How to Conduct a Spa-Like Facial Massage and Lymphatic Drainage at Home
Wake up your skin with these esthetician massage techniques.
With so much of the country still on lockdown and restrictions for cosmetic procedures and treatments in place, a lot of us beauty lovers are really missing one thing in particular: Facials. Personally, I'm used to treating myself to at least one a month (more if I have special events or something fancy to prep for), and they're probably the one beauty treatment I miss most from pre-COVID life. There's something so relaxing and indulgent about facials, from the deep cleanse, to the extractions, to the mask, but most all, the facial massage.
Nothing can quite compare to the way a skilled esthetician massages your face. The way they're able to work out all of the tension in your jaw, forehead, and scalp is something to be celebrated, and you feel both relaxed and sculpted after a really successful facial. And while nothing can compare to the real thing—most estheticians are keeping their practices closed in order to keep both themselves and their clients safe—there are ways for you to treat yourself at home.
I consulted three renowned Los Angeles-based estheticians for their best techniques for massaging your own face at home. Take a look at some wise words from Shani Darden, founder of Shani Darden Skin Care and facialist of famous faces like Jessica Alba and Shay Mitchell, among others; Aziel Rodgers, lead esthetician at The Things We Do; and Yolanda "Yoli" Mata, resident esthetician for Tatcha, whose clients include Desi Perkins, Patrick Starrr, and many other notable people in the YouTuber and influencer space.
What is a lymphatic drainage facial massage?
As the name suggests, lymphatic drainage is the process of "draining" fluid from your lymph nodes using massage techniques. This gentle massage targets the lymph nodes and drains away toxins, encouraging your lymphatic system to deliver fresh nutrients to your cells. The result is a more sculpted jawline, depuffed face, and glowing complexion that can help with improved firmness, lack of sallowness, and plumpness over time.
A good facial massage starts with your tools
Depending on what kind of effect you want, you can try out different facial massage rollers and tools.
However, Mata primarily uses her hands to encourage lymphatic drainage, hitting all of the pressure points in the face to release fluid build-up. She spends an extended amount of time using her giftedly double-jointed fingers to sculpt out the contours of the face, especially under the cheekbones, around the jaw, and around the brow bone. For more targeted pressure, she uses tapered tools like the Tatcha Akari Gold Massager ($195; violetgrey.com), which pinpoints spots like the temples and jaw hinge.
Rodgers incorporates a few different types of rollers and massage tools into her facials, completely dependent on what the client needs. Gua sha stones—which come in a variety of shapes, including hearts, claws, and boomerangs—"can help with lymphatic drainage, tightening, and toning." She also recommends jade rollers to help with product penetration, especially after serum application, and ice rollers when the face needs help depuffing. And of course, your hands can always be used because nothing can quite replace your touch.
Darden likes to massage the face in conjunction with a different treatment, so she uses microcurrent devices. "It uses low level electrical current to tone, tighten, and lift the face," she explains. "This helps to improve the facial contour, tone the skin, and reduce wrinkles to help you look amazing." When she does in-person facials, she usually uses microcurrent gloves because it's a more evenly dispersed, deeper treatment to treat all areas of the face; you can literally scoop up the cheek muscles for more lifted and sculpted cheekbones.
But since most people don't have microcurrent gloves of their own (and even then, it's difficult to scoop up your own cheekbones), she recommends using an at-home microcurrent device like the NuFace Trinity Facial Toning Kit ($325; dermstore.com). The device can be used daily to sculpt, lift, and stimulate the muscles in your face to promote a more youthful appearance. When Darden isn't using microcurrent in her facials, she typically massages while cleansing with just her hands, using a slippery cleanser-like Cleansing Serum ($38; sephora.com) from her eponymous line.
Your tools need a little help
While investing in great facial massage tools certainly helps, you'll need some assistance in getting the tool to glide evenly across your whole face. This is usually where a face oil comes in. Face oils not only lubricate the face properly for a facial massage, but many oils are packed with good-for-you ingredients that can further deposit nourishment into your skin's barrier. (Also keep in mind that all skin types—yes, including oilier types—can benefit from using face oil.)
Jojoba oil is the closest to your skin's natural sebum, so look for oils that contain it, like Peach & Lily's Pure Beam Luxe Oil ($39; ulta.com), which also contains squalane oil for ultimate hydration. Rodgers recommends The Things We Do's Black Currant ($64; thethingswedo.co), which helps balance, brighten, and protect the skin with a mixture of jojoba, primrose, grape seed, safflower, black currant, and vitamin E oils.
Naturally, Mata recommends Tatcha's best-selling Gold Camellia Beauty Oil ($95; sephora.com), which contains 23-karat gold and Japanese camellia oil to help treat dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, and uneven skin tone. The oil can be used on your face, as well as your hair and cuticles.
If you're on the oilier side and are apprehensive about incorporating an oil into your facial massage, use oils that are formulated to your skin type. Freck Beauty's Lil Prick Cactus Seed Dry Serum ($40; revolve.com) is made with all of the functionality of a serum but the finish of an oil. It's packed with fatty acids and a blend of oils to nourish and protect the skin, but is non-comedogenic and plays well on oilier skin types.
For people using microcurrents, a face oil is definitely not the move. Oil isn't a good conductor of electricity, and using the two together can give you undesirable results. Instead, use the gel that's compatible with your microcurrent device, like the NuFace Hydrating Leave-On Gel Primer ($48; dermstore.com). The gel contains phytomoist and hyaluronic acid to refresh and hydrate the skin, as well as properly conduct the electricity across your face.
Best techniques and practices
The main tip from all three estheticians is to work in upward and outward motions. A facial massage is meant to help lift and sculpt your face, so it's important that you don't pull down at all. Massage the skin in circular motions upward. Start at the base of the neck on the sides, which is where your arteries are. Continue to knead your skin in gentle circles upwards, towards the jaw, up the sides of the face, and around the eyes. Take care to be gentle around your eyes, as the skin is very delicate and sensitive to excessive pulling.
It's also important to keep your skin well-lubricated so that your hands and tools can easily glide across the face. Skipping can cause unnecessary pulling and lead to premature aging or deepen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
When you're massaging your own face, Mata recommends using your fingertips for more controlled pressure, while your bottom knuckles and knuckles at the top of your hand can be used to apply a deeper pressure. For example, you can use the bottom knuckles of your pointer and middle fingers to sculpt out your cheekbones and jawline, while you can use a technique called tapotement, where your fingertips gently tap your skin. Rodgers likes utilizing this technique around the eye area and forehead to stimulate the area. If you're using a gua sha tool, Rodgers also recommends using it in a back and forth "scraping" motion on fine lines and hyperpigmentation.
And voila! Once you’re done, you should be left with contoured, smoother skin. If you want to do the whole shebang and proceed with the comprehensive spa experience, here’s how to DIY an at-home facial.