We all seem to be on the never-ending quest for youthful, beautiful skin. So if you’re anything like us (obsessive) you’ve undoubtedly come across Gua Sha. But what is it exactly? Is it a tool? Is it a practice? What is it supposed to do? Are there any side effects? So. Many. Questions. The good news is, we’ve got all your answers right here to help you become a full-on Gua Sha guru in no time.
What is Gua Sha?
The name Gua Sha (pronounced gwah-shah) comes from the Chinese word for “scraping” which is why you may have also heard the practice referred to as skin scraping, spooning or coining. At its most basic level, Gua Sha is the practice of using a tool to apply pressure and “scrape” the skin to relieve pain, tension and stress. The action itself actually causes light bruising, purple or red spots known as ‘sha’.
Where Does Gua Sha Come From?
Though the tools used nowadays are new, the practice of Gua Sha is old school, dating all the way back to the Paleolithic Age (or The Stone Age). In those times, when people experienced pains and ailments, they used stones to rub parts of their bodies to help alleviate symptoms.
However, Gua Sha really began to take its shape in the modern world through Chinese medicine, having been written into major medical records during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In that time, Gua Sha was traditionally used by medical practitioners to literally “scrape away” everything from chronic pain to inflammation (which makes a lot of sense if you understand the foundation of traditional Chinese medical practices).
They believed that qi (or chi) is energy that flows through our bodies and that a person’s qi must be balanced and free-flowing in order for it to live its healthiest life. If your qi was considered stagnant, they believed it was the source of inflammation, and by rubbing the skin’s surface, they would be able to break up that negative energy, reduce inflammation and promote healing.
Body Versus Facial Gua Sha: What’s the Difference?
Traditional full-body Gua Sha is more like a deep-deep tissue sports massage – but one that can make for some pretty scary-looking results. If you’re familiar with cupping (and the abundance of bruising and redness that goes with it), the after-effects are quite similar and can take anywhere from a few days to a week to clear. Body Gua Sha is best known for helping those who are suffering from chronic neck and back pain as well as poor blood circulation.
The type of Gua Sha we’re talking about in this article, the kind specifically for the face, is far more manageable. It’s also the one responsible for recent surge in popularity within the beauty world. The tools offered for facial Gua Sha are far gentler than the full-body variety, still boasting the same beauty benefits, but on a simpler and more skin-friendly scale.
What Are the Benefits?
This easy to DIY beauty treatment blends the best of both beauty and essential self-care – and for very good reason. Have a look at the many benefits you may experience from making Gua Sha a part of your regular routine.
Gua Sha and Anti-Aging
As we’ve heard time and again from the science world, stimulating blood flow does wonders for the skin. One particularly awesome effect of performing facial Gua Sha is that it can help increase collagen by way of encouraging blood circulation. Because our collagen stores decrease as we get older, we need all the help we can get to ward off the look of aged skin. More collagen = plumpness.
Gua Sha and Detoxification
Facial Gua Sha is a fantastic way to guide lymphatic drainage out of the face and down the neck. Not only does it help move away the toxins and impurities, it can also help with the skin’s appearance (more on that in just a minute!).
Gua Sha and the Eyes
People who practice Gua Sha regularly have reported they look more revived and awake. It helps drain droopy, puffy or hooded eyelids while releasing tension between the brows, creating a more “uplifted” look.
Gua Sha and Slimming Effects
One of the most sought-after beauty benefits of Gua Sha is its ability to de-puff the face. How? This goes back to the lymphatic drainage we were talking about earlier. As lymph fluid drains out of the face and neck, your face appears a little less puffy and a little more sculpted. Win-win.
Gua Sha and Acne
Can it really help with acne? Because Gua Sha works in conjunction with the top layer of skin and the dermal layers underneath, it may be able to help clear chronic blackheads and whiteheads. Though this is one area you’ll need to tread lightly as a Gua Sha practice will aggravate already inflamed skin, so it’s definitely not recommended for skin that is currently dealing with a breakout.
Gua Sha and Stress
Anything that takes on the form of a massage is excellent for stress relief. Not only does it get the blood pumping, it relieves muscle strain and tension in our face (which is bad news for wrinkles!). So by giving your face a little TLC, you’ll continue looking like a stress-free PYT.
Gua Sha and Fine Lines
You know those “number 1s” or “elevens” in between your brows that you don’t dig? Gua Sha can also help with those bad boys too. Again, this has to do with the increase in blood flow and the ability to restore a little firmness and elasticity to the area (helping make those pesky wrinkles less visible!).
