The Lymphatic System: 5 Ways Stimulating It Can Make Your Skin Glow

Today, I want to talk about the lymphatic system and how it might affect acne and the health of the skin.

Most people probably don’t know what the lymphatic system of the body is, and that’s understandable. It’s a pretty underrated system! But it’s a absolutely vital to our body’s abilities to detoxify, nourish and regenerate tissue, filter our metabolic waste, and keep up a healthy immune system.

Now, you may have heard that one possible reason for acne is that your body creates unpleasant symptoms to deal with excess metabolic waste, toxins, and hormones when it can’t keep up with detoxifying them. As a back up plan, it may end up eliminating the excess through your skin as acne or other skin disruptions (your skin is your body’s largest detoxification organ, although should not be your primary one).

Well, congestion of the lymph system is a possible reason why it can’t keep up with the load, and could result in exacerbating an acne condition.

What is the Lymph System and How Does it Work?

You know your lymph nodes? Those little lumps in your throat and groin that swell up when you get sick?

That’s your lymphatic system. Part of it, anyway. The most famous bit.

The whole system actually comprises of an entire network of organs, vessels, ducts, and capilliaries that run all over your body. It’s your secondary circulation system and runs right along side your body’s network of veins and arteries, except it doesn’t carry blood, it carries a clear liquid called lymph fluid.

You know when you squeeze a pimple, and instead of blood, you get that clear, white, fluid that then forms a scab? Yeah… that’s lymph fluid.

The lymph fluid circulates infection fighting white blood cells, which help you to avoid infection and sickness, as well as create antibodies so your body can respond to invaders better in the future. It also collects extra fluid from the body and filters the waste, toxins, and excess hormones from it by sending those things to the lymph nodes to be destroyed. It’s proper circulation and functioning is super important to keeping you healthy. It’s often referred to as the body’s “drainage system” or “sewer system” – and you don’t want your sewer or drains clogged up, do you?! 

The odd thing about the lymph system though is that unlike the main circulatory system which pumps blood around the body via the heart, the lymph system does not have its own pump, and it only circulates in one direction.

This means that it relies on the movement of your muscles and the movement of your diaphragm (deep breath now!) in order to circulate.

Is Lymph Congestion Causing Your Acne?

I don’t really think lymph congestion causes acne or is an underlying factor in the development of it, but I do think it can make things worse. This is because the metabolic wastes stay in your body longer than they should. Plus, a weak lymph means your immune system can’t fight the acne infection promptly – that may result in pimples that seem to take forever to go away.

Signs that you may have a sluggish lymph system include:

  • Acne and cystic acne along the jawline, near the ears, cheeks, and/or sides of the mouth and chin (this is where lymph vessels run close to the surface)
  • Your acne takes forever to go away and leaves marks that stay for ages
  • A tendency to have swollen lymph nodes in neck, groin, and under arm pits
  • Allergies
  • Fatigue
  • Lots of colds, flus, and other illnesses that indicate a weak immune system

Top Ways to Move Your Lymph System and Decrease Acne

Luckily there are many ways to get your lymph system circulating and working better than ever before!

1. Exercise

Yeah, I know. Boooorrring.

But seriously, remember how I said that your lymph system doesn’t have its own pump? And relies on the actions of your muscles and diaphragm in order to circulate?

Well, that means you gotta get off the couch or it isn’t going anywhere! Exercise can increase lymph activity by 10 to 30 times its activity at rest.

Any exercise will do, but try to get it on the more vigourous side at least some of the time – strength training, cycling, aerobics, tennis etc.

One exercise that is particularly good for lymph movement and drainage is what they call rebounding! In other words, jumping on your trampoline! So if you’ve got one of them, start bouncing.

High pony-tail required

Also, I know we’ve been talking about yoga a lot lately (here and here), and another reason yoga is so good for your skin is because it’s excellent for lymph circulation. This is because of the rhythmic breathing and intense muscular contractions needed for many of the poses.

