The Drain Game: The Boom in Lymphatic Drainage

·8 min read

A search on TikTok for #lymphaticdrainage rings in at 218.4 million and counting posts. Even the influencer Tinx has utilized the popular terminology known for the removal of stagnant fluids, releasing toxins and boosting circulation. In Tinx’s case, on her TikTok account, she’s lying upside down with her legs flush up against the wall reciting the benefits of lymphatic drainage.

She’s not the only one singing the invisible system’s praises. The methods practiced by lymphatic practitioners are meant to assist essential functions like sleep, digestion, detoxification, collagen production, anxiety relief and optimized mobility, which lead to aesthetic benefits like decreased water retention, a more sculpted silhouette, less visible cellulite and tighter skin. Brands, too, are in on the benefits. In Fiore, Esker, Yina, Gilded and Legology, among others, have crafted tools and skin care products to activate the lymph.

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And no wonder. According to the Global Wellness Institute, traditional and complementary medicine — defined as diverse medical, health care, holistic and mentally or spiritually based systems, services and products that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine or the dominant health care system— was worth $432 billion in 2019.

Within the Trendalytics tracking system, searches for lymphatic drainage are up 19 percent to last year, which classifies it as a high-volume trend, with 12,300 average weekly searches. “Within the beauty industry specifically, we’re seeing lymphatic drainage techniques used more for aesthetic purposes,” said Kristin Breakell, content strategist at Trendalytics. “It’s being used to reduce cellulite, fluid retention and puffiness and help with jawline shaping and antiaging.”

But there’s a lot of confusion around lymphatic drainage.

Consumers can follow a slew of practitioners on social media and see before and after images of clients pre- and post-treatment with a flatter stomach or more defined limbs, indicating a quick fix mentality. While the client will feel lighter immediately, it’s the results overtime that are beneficial, experts say. “A lot of people have the wrong idea about lymphatic drainage,” said Rebecca Faria, the Los Angeles-based, Brazilian practitioner and founder of Detox by Rebecca. “Clients think it will make them skinny when it will actually help your body get rid of toxins. You haven’t lost any fat. However, when your body’s healthier long term, your metabolism speeds up because you have less inflammation.”

Shirlei Silvia, founder of Shila Beauty Center in Los Angeles who moved from her native Brazil two years ago, noted that her technique uses slow and gentle pressure, which is not usually what clients expect. “Clients tend to think that pressure equates to a better result. But pressure is not what you need for your immune and lymphatic systems. [Our method] is science-backed and respects the entire anatomy of the body, while increasing the volume of lymph flow by as much as 20 times.”

That said, giving the lymph extra love can make a huge impact on overall well-being. “The techniques we employ have been developed from traditions that have been around for millennia,” said Anna Zahn, founder of New York City, Los Angeles and London-based Ricari Studios. “However, all things lymph are part of a larger wellness renaissance, specifically in Occidental cultures, where people are beginning to see the value of more traditional, gentle and holistic self care and beauty practices.”

The star of Ricari Studio’s treatments is the Italian-made Icoone device. Rollers deliver inward, outward, forward and backward rotations providing fractionated skin stimulation customized to clients’ needs.

“Your lymph system is tied to every system in your body,” said Lisa Levitt Gainsley, certified lymphedema therapist, and author of “The Book of Lymph.” Levitt Gainsley’s method is all about encouraging consumers to work on themselves.

“The Book of Lymph”
“The Book of Lymph”

“My technique is different because it’s light,” she said. “We are not pushing down into the muscle. You’re working on moving the lymph to increase circulation to remove waste and debris. It’s important that people have the ability to access this information, work on themselves for a minimal cost and spread the awareness.”

So how can consumers mimic a practitioner’s results at home? Via a variety of contraptions and topical skin care.

For example, Esker’s Body Plane, a moon-shaped tool made out of sterling silver and teak wood, not only acts as an exfoliator, but is said to have lymphatic benefits that are just as effective as gua sha. Esker is in talks with an array of aestheticians and practitioners about implementing the Body Plane into spa services. “The Body Plane is our bestseller by far,” said Shannon Davenport, founder of Esker Beauty. “As the momentum grows, people are starting to think of it as a practice.”

Similarly, De La Heart has fashioned a pinewood paddle-like tool to massage the body, releasing excess fluids and toxins, while Gilded has elevated the body brushing experience by designing a marble base. But when looking at lymphatic drainage practices, it’s important to pay homage to the age-old technique and consider the cultural significance. For example, gua sha.