Gua Sha and Complexion
We all want that glow something fierce. It’s one of the biggest beauty quests out there. And guess what? It’s also a major benefit to performing this ritual. Aside from improving the actual function of the skin, Gua Sha can help strengthen, lift and tone. And with the blood circulating as it should, you’ve paved the way for that fresh-faced glow we’re all after.
Gua Sha and Mediation
Another great benefit to giving yourself a Gua Sha facial, is that the act itself can be very relaxing and meditative. Especially if you try to stay mindful and in the moment while performing it.
What Are the Side Effects?
When you think skin-soothing treatment, you’re likely expecting just that. But when you start any kind of facial regimen, you can compare to drudging up muck from the bottom of a lake. And that can bring some of these unfortunate, yet minor, side effects (but you know what they say when it comes to beauty: no pain, no gain!)
Breakouts – These are pretty common, especially when you’re in the process of bringing up toxins and impurities from underneath the skin. If you start to notice breakouts after a few consecutive days, try focusing on downward strokes moving from the jaw to the clavicle to assist with lymphatic drainage.
Redness and Inflammation – This is another super common side effect of Gua Sha, especially in the beginning. You can totally calm down inflammation and redness by placing an ice pack on the affected area for a few minutes and repeating as necessary.
Bruising – This one is not all that common with facial Gua Sha but if it does happen, you’ll likely experience some swelling, tenderness or pain in the area. If this happens, you should take a look at your technique and make sure you’re not pressing too hard.
How Do You Use Gua Sha For Face Slimming?
When it comes to reasons to practice Gua Sha, this one is at the top of the list. Here’s a step-by-step guide to using the practice for facial slimming, with two different techniques: one using the larger side of the tool and the other with the smaller side. Before getting started, ensure that you apply a face mist and a few drops of your favourite facial oil to ensure your Gua Sha tool glides along the skin as it should. (Not sure of which kind of facial oil to use? We’ll take a look at that a little later in the article.)
Technique #1 – Using the larger side
Step 1: Starting at the eyebrow, gently start scraping from the inside out, all along the top of the eyebrow all the way to the temples. Repeat 2-3 times per side.
Step 2: Gently move your Gua Sha stone in small circles from the side of the nose to the top of the slope and then over to just below the temple.
Step 3: Repeat the same circular motion from the corner of the mouth up to the bottom of the cheekbone. Repeat 1-2 times on each side.
Step 4: Then from the chin, gently scrap in small circles up along the top of the jawbone to the front of the ear lobe. Repeat 1-2 times on each side.
Step 5: Last but not least, go back to the eyebrow and move the tool along the side of the bridge of the nose, from top to bottom in small circles. Repeat 1-2 times on each side.
Technique #2 – Using the smaller side
Step 1: The small corner of your tool is used to gently scrape the face to help relieve headaches as well as massage those hard-at-work chewing muscles. So starting from the top, scrape your way down. Repeat 5 times on each side of the face.
Step 2: Next move the tool from the bottom of the temples to the height of the earlobes. Repeat 5 times on each side of the face.
Step 3: Now, move from bottom to top, lightly scraping the skin under ear lymph glands. Repeat 5 times on each side of the face.
Step 4: Finally, head on over to the lower jawline and move up the tool towards the earlobe. Repeat 5 times on each side.
How Do You Use Gua Sha For TMJ disorders
If you suffer from the discomfort of a disorder associated with TMJ, or temporomandibular joint (a fancy term for the joint that opens and closes the jaw), Gua Sha may be able to help.
Step 1: Using the smaller side of the tool and starting at the chin area, move the tool under the jawbone, slowly scraping across to the back of the jawline, while anchoring the skin with the thumb of your opposite hand. If you encounter any knots, breathe into them and move slowly as this can encourage a release. Repeat 2 times on each side.
Step 2: Now from the side of the nose, move the tool underneath the cheekbone towards your earlobes. Repeat 2 times on each side.
Step 3: Move the tool down the jawbone and between the cheek and the jawbone, letting the jaw open if it wants to do so naturally. Repeat 2 times on each side.
Step 4: Now make small, circular motions massaging the jaw muscle, giving the area much-needed relief from all the chewing, clenching and teeth-grinding it has to deal with on the daily.
When Should You Gua Sha?
That totally comes down to your personal preference. Some want to reap the immediate effects of Gua Sha in the morning so they incorporate the routine into their morning shower. Others prefer doing it in the evening so their skin has time to calm down. Either way works, you just need to make sure you’re following procedure (Read: don’t forget the oil!).