Yoga poses that involve muscular contraction of the legs and arms are very effective in aiding the transport of lymph fluid. So are inverted postures – where your legs are above your heart – as it allows gravity to work on the lymphatic passageways.

Here’s an old video of mine that I made for High on Health, showing you some simple yoga poses you can do to help with your skin and lymph:

2. Deep Breathing

Again, this is because the movement of your diaphragm (that big muscle that helps you breathe) is essential to moving your lymph fluid through your body and detoxifying it.

Check out these videos of mine that demonstrate three different breathing techniques:

Are You Making This Mistake When You Breathe?
Try this Breath Technique for a Stimulating Pick-Me-Up That’s Better Than Coffee!
Want to Balance Your Brain? Try Alternate Nostril Breathing

3. Get a Massage!

Who could say no to that? (aside from your pocketbook!)

Massage manually gets the lymph flowing, and there is a particular type of massage called Manual Lymphatic Drainage Massage. It uses a specific amount of pressure (less than 9 ounces per square inch, ie. quite gentle) and rhythmic circular movements to stimulate lymph flow. Apparently too much pressure can actually pinch and shut down lymphatic flow, so it’s important that it’s gentle.

It sounds like doing the massage properly to yourself can be a little complicated, so it’s best to get treatment from a registered massage therapist with experience in lymphatic drainage.

Either way, here is a video demonstrating the procedure so you know what it’s like. I tried doing what she was doing to myself as I watched this video, and OH WOW! Even if I was doing it wrong, it felt amazing!

4. Dry Skin Brushing

Dry skin brushing is a very popular method of lymphatic stimulation that is easy to do at home. And if you look up the benefits of skin brushing, almost everywhere says that it majorly improves the skin, amongst many other benefits!

As a quote from the blog Crazy Sexy Life, dry skin brushing does this for you:

Dry brushing loosens dead cells, stimulates acupressure points, tickles your chi, massages your meridians, moves the lymph, helps reduce CELLULITE, stimulates your immune system, wakes up circulation and makes your skin soooo soft and velvety!

The basics of dry skin brushing are that you take a dry, natural fibre bristle brush (click here for instructions on how to choose one), and lightly brush all over your body, always moving in the direction toward your heart (as that is the way the lymph flows).

Instructions from whole-body-detox-diet.com:

  1. Brush your dry body before you shower or bathe, preferably in the morning.
  2. Start at your feet and always brush toward your heart. Use brisk circular motions or long, even strokes.
  3. Brush all the way up your legs, then over your abdomen, buttocks, and back. If you have cellulite on your hips and thighs, concentrate there a little longer. For complete dissolving of cellulite, brush for 10 minutes daily for several months.
  4. Brush lightly on sensitive areas like breasts and more firmly on areas like soles of the feet.
  5. When you reach your arms, begin at your fingers and brush up your arms, toward your heart. Brush your shoulders and chest down, always toward your heart.
  6. Avoid brushing anywhere the skin is broken or where you have a rash, infection, cut or wound.
  7. Finish by taking a shower and if you choose, use cold/hot therapy to further stimulate the lymphatic system and improve circulation.
  8. Dry off vigorously and optionally massage pure plant oils into your skin such as almond, sesame, avocado, coconut, olive or cacoa butter.

And here’s a video demo:

5. Alternating Hot and Cold Showers

This one doesn’t sound as fun to me as massages and dry brushing – brrr!

But yes, alternating hot and cold temperatures (sometimes called Contrast Bath Therapy) is very invigorating for the lymph system. The reason is because cold temperatures cause the blood and lymph vessels to contract, and hot causes them to relax. Therefore, the alternation increases lymphatic peristalsis.

Basically all you do is stand in the shower and then turn the water from hot to cold and back again several times. The amount of time to stay on each is debatable… from what I’ve read, two minutes on each for five to seven rotations sounds like a good average. Apparently you should try to end on a cold note.

Now Go Forth and Lymph

Alright, so there you have it! Five ways you can stimulate your lymph to make your skin glow. I hope you enjoyed this article :)

Do you have any experiences with techniques to increase your lymphatic flow? Will you try any?

