I Tried Lymphatic Drainage Boots & Here's What Happened
They were all over my Instagram feed: These snow-pants-looking contraptions worn by my fellow editor friends. They had become the latest craze as they promised slimmer legs, softer skin, improved circulation, and a host of other benefits—all in an hour, all while lying down. Apparently they did this by boosting the lymphatic drainage system. After slipping them on, the pants would fill up with air with varying and roving pressure—starting at the feet, going upward. By doing this, they were "moving" the lymph fluid around the body, which is why your legs would instantly shrink and skin would feel softer. I was intrigued, to say the least.
But before I booked myself a treatment, I did a little research on the lymphatic system, as I needed a refresher myself. The lymphatic system is one of the buzzy wellness terms that gets tossed around a lot, and not always justifiably. You'll hear about it a lot with facial rollers (to drain the face's lymphatic fluid) and dry brushing (to get your body's system going in the morning).
Essentially, Marvin Singh, M.D., told mindbodygreen, the lymph is a fluid that carries white blood cells and other essentials to the tissues and recycles out the waste. It is circulated and drained through the lymphatic system, which involves capillaries, vessels, and your nodes. (Read his whole briefer here.) The problem, however, is that it doesn't have its own pump—unlike the circulatory system, which has the heart. There are a few ways you can stimulate your lymphatic drainage system. One of the best ones being exercise or just moving your body. And you can manually manipulate it through massage and rolling, too. So, where does that leave us with these trendy new treatments? Well, I tried one out.
Joanna Vargas is a celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skincare. Her line is clean, highly efficacious, and natural-leaning. (You've likely seen her work by way of Jessica Alba's and Julianne Moore's glowing skin on the red carpet.) Hers became a favorite spa by helping usher in the use of LED beds (learn about LED here). Well, she recently introduced a new treatment called the Body Booster. It's an add-on treatment that you use while getting one of her facials (I love multitasking!).
"The Body Booster is a set of slip-on padded compressed air boots that assist in lymphatic drainage and help detox the body of excess puffiness caused by stress, lack of sleep, and travel, delivering glowing skin from head to toe. It moves lymph from the feet and legs, which will get everything circulating," says Vargas. And there's been some research done on lymphatic pumps, which these boots would fall under, suggesting that they do increase1 lymphatic circulation, especially when used in conjunction with physical movement, as this study points out2.
After settling onto the facial bed, my esthetician slips on my boots that reach my upper thigh. She tells me the first half will be more focused on compression while the second will feel something like a massage. Once turned on, they start filling up with air at the bottom of my foot. Slowly the air starts filling the rest of the boot, until it hits my thigh. At that point it holds the air for a moment, before releasing and starting again at the foot. Throughout the first half, the pressure varied strength. The first wave was fairly gentle, but by the time it had hit the fifth or so, I was shocked by how tight it was getting. Now, it didn't hurt nor feel uncomfortable, but warm blanket this is not. I should note, however, it really is comparable to massages and other body treatments I've gotten that target the lymphatic system. At about the 30-minute mark, it moves to the massage portion: You know those massage chairs that you sit in while getting a mani? It's like a high-end and sophisticated version of that feeling. Yes, it feels great, but because it's not someone physically touching you, there's not as much nuance and finesse.
"I wanted the clients to be able to address whole-body wellness while they were coming in for their monthly facials," says Vargas. "While I have massage therapists who perform lymphatic drainage massage, sometimes it's easier for clients to get the body booster while they are in for their hour." Essentially: If you really have something you need to address with a massage therapist, this will not replace that. But if you just need a, well, boost, it will work.
After I slipped off the boots, part of me was expecting a whole new pair of legs. I, of course, did not have any, as this wasn't a leg transplant. And at first, I didn't notice a difference at all. For me, at least, it wasn't the instant gratification I was secretly hoping for. Then, I went about my day.
But later, when I slipped on a pair of jeans, they did feel just a bit baggier. (Was I imagining that? Perhaps.) The next day, and for a few days to come, I grew more enamored with my skin quality. I've always had somewhat dry, rough, bumpy skin that I've noticed most on my thighs; it's always made me a bit self-conscious. (Not a crazy amount, but I just didn't love the skin on my thighs, which is fine! We're all allowed to have complicated feelings about our bodies!) The only time I felt my skin this supple was when I successfully kept up with my dry brushing habit. "A stagnant lymphatic system will cause acne, breakouts, even full dry skin," Vargas tells me. After two days it felt so much better that it inspired me to pick up dry brushing again—hopefully more consistently this time.
And what I didn't notice at the time, but did a few days out, was how my legs (and even body writ large) just felt looser and less tense. My body has been a little achy and fatigued of late, but the weekend following felt a little more like normal. "Working the lymphatic system helps improve circulation, lower stress, increase relaxation, boost the immune system, improve the quality of sleep, aid in post-surgical recovery and speed up the healing process," Vargas notes of the non-aesthetic benefits. And she's not wrong: We know from tons of research that massage therapy3, whatever the form, affects our serotonin and cortisol levels. We also know it has a host of cardiovascular benefits.
In the end, if you can't or don't have access to one of these treatments, you're not at a loss. As I mentioned earlier: There are plenty of other ways to stimulate your lymphatic system, for much cheaper and in your own home. But for me, the compression boots served as a strong reminder of how little I pay attention to this vital system in my body, how much more I could be doing for it, and how much better my body feels when I am mindful of it.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.