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?