Although ancient wisdom has known about the magic of the lymphatic system for centuries, it has only recently begun to enter the modern beauty conversation as more and more wellness experts make the connection between lymph and the many body processes it plays a role in. As it turns out, the secret to radiant health and a vibrant complexion may be lying just below the surface of the skin.
What exactly is the lymph system?
An intricate web of some 700 lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, lymph fluid, the thymus gland and the spleen make up the lymphatic system, and this system works in collaboration with the circulatory and immune systems to protect the body from disease.
The lymphatic system is also your body's natural detoxification and purification system, working to destroy invading bacteria and disease-causing microorganisms. It then removes waste by carrying impurities away from the body cells and into the bloodstream.
Why is lymph care so critical?
In recent years, holistic skincare experts have come to recognize lymphatic health as being deeply connected to skin health.
Because the lymphatic system sits just below the skin's surface, stagnant lymph can contribute to a host of common issues, including acne, blackheads, dark circles and puffiness, dull skin, and even discoloration. Encouraging healthy lymph flow aids in keeping waste from accumulating at an epidermal level and keeps the skin looking vibrant and radiant.
But beyond the surface level benefits of supporting your lymph system, it's also super important for internal health. Lymphatic stagnation has been linked to everything from fatigue to bloating, joint stiffness, hemorrhoids, menstrual pain, brain fog, cellulite, swelling, cold hands or feet as well as other chronic conditions. The presence of these symptoms can often be a sign that the
the lymph system needs a boost.
How can I help support my lymph system?
A bit of good news: the lymphatic system is very sophisticated and adaptable. It only requires a bit of stimulation to get things flowing and moving again.
Methods like dry brushing, heated compresses, and manual lymphatic drainage massage aid in rejuvenating the lymphatic system, as does physical exercise. In fact, one of the best ways to support your lymphatic system is simply to incorporate more movement into your daily practices.
Because the lymph system lacks its own central pump, it relies instead on a complex system of one-way valves and muscle movements to direct fluid within the body. Meditation and breathing exercises can be impactful for supporting your lymphatic system by helping to relax and contract the muscles. Additionally, walking, yoga, and light stretching are excellent ways to gently move your body and your lymph along with it.
Plum Brilliances' favorite products and rituals for lymph support
To encourage better lymphatic flow and long-term health for your lymph system, botanicals,herbal oils, and other plant-based remedies can also be incredibly helpful. Knowing this, Plum Brilliance Apothecary has created a couple of unique self-care products that holistically address the lymph system:
- About Rivers Natural Lymphatic Body Oil
Our Rivers Natural Lymphatic Body oil is an herbal massage oil for the face and body and is infused with a unique blend of lymph-nourishing ingredients - primarily Ocotillo and Clary sage - to encourage lymphatic circulation and movement.
- About our Natural Wood Gua Sha Tool
perfect ritual for keeping lymph happy and healthy.
Ocotillo and the lymph
Ocotillo goes by several aliases: coachwhip, desert coral, or candle-wood; and is considered a semi-succulent perennial. To some, Ocotillo may look like just another species of desert cacti - a tangle of waxy leaves, desert thorns, and tufts of red flowers. However, naturopaths know otherwise. Ocotillo is powerful plant medicine - particularly for the lymphatic system.
As stated by Rebecca Altman of Wonder Bontanica,
"Ocotillo, at the core of its action, moves stagnation: specifically the lymph and the blood and indirectly, the interstitial fluids. It affects all the deep fluids of the body. Much like its branches come together and concentrate at its base, ocotillo’s effect tends to go to the root of the problem, and spread out from there. As a result ocotillo’s effects are incredibly broad-reaching.
Due to its small growing range, that ocotillo isn’t well known commercially is understandable (and its population couldn’t supply the demand were it to become popular in commerce). However for those of us who live within its growing range, or have friends who live within its growing range, it is an unbelievably useful plant, one that I personally would never want to be without, not for its medicinal properties (which as we’ve discussed, are broad-reaching indeed), nor the way its torch-like flowers light up the hillsides in the spring, or for what it has to teach us all about seizing the moment— something one can only really do if one has let go of the past."
Ocotillo has numerous healing properties but is particularly helpful for issues of deep stagnation in the pelvis, liver deficiency, and lymphatic stagnation. All of these separate things are affected by ocotillo’s energetic action of gently moving, shifting and dredging stagnation, especially in the fluids of the body. related to the pelvic region. Medicinally, the flowers and bark of the plant have been used for hundreds of years in folk medicine to treat coughs and colds, pelvic congestion, painful or irregular periods, joint pain, and other conditions.
Today, modern-day science understands that all of these conditions can be linked back to stagnant lymph. Contemporary herbalists are even using ocotillo to address reproductive issues and digestive problems related to the gut - which is home to much of our lymphatic tissue.
What is Gua Sha?
With roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, gua sha originated as a treatment of scraping or stroking the skin with a stone or wooden tool to stimulate blood flow to the tissue. For centuries, gua sha has been used to treat chronic pain and stagnation in the body - including stagnant lymph.
Facial gua sha is a variation of gua sha that uses more gentle and fluid movements to facilitate lymphatic drainage in the face and neck area. This process works to flush out excess fluid in the face, giving it an instantly more sculpted and lifted appearance. It also stimulates circulation, nourishing the skin and giving it a boost of healthy glow.
How to perform Gua Sha for lymphatic facial massage
If you're ready to get hands-on with caring for your skin and your lymph system, here are a few tips for performing your gua sha massage:
- Begin and end with the neck
The neck is home to many tiny clusters of lymph nodes. It is also the primary channel facilitating lymph flow from the head to the rest of the body, making this a key area to work as part of any gua sha ritual.
A best practice is to open first with long gliding strokes from the base of the neck up to the chin. This helps to warm up the neck and stimulate the flow of blood and lymph. At the end of your practice, use the same long strokes to glide down the neck and close out the massage. This ensures that excess puffiness and stagnation are flushed from the face
and helps naturally detoxify the skin.
- Use Light Pressure Only
Because your lymphatic system sits close to the surface of the skin, only very light pressure is necessary to move it. Deep pressure tends to work the muscle tissue and not the lymph, so be mindful to keep movements long and light, gliding along the skin's surface. As much as possible, you will want to hold your tool at about a fifteen degree angle, nearly flat to the skin.
- Always use oil when working with a tool
When working with facial massage, using oil is a must to prevent dragging, pulling, or tugging on the delicate skin of the face. Not only will the product facilitate slip on the surface of the skin, but the tool will also help infuse the nourishing benefits of the oil into the skin for the ultimate synergistic treatment.
- Work from the center of the face out
Similar to the neck, the face contains numerous clusters of lymph nodes, most of which are located near the ears and along the jaw. For this reason, it is essential to always work from the center of the face out towards the sides of the face to encourage proper lymphatic drainage.
- Work with the natural curves of the face.
Another best practice when working with a facial tool is to work in strokes that follow the natural bone structure of your face. You can divide the face into sections, working along the jawline, the cheekbone, and the arch of the forehead.
Continue to work with fluid strokes to move the lymph outwards. This will create a sculpting effect in the face, making the cheekbones and jawline more defined. It can even help to instantly depuff the eye area and lift furrowed brows.
Other things to know
- Ocotillo (Fouqueria splendens)