The skin is the largest organ in the human body, and it’s also one of its most important. It protects us from environmental factors that can damage our bodies or cause illness, while at the same time providing a barrier against moisture loss. But what you may not know about your skin is that it doesn’t work alone. Underneath the surface, the lymphatic system works closely with the circulatory system to filter out toxins and fluid buildup before they can do any real damage to your organs or other tissues. If there are problems with either of these systems, such as inflammation or clogging due to excess fluids, then this will show up on your skin first! Today, we explore the connection between healthy lymph and healthy skin.  

What is lymph?

diagram of lymphatic systemLymph is the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system, a sophisticated network of tissue and organs made up of lymph nodes, lymph vessels, and lymph. The lymphatic system is designed to maintain a healthy immune system, protecting against infection and disease by absorbing and metabolizing waste. 

The lymphatic system also acts as our body’s primary drainage system, helping to deliver nutrients and filter out damaged proteins, water, waste products, and other cellular debris. It does this by transporting the toxins away from the tissues and into the bloodstream, where they are purified by the spleen, the largest lymphatic tissue in the body.

It’s important to note that the lymphatic system is seldom an isolated actor; rather it works in tandem with other organs and systems such as the circulatory system, kidneys, and liver to help clear and remove waste.

Why should we care about lymph?

The connection between healthy lymph and healthy skin is significant. Lymphatic drainage encourages the circulation of lymph in the subcutaneous tissue (the layer of fat–or adipose tissue–just below the dermis). When toxins and waste beneath the skin are frequently and adequately drained, it’s easier for the body to expel them.

However, a slow or stagnant system can create “clogging” and trap the toxins within the body and, in turn, can trigger inflammation. Acute inflammation can cause dull, puffy, and tired-looking skin. If the congestion is left unaddressed, acute inflammation will turn into chronic inflammation, which may cause unwanted skin conditions like:

  • Acne
  • Eczema or psoriasis
  • Loss of elasticity
  • Premature aging
  • Skin dryness and flaking

Healthy lymph can prevent clogged pores--woman with pore strip on noseAnd a host of internal health disturbances like:

  • Brain fog
  • Digestive issues
  • Sinus infections
  • Constipation
  • Allergies
  • Food sensitivities
  • Increased colds and flu

Get moving!

Unlike blood circulation, which moves because of the heart’s pumping action, lymphatic drainage is a passive system- it relies on our muscles and joints to get it moving. 

Exercise is the most efficient way to keep the lymph in motion. Regular muscle contraction excites the movement of our lymphatic fluid.

The most stimulating exercise for the lymphatic system is jumping on a mini-trampoline. Rebounding on a mini-trampoline may appear to be high-impact but is considered to be low-impact plyometrics. Regular yoga practice is also great to keep healthy lymph flowing.

Integrative therapies to support healthy lymph:

Lymphatic Massage

Because the lymphatic system relies on the movement of muscles to transport fluid through the lymph vessels, massage is a great way to assist in this process. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an effective East Asian Medicine practice treatment that uses thin needles in strategic points on the body that may help stimulate healthy lymph flow and remove toxins.

Dry Body Brushing

Dry brushing has been an integral self-care staple of many ancient civilizations for more than one thousand years. Dry brushing your skin may help support detoxification by increasing blood circulation and promoting lymph drainage. Read more about dry brushing here.

Garshana

“Garshana” is an ancient Sanskrit word that translates to ‘friction by rubbing.’ With silk gloves, this Ayurvedic practice involves stimulating specific body areas that may facilitate the removal of toxins, support lymphatic flow, and revitalize all body systems.

Facial Gua Sha

woman practicing facial gua shaGua Sha is an East Asian Medicine practice that translates to “scraping the pain away”. Traditionally performed on the body, new facial Gua Sha protocols have been adopted over recent years, and have become very popular among holistic aestheticians and in the wellness community alike.

Small, palm-sized tools carved from stones such as jade are gently stroked across the skin to increase lymphatic flow, increase blood circulation, and support collagen production.

Facial Ice Globes

Ice globes utilize the cold for something akin to a ‘cryo’ facial that may stimulate lymph and blood circulation, relieve sore facial muscles, decrease puffiness, and give a face “lifted” effect.

Purified Water

Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day to further cleanse your system of toxins. For example, if you are 150 lbs., drink 75 ounces of water (can include herbal tea).

Pranayama Breathing

The pressure from deep, diaphragmatic breathing effectively moves the lymph into the blood before the liver detoxifies them.

Our bodies have three times more lymph than blood, so pranayama breathing many times during the day helps stimulates lymph and restores the body to a calm and peaceful state. We recommend starting with simple techniques such as Nadi Shodhana Pranayam, or 4-7-8 Breathing.

Laughter

There’s something to the common phrase, “laughter is the best medicine!” Laughter contracts and expands the diaphragm and abdominal muscles that help push lymph through the vessels.

Herbal teas

Many herbs can be beneficial for the lymphatic system. Use the following herbs to prepare teas that promote lymph health (always consult with your healthcare provider or a trained herbalist first):

  • Echinacea
  • Astragalus
  • Red Root
  • Cleavers 
  • Goldenseal
  • Dandelion

Foods that promote lymph flow

Rainbow vegetablesThe naturally occurring bioflavonoids and enzymes in raw fruits and vegetables help break down the overload of toxins in the body.

Nutrient-dense foods that promote a healthy lymphatic system include:

  • Seeds: Chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp
  • Unrefined oils: Extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil
  • Garlic, onions and spices like turmeric
  • Nuts: Brazil, almonds, walnuts, cashews
  • Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables

Whether raw cauliflower, laughter, ice globes, or any of the other above items are your thing, all have the ability to support the lymph–our body’s natural cleanser for clearer, healthier skin. Start with one or two that you know you can easily remember to do on a daily basis, and then add more as you get used to having them in your routine. Your skin–and overall health–will thank you!

Are you interested in learning more about how the internal organs and systems of the body affect the skin?

We teach this extensively in our accredited Certified Nutritional Aesthetics Practitioner® Training Program. Click HERE to learn more, download our syllabus, and enroll today.

About the author:

Today’s post was written by our Director of Education Outreach, Jules Annen, PhD. Learn more about Jules HERE.