What Kind of Gua Sha Tool is Best For You?
When it comes to creating a masterpiece, it’s all in the tool. Stone quality, design and craftsmanship truly do matter when you’re choosing the right tool for you.
Shape – At the end of the day, you should choose the tool you’re most drawn to as there’s no one model that works best. Just make sure it’s carved with smooth curves, and rounded knobs. Anything with edges that are too sharp will end up doing more harm than good.
Type of Stone – When it comes to choosing your crystal, the same mentality should apply (because there are a lot of them!). Something else that may help you decide? Each stone is known for its different healing properties so you may want to choose the one that speaks to your needs.
- Rose quartz: Said to be the crystal of unconditional self-love, this feel-good stone opens the heart chakra and promotes compassion, tenderness, forgiveness and comfort from within.
- Jade: This naturally cool stone soothes inflammation and is said to give off a qi energy similar to the human body’s energy, while promoting strength and balance.
- Amethyst: A naturally healing stone, amethyst is all about purity and is known for its protective and healing effect on the body and soul.
- Tiger’s eye: Known as the protective healer, it’s been said that Tiger’s Eye is deeply rooted in the Earth’s energy providing grounding stability when we need it most.
Size – When you practice Gua Sha on the regular, you’ll find that your hands and fingers can get tight and sore from holding onto the tool. Though a smaller tool may be most desirable, a longer tool will be easier to hold (as it will have more of a handle).
What Products Should You Use With It?
Before you put your tool to work, you’ll want to prep the skin first. Start with a generous spray of your favourite facial mist and a few drops of face oil to help move things along with the greatest of ease. When it comes to choosing the right product for your skin, consider your skin type and act accordingly. If you don’t have a favourite and are on the hunt for a good one, here are a few ingredients to consider based on skin type:
For Normal Skin: You don’t have to worry so much about getting clogged pores, dryness or irritation, making your skin type the easiest to find an oil for. Keep an eye out for ingredients like argan oil or retinol oil.
For Oily Skin: People with oilier skin produce more sebum than normal, meaning you don’t need any extra contributions in that department. Look for products with peppermint oil or grapeseed oil, both known for their astringent properties and ability to help regulate your skin’s sebum production.
For Dry Skin: For those who have skin on the drier side, yours produces less sebum than normal skin, which can result in cracking and peeling (not an ideal palette for Gua Sha!). Reach out for face oils with marula, almond or avocado.
For Combination Skin: This uneven skin type calls for an oil that can adapt to whatever it comes in contact with. Ingredients like jojoba for its antioxidant powers or flaxseed oil for its ability to keep skin healthy and hydrated is what you should be looking out for.
Who Should Avoid Performing Gua Sha?
As with every beauty regimen, Gua Sha is definitely not for everyone. You’ll want to avoid this practice if you:
- Have medical conditions that affect your veins and skin
- Bleed easily
- Have a wound, infection or severe acne that has not healed completely
- Take blood thinners
For those who are pregnant, nursing or have medical condition or are currently taking medication, it’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider to make sure Gua Sha is ok to practice.
The Gua Sha Dos and Don’ts
Almost ready to get started? To make sure you’re reaping all the right benefits here’s a little cheat sheet with the dos and the don’ts to keep handy as you begin the process.
DO your homework to make sure you pick the best tool for you.
DO prep your skin with a little light cream or oil to ensure that the Gua Sha tool glides gently across the face.
DO apply light pressure when using the Gua Sha tool and make each pass consistent.
DO make sure you hold onto the tool at a 15-30 degree angle slanted against the face.
DO make sure you end each stroke with a little wiggle to ensure proper lymphatic drainage.
DO clean your tool after every use to ensure you’re not spreading bacteria across your face the next time.
DON’T choose a tool with edges that are too sharp as it can lead to micro-abrasions (and potentially infection).
DON’T panic if you see bruising or redness, as it is a known side effect of the practice.
DON’T use the tool if you feel extreme pain or discomfort.
DON’T push so hard that you break the skin, as it can cause infection.
DON’T try this at home if you have a medical condition that affects your blood circulation.
DON’T touch your face afterwards, as it will be very sensitive and susceptible to infection.
And that’s that.
Now you know pretty much everything there is to know about the wellness wonder that is Gua Sha. From relieving tension to boosting blood flow to helping solve a number of skin ailments, the benefits of this ancient practice seem to far outweigh the potentially mild side effects. And while practicing Gua Sha is safe to do everyday, you definitely don’t have to it on the daily in order to start reaping the many benefits that come along with it.