Maintaining Practicing

What Is “Gua Sha”? (And should you do it…)

gua sha

Gua sha, now a popular self-care trend and frequently trending Instagram hashtag, began in ancient Chinese culture as a medicinal practice thought to relieve tensions and combat seasonal diseases. The term literally translates to ‘scrapping’ and traditionally involved hardened knuckles, fingernails, and soup spoons scraped across the skin causing light bruising. The hashtag, however, is filled with pictures of glowing faces and elegant tools made of jade, rose quartz, and polished stones. So how does the new face of Gua Sha differ from the traditional practice? And what are the benefits of adding it to your skincare routine?

Ancient Chinese Practice

In Chinese tradition, energy (known as “Chi” or “Qi”) needs to be balanced and flowing freely through the body for optimal health and wellbeing. Blocked Chi can cause pain and muscle tension. Traditional Gua Sha practice runs a tool across the skin in long strokes, applying considerable pressure, to move blocked energy and relief aches and stiffness. Because it involves pressing and scraping the skin, capillaries near the surface of the skin can burst and result in red marks, bruising, and even minor bleeding, which disappears with a couple of days.

Modern Wellness Fad

Much like Chinese acupuncture, the practice made its way to the West. Some professional technicians use versions of traditional Gua Sha to provide a deep massage and treat various conditions. After massage oil is applied to the body, the skin is scraped with a smooth-edged tool to stimulate the microcirculation of the soft tissue and increase blood flow to the area. This can help to reduce inflammation and so is often used to treat conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and muscle and joint pain.

But, as you’ll see on social media, Gua Sha now predominantly refers to a luxurious facial routine. It differs from acupuncture and traditional Gua Sha as it can be done by anyone, anywhere, without the need for qualification.  Less vigorous and medicinal than its origins, modern facial Gua Sha is a soothing and meditative practice.

How to use a Gua Sha facial tool

The modern facial treatment can be performed at home with a flat Gua Sha tool, which can be purchased online or in health and beauty stores. Starting at the neck and working up to the forehead, the tool is stroked over the skin in upward and outward movements. Once the skin is prepped with facial oil, the tool is stroked up the neck, pressed gently against the under eyes and brow bones, and stroked up from the brow bone to the hairline.  As it uses a much lighter hand than traditional practices, instead of bruising the result is a refreshed, de-puffed, and contoured face.

What does Gua Sha do?

Facial Gua Sha is believed to relieve tensions in muscles around the face, helping you relax your jaw, unfurrow your brow, and decrease the appearance of wrinkles. Acting like a mini face workout, it is thought to increase blood flow to the area and promote lymphatic drainage. In turn, this may reduce inflammation and puffiness, and make your skin appear more contoured and youthful. That being said, the benefits if Gua Sha tools have not been clinically studied, and when performed with too heavy a hand, may result in redness and bruising.

So should you Gua Sha? The popularity of the practice seems to suggest a gentle scraping is worth a shot.

-Heather Grant

Photo of Gua Sha tool by Content Pixie on Unsplash

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