43 Responses to The Lymphatic System: 5 Ways Stimulating It Can Make Your Skin Glow
  1. Nathan
    July 17, 2012 | 1:52 pm

    Another great post Tracy, that, no matter what your ‘diet’ (lifestyle) choices are, these are simple to include no matter what!

    I’ve been body brushing, taking Epsom salt baths and also cold water showers, alternating with warm water. They all feel great! The brushing makes me feel like I moved a lot, the baths make it feel like all the ‘bad’ stuff is coming out and the cold showers make me feel incredibly fresh and renewed. I also do light yoga, but based on your post from a few weeks ago, I plan to do a different online class every other morning. (a simple goal really)

    Thanks for everything :)

    • Tracy
      July 18, 2012 | 10:55 am

      Cool! Glad to hear these practices are making you feel good Nathan :)

  2. amy
    July 17, 2012 | 2:34 pm

    Yes my mood and energy improve so much when I remember to skin brush in the morning before a contrast shower. Also I find it really improves my digestion for the day. This is the same for massages as well..although they can add up! I usually just get my family member to give me one and we save a lot of money.

    • Tracy
      July 18, 2012 | 10:57 am

      Good idea on getting family members to help you out with the massage – I often wonder why people don’t spend more time exchanging things like massages and other little things that can boost our happiness and relaxation – it’s a bit of work to give, but it would be so rewarding to give and get one back

  3. annemaie
    July 17, 2012 | 3:12 pm

    Lymph fluid! So that’s what that stuff is.. I always figured it was sebum, but I guess that wouldn’t make sense!! Lol learn something new everyday, especially on this blog :)
    Great article, again.

    • Tracy
      July 18, 2012 | 10:59 am

      Haha yeah I had never really thought about it, I just learned that while researching this article! I knew it wasn’t sebum though, I figured it was some thing that was carrying immune properties to heal the sore

  4. Fresia
    July 17, 2012 | 4:27 pm

    Wow, this seems like exactly my problem! I never used to get pimples on my jawline, mouth, etc, but I have been lately. Maybe it’s due to this. Anyways, I have some clogged pores RIGHT at the corner of my mouth. They never go away no matter what I do, any ideas on how to make them go away? Thanks

    • Tracy
      July 18, 2012 | 10:58 am

      Hi Fresia – usually acne in this area of the face is a hormonal issue (especially for adult women), but it could potentially have something to do with the lymph. Try the stuff in this article and maybe it will help?

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  6. Jeff
    July 17, 2012 | 6:39 pm

    Hmm, the dry brushing is intriguing. How does it help face acne if you’re just brushing your body and not your face? Does it just eliminate toxins in general?

    • Tracy
      July 18, 2012 | 11:01 am

      Yes, just helps your body detoxify in general by getting the lymph going!

  7. Seppo
    July 17, 2012 | 9:00 pm

    Umm.. just want to point out that as acne patient you don’t want to ‘boost’ your immune system. It’s already overactive in the skin. ‘Boosting’ it only makes things worse.

    If you want to keep bacteria out of the skin then you need to protect it from inflammation. It’s the initial oxidation of sebum that sets the stage for acne. It alters the environment in the blocked pore in a way that makes it suitable for P. Acnes bacteria to grow. And after that the overactive immune system steps in to make things worse.

    • Lily
      July 18, 2012 | 2:33 am

      Hi Seppo!

      You are correct to say that people with acne have an out of proportion immune response to P. Acnes. This results in amounts of inflammation which are not proportionate to the amount of threat caused by the bacteria. However, this is due to an inherited increased immunity to P. Acnes in people with acne, rather than due to an overactive immune system in general. Moreover, remedies such as let’s say garlic, echinacea etc. are immune system modulators, that is they are supposed to help the immune system work at an optimal level, rather than boost it. Personally, I doubt manual lymphatic drainage and the like actually boost the immune system, though helping the lymph move does help the skin detox. This is one of the reasons why it’s used clinically to reduce cellulite, a condition in which the lymph circulation is a bit sluggish in the affected areas. But then again, acne isn’t caused by toxins, so whether MLD would help improve acne is still to be seen. Can’t be a bad thing though, right?

