What is gua sha?
Facial Gua Sha has become a popular social media and TikTok trend where people use flat jade or rose quartz stones on their faces to smooth their skin. While this may be a modern adaptation, Gua Sha is actually an ancient Chinese treatment approach to chronic pain. Trained professionals use massage oil and a tool, commonly referred to as a “gua massage tool” to scrape or stroke your skin to release toxins, reduce headaches, and improve blood circulation.
It’s believed this technique helps with the breakdown of scar tissue, and some think that it helps with a person’s qi (chi).
The history of gua sha
The term “Gua Sha” originates from the Chinese word for “scraping.” This is the manner in which a technician will perform Gua Sha, through scraping, smoothing, and stroking motions. While the term Gua Sha may have developed more recently, the practice itself has been used for centuries.
In the mid-1970s, an American acupuncturist named Arya Nielson learned about Gua Sha and then published a book in 1995 that taught others how to do it. She was taught by a Chinese doctor named James Tin Yao So.
What is qi (chi)?
Qi or chi (pronounced “chee”) in Traditional Chinese Medicine is considered the energy that flows through the body. The dictionary definition of qi is, “the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine.” Some say that without addressing this energy, it can lead to inflammation in the body.
Qi is broken up into two distinct parts often related to the yin-yang concept. The first aspect of qi is the external intake of air, food, and water, while the other part is internal and the energy flowing through the body. Here’s a picture that helps portray the differences:
When doing treatments like Gua Sha or acupuncture, the purpose of these is to move the qi around in our bodies to make it more balanced and make us healthier.
Good (balanced) – If your qi is balanced, you are likely healthy and get a great amount of sleep and nutrition. You may get over illnesses quickly or rarely get sick at all. You probably make good decisions for your physical and mental health. Maybe you’re already getting acupuncture or Gua Sha, as these are great ways to balance your qi.
Deficient (unbalanced) – Essentially being deficient in qi is having a lack of energy. This can happen when you’re not eating an overall healthy diet or not exercising regularly. Some of the symptoms of this could include:
- Digestive issues
- Get sick easily (sometimes with difficulty recovering quickly)
- Bloating and cramping
- Weight fluctuation
Too much qi – If you have an excess of qi, then you likely have built up energy. You may show signs of irritability and stress and it can even manifest as high blood pressure. As previously mentioned, Gua Sha can help push the excess qi around to restore its balance.
What conditions does Gua Sha help treat?
Here are just some of the conditions that Gua Sha can help with:
- Neck pain
- Muscle and joint pain
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Hepatitis B
- Perimenopausal symptoms
Studies are still being conducted as to the specifics of each condition and whether Gua Sha helps over long periods of time or only provides temporary relief. Similarly, to massage therapy, some people may feel that it helps immediately, some may feel better after a few days, and some may have to keep going back for regular sessions.
Are there risks associated with gua sha?
As with any treatment (natural or otherwise), everyone reacts differently. The motions can create rash-like redness or spots on your skin called petechia, and they should go away. Of course, there is always the risk of causing damage to your skin especially if it’s sensitive.
You should use gentle to firm pressure, depending on what you’re comfortable with, but the harder the pressure, the higher the chances are of you bruising or getting small indentations. These should be temporary, but again everyone reacts differently. If nothing else, you will probably be sore and tender for a few days, similar to how you might feel after a deep tissue massage.
One specific thing to note, however, is that if you take medicine for blood clots, you shouldn’t do Gua Sha. Plus, you should always consult your healthcare provider prior to starting any new treatments anyway.
What are the benefits of Gua Sha?
Studies have shown that Gua Sha can be extremely beneficial, especially when paired with other forms of alternative treatment such as acupuncture, massage, and other naturopathy. One of the most well-known benefits of Gua Sha is chronic pain relief. It helps increase blood flow while breaking up scars and connective tissue, and it can also reduce toxins in the body.
As previously mentioned, the social media trend of facial Gua Sha is used to reduce facial puffiness, inflammation, and smooth wrinkles. Many people keep their tools in the freezer so it’s cold when they use it, which supposedly helps with clearer skin, and puffiness over time.
Why did I try Gua Sha?
Well, there are all the beneficial reasons listed above, like anti-aging, and less puffiness–but I’m specifically starting this routine target tightness and to (hopefully) help shape my jawline . I’m in my 30s, and as we age and lose collagen our skin starts to sag and droop. We also retain more water because we’re more dehydrated—hence the puffiness. I don’t think Gua Sha will be a miracle holistic skin tightening treatment, but I’m hoping to make some significant progress. I’d like to put off more invasive treatments for as long as I can—so let the glow up begin.
What tools did I use?
To get started with Gua Sha you need to choose a tool for shaping. I used this tool from Amazon-it was only 9 bucks, so pretty cheap. I’ve read you can even use your hands, but this tool makes shaping pretty easy. You also need to choose a topical ointment to help the tool (or your hands) slide across your skin smoothly. I initially used aloe vera gel which was cold, dried quickly, and a little messy. I’ve since switched to sweet almond oil which has been a game changer. Everything I hated about using aloe vera, I avoid with sweet almond oil.
What was my process?
To get the best results I decided to gua sha at least twice a day—once in the morning/afternoon and once in the evening for two weeks. I did each side, shaping my cheek and jawline 40 times-80 times total on each side. And then I moved to my temple to smooth for 40 times. Since my target is my lower face and neck I focused on those area.
My results, before and after:
Here are my results after 2 weeks of consistency. In both photos I am not wearing makeup and there was absolutely no editing done. I also took the photos in the same room at the same time of day.
What do you think? My skin looks and feels a little tighter and my face looks slimmer, at least to me. My jawline is also more pronounced and looks sharper ?. I also think I look a bit younger, more alive, and less puffy. I did notice a few more breakouts than usual, and this could be because I used a natural, bacteria ridden stone ?. I just purchased a stainless steel stone though, so hopefully that helps. Acne aside, this routine worked well for me, especially for my jawline ??♀️.
Continuing on my Gua Sha journey:
Because my initial 2 week results were good I plan to continue doing gua sha. I am curious to see what kind of results I’ll get if I also improve other aspects of my routine. I think improving my overall physical and mental health will help me achieve better anti-aging and skin tightening results. My plan for continuing is:
- Use a stainless steel tool to avoid spreading bacteria and acne
- Focus on improving other habits in my routine that could contribute to premature aging
- Make sure to drink lots of water, drink tea with ginger, to eat cleaner from my home, and to have green smoothies at least 5 times a week
- Focus on getting 8-10 hours of rest each night, sleeping in complete darkness
- I think weightlifting tightens the skin in your face, i’m not certain, but I want to focus on lifting at least 4 times a week and focus on fat loss
- Focus on stressing less though meditation, journaling, and not letting things affect me
- Look at my screens less and spend more time away from my phone and laptop. Constantly looking down probably contributes to sagging, and we want to avoid that.
My plan is to do this routine for the next 30 days and come back with an update so stay tuned!
Do I recommend Gua Sha?
I absolutely recommend trying it if you’d like to see similar results. I was really impressed and surprised with my results which is why I plan to continue. Definitely give it a try and good luck with your routine!