Mind & Body

How to improve your lymph health

You may be aware of the tell-tale signs of a sluggish lymph – from a puffy face to swollen limbs and cellulite – but there are also a host of underlying health issues to consider, including digestive and immune issues we don’t see. DANIELLE FOX and NEWBY HANDS have the lowdown on why we need to look after our lymph…


What exactly is the lymph?

“One of the most important functions in our body, the lymph, or lymphatic system, is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins and waste,” explains body-work and facial expert Beata Durtan of Tarryn Bespoke Skincare at Bodyism. “If lymph is not regularly drained through movement and massage, it can become sluggish, causing everything from water retention, cellulite, poor blood circulation and acne to more serious underlying health problems, such as a weakened immune system and inflammatory issues.”

Why do we need to prioritize our lymph?

Unlike blood, lymph fluid doesn’t move on its own. There is no pump propelling it through the body, so the only way to get it flowing is with movement. And, as the lymph cannot detoxify itself, it relies on us to drain and circulate lymph fluid through the body, which is where exercise, massage, liver support and drinking enough water comes in. “A good lymphatic system is about activity, as the lymph only moves when you move,” explains Kate Shapland, founder of the lymph-boosting brand Legology. “If you sit down all day, lymph stops moving, and as the lymphatic system removes metabolic waste, it can have an impact on your general health, digestion, immune system and even cellulite.”

The exercise to do

“Trampolining or rebounding is more effective than other workouts for lymphatic drainage because the up-and-down rhythmic gravitational force caused by jumping on a trampoline increases lymph flow,” explains Colette Dong, co-founder of The Ness NYC. “The trampoline also absorbs the impact of your movement, making it easier on your joints than most other forms of cardio. It’s high intensity but extremely low impact, which is a killer combination.”

The treatment to try

The medical machine to look out for is the Ballancer Pro (think inflatable ski salopettes, worn toe to chest), which comes with an immaculate pedigree: originally a medical machine used in hospitals globally to treat lymphatic problems, it is now proving equally popular as an in-salon treatment for water retention and general puffiness. Jennifer Aniston and Chrissy Teigen have both bought a machine to use at home. Based on the famous Vodder method of manual lymphatic massage (MLD), small pockets in the Ballancer ‘garment’ inflate and deflate, working from the feet upwards to create a rolling, rhythmic compression and release that boosts both blood and lymph circulation. With a range of programs – for water retention, cellulite, post-sports – it’s both deeply relaxing and physically energizing, and when used regularly helps ensure less puffiness and bloating and even better digestion.

The easy at-home regimen to follow

Apart from the things we know – drinking plenty of water and daily body-brushing (30 seconds of quick upward flicks is enough; the lymph responds to a light touch and not a scrub) – there are a number of less-obvious tricks that work well, too. Having suffered from lymphatic health issues for 20 years, Shapland has honed an at-home routine that works.

TAKE A SWEDISH SHOWER: “Finish every bath or shower by alternating five-second jets of cold and warm water. Use the shower head to work up from feet to thighs to get circulation and lymph moving.”

PUT YOUR FEET UP: “Every evening, lay with your legs up against the wall for 20 minutes. It helps circulation and even digestion.”

MASSAGE YOUR LYMPH NODES: “They’re found behind the knees, inside the thighs and under the arms. I do this while watching TV, as it’s a great way to keep your lymphatics healthy.”

KEEP A TENNIS BALL IN YOUR DESK DRAWER: “If you’re desk-bound, rolling the ball under each foot during the day gives enough movement to get your lymph moving. I also do this in-flight.”

USE OILS TO DE-PUFF: “Juniper, Siberian fir and eucalyptus oils all work on water retention – I use a blend of them in my Legology Cellu-Lite oil.”

TAKE SUPPLEMENTS: “Magnesium, potassium and chromium are key to promote good circulation and strong capillaries – ginko biloba is also good to take.”

The de-puffing facial-massage technique to try

“Puffy, blemish-prone skin is a tell-tale sign of a lazy lymph,” explains Durtan. And when you improve lymph flow, you improve the skin. A big advocate of pressotherapy, Durtan uses light pressure and a pumping motion on the main lymph points – behind the ears, clavicle bones, armpits and neck – to guide fluid to the lymph, which kickstarts the circulation and draws any toxins to the kidneys. One famous client flies in regularly for sessions to drain and coax out her contours pre-event. Pressing at night is particularly good to move any excess water retention and stagnant blood from the day.

The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown