What is the lymphatic system and how is it connected with your skin health?

By Awaana Health

Jul 13, 2022

Introduction

If there is one thing that each and every one of us has desired at some point in our lives, it has to be clear, spotless, and naturally glowing skin. Having a clear skin and a shining face gives you a sense of confidence in whatever you do. It improves your self-esteem and boosts your morale in every aspect of life. Hence, it is quite common to find people who spend vast amounts of money on cosmetics and surgery to obtain that spotless and perfect skin. The use of make-up and consumption of supplements that promise you a healthy skin is also widespread across all age groups and genders. In this quest of obtaining the perfect, blemish-free skin, people are willing to do anything and everything, but externally. Most of us ignore the body’s internal mechanism that helps purify it of all unwanted substances, which in turn makes our skin healthy. This internal mechanism is what is called the lymphatic system.

Before understanding how the lymphatic system is associated with skin health, it is important to understand what exactly this system is.

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system is a large network of vessels, tissues, and organs that work together to move a fluid called “lymph” into the bloodstream. The word “lymph” means “water” or “clear fluid” in Latin. In the spaces between our body tissues, there is a colourless fluid present, which is called interstitial fluid. When this interstitial fluid enters the lymphatic vessels (simply called lymphatics), it is termed lymph. The lymphatic system also consists of primary lymphatic organs like bone marrow and thymus, that help in generating certain immune cells called lymphocytes, and secondary lymphatic organs like spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes. 

The lymphatic system has four major functions in the body; 

  1. It helps to carry the interstitial fluid, present between body tissues, back into the blood circulation in the form of lymph.
  2. It helps to carry important substances like proteins and hormones into the bloodstream from where they are transported to all the organs where they are required.
  3. It also helps to carry toxins and other unwanted substances into the bloodstream so that they can be taken to the kidney and liver for elimination.
  4. Most importantly, it acts as an immune surveillance system of the body.

Let us try to understand these functions briefly. At the tissue level, the arteries divide into smaller arterioles and further smaller capillaries that have really thin walls. As a result, a lot of plasma and along with it many proteins and hormones move out of the capillaries into the space between the tissues, and together it becomes interstitial fluid. Since red blood cells (RBCs) are comparatively larger in size than these proteins and hormones, they cannot escape the capillaries. This is the reason why interstitial fluid and lymph are colourless and not red like blood. Now, there needs to be a mechanism to move this extra fluid back into the bloodstream, or else it will cause the body to swell up. Also, the proteins and hormones need to be moved back into the bloodstream so that they can be transported to the organs where they are required. This is achieved with the help of the lymphatic system. The interstitial fluid enters the lymphatic vessels to become lymph. The lymph is then transported via the lymphatics from all over the body. Through the lymphatics, the lymph reaches certain structures called lymphatic ducts, which are two in number, namely the right lymphatic duct and the thoracic duct (which is the largest lymphatic duct in the body). These ducts have openings in the major veins of the body and through these openings, the lymph enters the venous system and becomes a part of the blood. The blood then further enters the heart so that it can be pumped throughout the body along with the proteins and hormones.

In a similar fashion, the lymph also carries toxins and other harmful substances along with it into the blood circulation, and from there these harmful substances enter organs such as the liver and kidney for detoxification and elimination. This function of the lymphatic system is what helps to clear and purify the skin.

The lymphatic system also acts as an immune surveillance system of our body. The lymph flowing in the lymphatics carries along with it any bacteria, or pathogen that might have entered the body. The lymphatic system consists of small bean-shaped structures called lymph nodes which are actually aggregations of lymphoid tissue. These lymph nodes are rich in lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell or WBC) and certain special immune cells called macrophages and dendritic cells. Thus, a lymph node acts as the first-line defense system of the body. When circulating lymph, carrying any bacteria or pathogen passes through a lymph node, it is detected by the dendritic cells, and in response to it, the lymphocytes produce antibodies against it, which results in the destruction of the bacteria or pathogen. The lymphocytes also produce memory cells, which help protect the body from future attacks by the same pathogen.

In this way, the lymphatic system forms an integral part of the immune system of the body as well as complements the circulatory system.

How is the lymphatic system associated with skin health?

