Routes of elimination
Our body has many primary routes of elimination – the gut, liver, lungs, kidneys and the lymphatics. Our primary routes of elimination are responsible for detoxifying and eliminating substances such as medications, metabolic wastes, toxins, pathogens, inflammatory mediators and excess hormones from the body. Often, due to lifestyle and environmental factors, there is increased pressure on these routes of elimination, particularly the lymphatics, which means they cannot adequately detoxify and eliminate the substances from the body. When this is the case, the body will try to reduce the burden on these routes of elimination and will look to the skin as a secondary or ‘back-up’ route. This means that metabolic wastes, toxins, excess hormones etc are excreted through the skin, causing skin flare-ups, whether that be eczema, psoriasis, acne or a generalised rash.
If you are like most people, you may not know much about, or even be aware of, the body’s lymphatic system – what it is or how it impacts the skin. The lymphatic system is a huge network of vessels (including clusters of nodes) extending throughout the entire body, running alongside our circulatory system/blood vessels. However, instead of blood, lymphatic vessels carry lymph – a clear fluid composed of white blood cells.
Lymph travels throughout the lymphatic vessels, picking up wastes, toxins and other debris, before transporting them to the lymph nodes to be destroyed and filtered out of the body. As the lymphatic system lies just beneath the skin, we can consider the lymphatic system like a sewage system for the skin. For example, lymph picks up wastes, toxins, dead skin cells etc from the skin tissue and transports them to nearby lymph vessels and nodes to be filtered, detoxed and eliminated from the body.
Stagnant lymph & the skin
Unfortunately, the lymphatic system can become stagnant quite easily as it does need regular stimulation or manual pumping. If the lymphatic system does become stagnant, wastes and toxins etc start accumulating within it, causing it to become clogged. When this happens, the body has little choice but to excrete these wastes and toxins via the skin. This causes skin flare-ups (particularly around the ears, neck and jawline), but also contributes to redness, uneven skin tone, puffiness and dull skin. You may also notice cellulite, enlarged lymph nodes, fluid retention and body odour. These are all signs of stagnant lymph.
How to move lymph
To help get the lymph moving again there are several things you can do daily.
- Drink at least 2 litres of water per day. The lymph is made up of 95 per cent water.
- Perform 30 minutes of exercise, 4–7 days per week. Exercise helps to manually move the lymph via the contraction of muscles.
- Practice deep diaphragm breathing exercises. This compresses the deep lymph vessels within the abdomen to help get the lymph moving.
- Alternate hot and cold water temperatures during your showers to help move the lymph via contraction and dilation of blood vessels.
- Perform dry body brushing for 5–10 minutes before your shower, 3–4 times per week, to manually move the lymph.
- Use a jade roller or gua sha tool (see instructions below) or consider a lymphatic drainage massage to help manually move the lymph.
- Seek the help of a qualified naturopath who can prescribe lymphatic herbal medicines to help get lymph moving again.
A quick guide to facial lymphatic drainage massage
A facial lymphatic drainage massage is a form of gentle massage that targets the lymph nodes within the face and neck to help encourage the drainage of lymph from this area. The idea is to use a light, gentle pressure. You are aiming to massage the skin and not the muscles underneath the skin.
How to perform lymphatic drainage massage
The best time to perform facial lymphatic drainage massage is following a shower when the skin is soft, clean and dry.
- Using either damp, clean fingertips, a gua sha tool or a jade roller, start beneath the collarbones and work downwards to help clear this tissue so that the facial lymph has somewhere to drain to.
- Slowly work your way up the neck, now moving the lymph upwards towards the nodes underneath the earlobe/back of the jawline.
- Next, work in this order, ideally spending about 30 seconds at each point on both sides of the face:
- downwards in front of the ears
- outwards from below the chin/jawline towards the back of the jawline
- outwards from the chin towards the back of the jawline
- outwards from the upper lip/nostrils and bridge of the nose towards the earlobe
- outwards from underneath the eyes and eyebrows towards the earlobe
- outwards and downwards from the forehead, past the temples towards the earlobe.
If you suffer from a stubborn skin issue, your lymphatic system likely needs some attention. Make a booking with one of our naturopaths who can properly assess your needs.
Written by Perri Baldwin BHSc