Lymph – a forgotten piece in the clear skin puzzle

Written by Alexandra McPhee | 8 April, 2019

If you have tried every skin cream and serum on the market and are still battling with a chronic skin condition such as eczema, adult acne, lumps, bumps or puffy skin, it might be time to work with your lymph.

If the word lymph sounds more foreign than salad for breakfast, I don’t blame you! It is a part of the human physiology that has been somewhat forgotten, although is starting to gain traction as an important aspect of skin, immune and even brain health (Yang et al., 2017).

So, what is lymph and how can you work it to your skin’s advantage? Think of the lymphatic system as a garbage disposal system – cellular debris, toxins, excess water and other physiological waste products are channelled away from the tissues of the body and into the lymph for drainage and excretion (Hsu & Itkin, 2016). In this way, lymph is circulated somewhat similarly to blood, however unlike blood, the lymph doesn’t have the heart to pump it! Lymph needs to move manually!

From a naturopathic perspective, when the lymph isn’t draining optimally, the fluid containing metabolic wastes, proteins and dead cells can accumulate in the tissue, impacting the function of the skin as an excretory organ and protective barrier.  In this way, a sluggish lymphatic function can contribute to eczema, acne, psoriasis, dull, puffy and uneven skin.

So how can we get the lymph moving nicely and stop the accumulation of waste and toxins in the skin and tissues?

Dr J.W Shields (MD and author) advises that “deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the cleansing of the lymph system by creating a vacuum effect which pulls the lymph through the bloodstream. This increases the rate of toxic elimination by as much as 15 times the normal rate!” (Shields, 1992).

The lymph is largely comprised of water, so drinking your quota of fresh water is essential for happy lymph. In the shower, alternate between warm and cool water (not hot and cold blasts) for the last 2 minutes of your shower. The warmth spreads blood and lymph to the skin and extremities by relaxing the smooth muscle vasculature, while cooler temperatures help circulation to the vital organs.

This doesn’t have to be heavy exercise. Swimming, walking, bike riding or rebounding on a trampoline are particularly beneficial to lymphatic health. The contraction of muscle gently squeezes lymph along through the network of lymphatic capillaries, vessels and ducts!

Common herbs such as Galium aparine (Clivers), Calendula officinalis (Calendula) and Echinacea purpurea (Echinacea) can work magic on the lymphatic system. It is important to consult a Naturopath for individualised herbal remedies to target your specific skin and lymph needs!

Employ these simple tactics and get back in the good books with your lymph, for clearer and healthier skin.

More information about the lymph can be found online at www.naturopathywithlexie.com.

Reference list:

Connor, E. E., Zhou, Y., & Liu, G. E. (2018). The essence of appetite: Does olfactory receptor variation play a role? Journal of Animal Science, 96(4), 1551–1558. https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/sky068

Hsu, M. C., & Itkin, M. (2016). Lymphatic Anatomy. Techniques in Vascular and Interventional Radiology, 19(4), 247–254. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.tvir.2016.10.003

Yang, M., Yang, T., Sun, B.-L., Yuan, H., Sun, J., Wang, L., … Yang, X. (2017). Lymphatic drainage system of the brain: A novel target for intervention of neurological diseases. Progress in Neurobiology, 163–164, 118–143. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2017.08.007


Alexandra McPhee

Alexandra (Lexie) McPhee is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and qualified, practising Naturopath. Her special interests include writing, communication with the natural world, the history of medicinal plant use and creating her own herbal oils and salves. 

Read more by Alexandra McPhee