As mentioned above, the lymphatic system plays a crucial role in the elimination of pathogens, toxins, and other harmful substances from the body. This ensures that the pathway to deliver oxygen and nutrients and to hydrate the cells is clear and fully functional. The ability of the skin to remain hydrated depends to a great extent on the lymphatic system. If the lymphatic system is not functioning properly, or if the lymph is not flowing freely, it may lead to acne, a decrease in skin elasticity, premature ageing, and dull, dehydrated, flakey-looking skin texture that lacks glow. The lymphatic system might become clogged or sluggish and less efficient if there is a high level of toxicity in the body. This will cause the lymph to become thick with toxins and cause hindrance to its free flow. This hindrance to the flow of lymph will in turn hamper the rate of cell renewal and repair. When the flow is obstructed, a cell might become poisoned by its own waste and lead to conditions like acne and skin rashes such as psoriasis and eczema. Coupled with a slow cell repair and renewal process, this will pour cold water on your desire to have a spotless, and healthy skin. Hence, it is correct to say that a properly functioning lymphatic system is absolutely vital for your skin health, but sadly, it is also the most ignored and overlooked factor.

How to care for your lymphatic system so as to achieve healthy skin?

Luckily, there are certain things that you can do to improve your lymphatic drainage and ensure that your lymphatic system is healthy and functional.

1.Exercise:

Unlike your cardiovascular system, which consists of the heart that pumps blood throughout the body, the lymphatic system is devoid of any pump. The best way to make sure that your lymph is flowing freely is to exercise as the contraction of your muscles stimulates the flow of lymph. The exercise does not need to be very strenuous, just walking or jogging for 30-60 minutes is sufficient for improved lymph flow. In addition to that, there are certain specific exercises that you can perform as well; 

  1. Sitting Glute Exercise: You will need to loop around a resistance band around your calves while sitting on a chair. Then you move your legs outwards against the resistance and while maintaining the resistance, you lift and lower your heels alternatively.
  2. Calf Raises: As you stand straight, you try to lift your body upwards while pushing the floor with your toes.
  3. Breathing Squats: Exhale slowly while squatting down and inhale deeply while standing up and raising your arms.
  4. Belly Breathing: Lie on your back and lift your legs against a wall. Now, with your chin tucked in, slowly inhale into your belly so that it rises while inhalation and then slowly exhale to bring your belly to rest.

2.Stay hydrated:

Drinking 2-3 litres of water per day has many health benefits in addition to a healthy lymphatic system. The more hydrated you are, the better is the lymph flow, and the more natural and glowing your skin becomes. 

3.Dry Brushing:

This is an ancient technique where you can use a dry brush on your body, ideally before showering, to loosen the dead cells on your skin, which will be subsequently washed off while showering. The dry brush should have stiff bristles that are not very hard. You should apply mild but firm pressure that should be sufficient to loosen the dead skin cells but should not cause any pain or irritation to the skin.

4.Correct Your Posture:

A correct body posture not only keeps your back pain in check but also ensures that the lymph in your body flows freely without hindrance.

5.Lymphatic Massage:

The principle behind lymphatic massage is similar to dry brushing, just that it is performed by a professional massage therapist.

6.Face Exercises:

You can also do some simple face exercises to improve lymphatic drainage of your face. Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight. Then using your palms, gently apply pressure on your face, starting from the forehead and stretch your skin downwards towards your neck (where the lymph nodes lie). Be careful around the nose and eyes, and make sure you don’t apply too much pressure. These face exercises can prove really beneficial in obtaining a clear, and naturally glowing face.

Most of the times when we suffer from skin conditions like acne, we keep applying topical treatments, like creams and ointments, but the results are extremely slow and short lived. Acne and other skin problems affect our self confidence and sadly, we struggle to find a genuine solution, sometimes for years. Hence, it must be kept in mind that there is always a possibility that your skin problems or acne are actually linked to a poor flow of your lymph and no medicines or ointments will be able to fix that. It must also be clear by now that it doesn’t take much to care for your lymphatic system. So don’t overlook this extremely important system of your body. Instead of going back to your doctor again and again for years, maybe it’s time for you to start doing simple lymphatic exercises, work on your posture, and stay hydrated. This can do wonders for your skin! It’s time you start considering healing and rejuvenating your skin from within.This sounds like a very simple solution to a complex problem, but it really works!

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