You’re not getting enough sleep, had a stressful week, and haven’t been drinking enough water. Now it’s on display for everyone to see, the puffy face, dark circles, dull skin and breakouts. Our bodies are constantly detoxifying, but even the strongest systems get overburdened at times and the results are apparent. The secret to keeping your body’s natural detox processes humming along means boosting the lymph flow. Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), is a lymph-stimulating treatment known for its gentle massage strokes and dramatic results. Try it and get ready to love the fresh face you see in the morning.

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) isn’t a new thing by any means. This massage technique was created by Emil Vodder, PhD, and his wife Estrid. The Vodders were both physical therapists in Cannes, France, in the 1930s. During this time, the majority of their patients came from Northern Europe where they consistently have damp climates. As they were treating patients with chronic colds, they noticed a correlation with upper respiratory conditions and swollen lymph nodes. After researching the lymphatic system at great length, they developed a light, rhythmic massage with stretching movements to stimulate lymph flow throughout the body. Since this time the effects of the treatment on inflammation, wound healing and the overall health of the skin has been discovered.

Lymph is somewhat of a mystery for most of us; this fluid-like substance is made up of water, protein and white blood cells and flows just below the skin, collecting toxins and delivering nutrients. When lymph flow becomes sluggish (the result of stress, inflammation, poor diet, lack of exercise or surgery), toxins hang around in the body longer. You may see puffiness, dull skin, breakouts, dark circles, or water retention, or feel tenderness and swelling around your lymph nodes.

The results of MLD treatments often speak for themselves: improved tone, reduced puffiness and a boost in circulation that brings a glow to the skin. Manual lymphatic drainage is a technique frequently used by celebrities before red carpet events as it delivers toned and radiant skin via a gentle and very relaxing treatment. Contrary to other forms of massage, it’s not the intensity of the strokes that boost lymph flow, it’s the positioning over the body’s key lymph nodes.  Estheticians who use lymphatic drainage massage for facial treatments focus on the lymph nodes behind the ears, the sides of the neck and just above the collarbone where the lymph system of the whole body drains.

MLD is also beneficial for stress reduction, thanks to its soft, rhythmic strokes. Falling asleep during a treatment is not uncommon. “Lymphatic massage is extremely gentle and light. The lymphatic vessels are just below the skin, not deep within the muscle, so the work is very superficial,” says Stephanie Dessi Kiley, a Manhattan-based occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist. Stimulating lymph flow also eases the parasympathetic nervous system, helping the body handle stress.

Because the benefits of MLD are cumulative, having the treatment done on a monthly basis is recommended for continuous results. It’s also important to follow up at home by drinking plenty of water, getting regular exercise and eating unprocessed foods. Alcohol, dairy and caffeine are lymph-slowing offenders.

Not surprisingly, the benefits to healthy lymph flow extend well beyond the aesthetic. MLD has been shown to improve the overall health of the body internally and externally. Whether it’s a skin brightening facial or a post-surgery healing accelerator the benefits of MLD are hard to miss.