body daily (even simply taking the stairs rather than the lift or escalator can help)
  • add dry skin brushing to your daily ritual
  • add a simple gua sha facial massage to your evening skin ritual

And of course, reducing the amount of toxins you add in to your body always helps, too. This means looking at your diet and fuelling your body with fresh whole foods, as well as looking at your skincare products and choosing fresh botanical ingredients.

Click to read: Should I Be Dry Skin Brushing?