      As for acne on the chin and along the jawline, that’s simply the common aspect of adult acne (especially in women), and it’s not necessarily a sign of a sluggish lymph flow.

      Also, Tracy, thank you so much for this post, I’ve asked you about MLD a while ago and I’m so glad to see you’ve linked to a vid. I’ve always wanted to know how to do this!

      • Seppo
        July 18, 2012 | 2:51 am

        Hi Lily,

        Thanks for a coherent comment :)

        I’m not sure whether increased inflammatory response in acne is due to genetic increased immunity to P. Acnes. Because it occurs with other pathogens also. I do remember some studies showing increased immune response to Candida in skin patients, but don’t remember if that study included acne patients.

        I also know that DHT upregulates inflammation in the skin. And acne patients convert testosterone to DHT too much in the skin. So, I can’t really agree or deny as to whether the increased immune response is specific to P. Acnes. If you have some studies on it I’ll be happy to take a look at them.

        Anyway, no harm in trying the stuff Tracy mentioned in this post. They should help the skin regardless of whether the lymphatic system is involved in acne or not.

  8. Jeff
    July 31, 2012 | 10:33 am

    hey tracy, just wondering if taking a shower afterwards was necessary — I don’t take showers everyday anymore and was wondering if I could just dry brush and then start my day. thanks :)

    • Tracy
      August 1, 2012 | 8:47 am

      I don’t really know, but probably it’s not that necessary. I would do it without showering after if I wanted to dry brush but didn’t want to shower

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  10. shaun
    September 12, 2012 | 4:23 pm

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention fruit because from my experience fruits are the best when it comes to moving lymph and clearing acne.

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  12. C
    November 1, 2012 | 9:35 pm

    hi tracy,

    ive been reading your advice lately. i am a 28/yr male who has cystic acne on the chin and some jawline, mild on cheeks. recently ive had bad breakouts and they wont stop spreading. my skin is getting scarred badly. ive changed everything in my life, diet, exercise, bath and cream products, positive affirmations, etc, even started drinking green smoothies and all. i think my lymph glands under my neck are swollen because i can feel some marbel sized round bumps there that are always warm/hot. what can i do at this point? i am currently trying all the tips you give on your website. i have since stopped taking my acne meditation my dermatologist recommended because i want a holistic only approach and besides, the antibiotic is wearing off and its been a year exactly to this date. any advice will help greatly! thank you tracy.

    • Tracy
      November 2, 2012 | 9:00 am

      Hi C – sorry to hear what you’re going through! :(
      It does sound like there’s something going on with your lymphatic system, which might be the reason behind the acne. If the tips in this article aren’t working, I would advise going to see a naturopath as soon as possible that may be able to help you pinpoint the issue. Good luck and lots of love!

  13. hutch
    November 14, 2012 | 8:20 am

    These are great articles and tips – thanks!

  14. Betsy
    December 22, 2012 | 7:46 pm

    Thank you for explaining simple terms. The videos are very clear and simple to follow. Dry brushing I’ma try it!

  15. amy
    January 21, 2013 | 1:46 pm

    Hi, I have been dealing with acne for years, especially on my neck and jawline. Thinking maybe its my liver needing detoxing, maybe my intestines, heck I’ve tried everything! So, I went to a psychic intuitive. She told me my lymphatic system is a bit compromised. Needs massaging and I need skin brushing. I have since started doing my own massages and feel so much better! This article is great! I have learned so much about this system. Oh my goodness. Im getting so clear. I will continue to do the things mentioned here. I am so happy I finally figured out what is happening. I wish for no one to have to suffer with being stuck the way I was for so long.