Skin care brand Yina, which was created to demystify and enliven Chinese medicine, designed its oversize gua sha with bian, a micro-crystalline stone. “Gua sha has been around for so long and it was originally used on the body. So we created a bigger version that you can use for the face and body,” said Angela Chau Gray, licensed acupuncturist and cofounder of Yina.

“Gua sha is by far the most popular search term at the moment relating to lymphatic drainage,” Breakell noted. “Its recent rise in popularity can be attributed to TikTok and has more than 893 million views. Searches for it are up 141 percent to last year. It’s an extreme volume trend.”

Dr. Ervina Wu, licensed acupuncturist and cofounder of Yina., added, “The idea of lymphatics is quite new in Western medicine, but in Chinese medicine, we have Sanjiao, which regulates water, movement and waste management. It’s been documented in text for thousands of years.” Yina also utilizes herbs like horsetail and Buddha citrus to promote waste management and fluid retention. Their bestseller, Recovery Body Treatment, includes these ingredients to boost circulation and improve tissue laxity.

Topical skin care to activate the lymphatic system is lesser known among consumers, but that category is poised to gain traction. Iräye, based in the U.K. has crafted two products, Radiance Firming Serum, 85 pounds (about $111), and The Cream, 105 pounds (about $137), meant to activate the lymphatic system topically.

“Lymphatic vessels play an essential role for the maintenance of skin health and the prevention of skin aging, but they have been greatly overlooked by medicine and science for many decades,” said Professor Dr. Michael Detmar, cofounder and chief scientific officer of Iräye. “We discovered that the skin’s lymphatic vessels become fewer with aging and UV damage and that the remaining vessels do not function properly anymore. A lymphatic system that does not optimally function leads to dull skin that can become easily irritated.”

Iräye is formulated with a proprietary complex of five plant extracts and the brand will add to its range of products with an eye cream, a rich cream and a body cream to support lymphatic function this year. Iräye has its eye on expanding to more countries, increasing sales channels and partnering with additional aesthetic dermatology clinics and lymphatic massage experts.

Legology also includes body care meant to help with waste management and fluid retention. “The lymph is absolutely integral to the brand,” said Kate Shapland, founder and creative director of Legology. “All the products have been formulated with what we call the lymphology complex, which includes ingredients like caffeine, lemon and butcher’s broom to promote lymph flow and drainage.”

This year, Shapland will launch two new products to stimulate the lymph, including a scrubbing mitt and a jelly-like cryotherapy cream. In terms of the future of lymphatic products, she believes we’ll see more in compression wear.

That is exactly the direction Zahn at Ricari Studios took with products. The lymphatic drainage studio created compression leggings and a camisole top to manually support lymphatic drainage and blood circulation as the body moves.

“Compression wear was originally designed to expedite the post-surgical healing process,” Zahn said. “It provides precisely defined pressure distribution on surface veins, arteries and muscles, enabling blood circulation to flow through narrower channels toward the heart. Increased blood flow and lymphatic circulation fend against varicose veins, blood clots, muscle fatigue, fluid retention and lymphedema.”

Meanwhile, Higher Dose’s Infrared Sauna Blanket might not fall into the category of self-massage or compression, but it is meant to help to activate the lymphatic system thanks to its infrared heat technology that gets sweat flowing and toxins moving. Higher Dose co-CEO and cofounder Lauren Berlengeri noted, “Fitness methods such as rebounding and foam rolling are growing in popularity, making it possible for people to experience effective lymphatic drainage at home.”

Ingestibles, too, are important within lymphatic drainage and Julie Elliott, founder of In Fiore, saw white space in the category. She formulated her tincture, Lâche Lymphe, with phytochemist Kevin Spelman, Ph.D., blending depurative and circulatory enhancing herbs to support healthy lymph function. “We talk a lot about the lymphatic system at In Fiore through working on the body whether that’s through massage, full body oiling or dry brushing,” Elliott said. “I wanted a product that could work in tandem.” Elliott added that this unique formula is a top seller for the brand in the U.S. and in Europe.

“The fact that lymphatic drainage is so popular on TikTok right now and there’s a low discount level, are indicators that it will continue to impact the space,” Breakell said. “Plus there’s a lot of interest in self care and self-improvement.”

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