    • Tracy
      January 21, 2013 | 5:49 pm

      Hi Amy,
      That’s really interesting… I’ve always kind of wanted to talk to a medical intuitive to see what happened. Maybe I should and write it off as “business research”. I think it would be very interesting thing to try for those who are struggling trying to figure out what the problem is. That’s so cool that they were spot on for you and that you are finally getting clear!! :D

  16. lynnifer
    January 21, 2013 | 5:05 pm

    What would this mean for someone who’s been paralyzed for 28yrs and sitting all that time?

    You answered why I breakout on my chin in two of the same spots every four weeks or so – here I thought it was hormonal but it wasn’t acne. It’s like a cyst or build up of clear fluid under the skin on my chin. Un-noticeable unless I fool with it.

    Thanks for the article!

    • Tracy
      January 21, 2013 | 5:50 pm

      Hi Lynnifer,
      In regard to the paralyzation, I’m honestly not sure what would be the best way to stimulate the lymphatic system in that situation… I suppose dry brushing and massage would still be effective!

  17. Keisha
    January 23, 2013 | 6:05 pm

    Another thing to do that stimulates the lymph system is swimming or water aerobics. As a lifeguard for four years, I can attest to seeing many different patrons doing their water workouts and seeing their skin going through funny ripples and jiggles underwater, even the very fit and toned ones. I, personally love swimming, and even enjoy the chlorine smell:p but to those concerned about what the water will do to their skin could try aerobics or even a kick board to avoid the water on their face. Just another suggestion. :)

    And Tracy, I’m loving this blog. All the holistic approach makes sense. I started having issues with acne after my son was born and I think school stress, new mamma stress, less excercise, not the greAtest eating habits, along with over washing and products and picking have resulted in pretty bad acne. My skin has never been great, but still… Not this bad. I’ve made changes in my diet, started working out again(lots of yoga!) and just jumped into the caveman routine… And I think it’s making a world of difference already, so thank you!!!

    • Tracy
      January 23, 2013 | 8:53 pm

      Hi Keisha,
      That’s awesome!! Stoked that things are improving for you!! :D

  18. Aditi
    May 3, 2013 | 3:04 am

    Hi Tracy!
    Excellent article…

    I have a few questions…

    Lumps on the body on arma and legs – are these lymphatic blockages or fat deposits?

    Lumps behind the ear are due to what? and

    Is PCOS/ PCOD also related to the lymphatic system? Do hoemones have something to do with the Lymphatic fluid?

    Thanks!

  19. paresh panchal
    June 4, 2013 | 2:09 pm

    please i want your help to get better health!

  20. Lulu
    July 15, 2013 | 12:06 am

    Hi, do you have any ideas for eczema? My son has it around his mouth neck and elbows. And also a lot of allergies. Any ideas? Would be most greatful.

    Thanx

    • Tracy
      July 17, 2013 | 9:35 pm

      Hi Lulu,
      Eczema is often related to gut health/allergies/candida… I would suggest seeing a naturopath if possible for a gut healing regimen…. you should also check out someone called Holistic Squid… google her, I think she’s got a guide to treating eczema naturally (I believe she treated her own daughter’s eczema)

  21. [...] on a trampoline or jump rope to stimulate your lymphatic system,  This will help your body [...]

  22. Heidi
    August 31, 2013 | 10:28 am

    Hi Tracy,

    It started with something like mosquito bites at my groin area,
    left and right side around 10 dots, they wereitchy, after scratching
    them and pressed them, the lymph liquid began to secret from the groin joint area which wet my under pant, it never stop and
    erose the skin. What can I do to stop the flow?

    Thank you

  23. Lisa
    October 1, 2013 | 9:00 pm

    I just realized a few days ago that I have a swollen lymph node on the front left side of my neck; can drinking apple cider vinegar help? How long does it generally take for swelling to go down in a lymph node?

  24. […] via The Lymphatic System: 5 Ways Stimulating It Can Make Your Skin Glow. […]

  25. […] found a website that may give some help to those with skin eruptions to better understand The Lymphatic System from a practical point of […]

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