Before Gua Sha (pronounced gwā sā) appeared in the global beauty scene, it was utilised exclusively by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, who applied Gua Sha as one of multiple TCM massage techniques to alleviate diseases and painful conditions of the body. These days you see Gua Sha advertised as beautiful handheld tools designed to be used on the face. We’ll share the differences between the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach and the beauty approach to Gua Sha, and how to use the beauty tool correctly to get glowing results.
The Original Gua Sha— Applied to Your Body by a Practitioner
From Mandarin, “Gua” can be roughly translated into English as scraping while “Sha” describes "sand", the toxins of the body that needed to be released. Gua Sha is an ancient Chinese technique within the Traditional Chinese Medicine framework. Patients obtain Gua Sha treatments to deal with chronic pain, inflammation, and a variety of other symptoms, at the discretion of their practitioner.
In Traditional Chinese Gua Sha, the operator of the Gua Sha tool uses the strength of their wrist and arm to “scrape” the body using a tool. Tools are Gua Sha boards (made of buffalo horns), coins or ceramic spoons. The area chosen for treatment is determined through knowledge of the “Qi” channels in the body by the practitioner, energy meridians that, if flowing freely, lead to a healthy and alert body. When one is ill, the Qi meridians are blocked, leading to the body’s sluggish recovery and inability to self-heal. Healing occurs when the Gua Sha stimulates the immune system, breaks up scar tissue, reintroduces blood flow to the area, and more.
In the TCM application of Gua Sha, red marks like petechia (minor bleeding from broken capillary blood vessels) can appear on the body. These effects are documented and studied in the Traditional Chinese Medicine framework and practitioners are trained in the evaluation of the patient to ensure positive patient health outcomes. However, the physical nature of this treatment designates that TCM Gua Sha is not right for everyone. Those with open wounds, bleeding disorders, fractures, allergies, infectious diseases should avoid it. It is also not suggested for menopausal women, pregnant women, the elderly and frail, or people with strong fears or allergies to scraping. After a Gua Sha treatment, care should be taken to avoid stresses on the body, and patients should rest and heal.
In ancient times, Gua Sha was originally used for two conditions: the abrupt, immediate, sudden collapse of the body from heatstroke and seasonal diseases like a cold or virus. Over time, the facial beauty effects of Gua Sha were discovered. As patients’ bodies gained renewed vitality, it was reflected in the face— with clarified complexions, reduced appearance of wrinkles, and a healthy glow— especially if Gua Sha was used in the face or neck region.
The Gua Sha You Covet— A Beauty Tool for the Face You Can Use
Constructed of stones like rose quartz, obsidian or jade, modern Gua Sha tools are like a “gentle” cousin of the original Gua Sha.
Gua Sha can be used to decrease facial puffiness, rejuvenate the complexion, improve blood flow, reduce stress, relax tense muscles, improve lymphatic drainage, boost skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Beauty Gua Sha tools are meant to be used on the face, neck, arms and upper back, in a very gentle motion that does not induce petechiae, those small broken capillaries. Unlike the TCM version, the beauty Gua Sha can be used by you on yourself anytime and anywhere. To get the best results out of the Gua Sha in your beauty routine, it’s important to know a few fundamentals.
How to Do Gua Sha Right
Buy a real stone Gua Sha. To be effective, your facial Gua Sha tool should be made from real stone. There are many Gua Shas out there, and some of them are made of fake stone. Plastic is easily moulded into the appearance of rose quartz or jade. Fake Gua Shas are light in weight, may contain air bubbles within the “stone” part of the tool, and fragile. For roller-type Gua Shas, check the frame. Wobbly frames are a hint that the roller is supporting a plastic attachment because the true stone is heavy and would never be mounted on a cheap frame. Furthermore, frames should be rustproof. Your Gua Sha needs to be cleaned before use and the frame should not become affected by moisture. Plastic Gua Sha tools are unstable and can become unhygienic. Some companies prey on uninformed consumers and may not even bother listing the materials used in the design of its Gua Sha. If it is listed for an unbelievably cheap price, exercise caution and research the components used in the Gua Sha’s manufacture.
Yang Face, founded by Dr. Paige Yang, a certified Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, sells only pure stone Gua Sha tools with rust-proof frames.
Learn how to use it properly. With improper use, skin damage can occur and cause unsightly bruises across the cheekbone that you were hoping to brighten. Always glide with the Gua Sha tool, rather than push or mash into the body.
As part of Yang Face, Dr. Paige provides videos on the correct way to use Gua Sha. She describes the flow, pressure points to address, and do’s and don’ts.
Avoid using over damaged areas of the skin. Body parts suffering from cuts, scrapes, burns, irritated skin, open sore, and more are not a candidate for Gua Sha.
Clean the Gua Sha. Before scraping, use at least 75% alcohol to disinfect the tool and ensure you have washed your hands with soap.
Know when Gua Sha tools should be used with oil or balms. Each tool has a different amount of friction it will apply to the skin. Most Gua Sha types benefit from the application of a small amount of oil to the skin before using the tool. If you have skin that tends to be oily, be thoughtful about the quantity and frequency of oil applied when doing Gua Sha, and ensure that you cleanse the oil after a Gua Sha session. Roller Gua Sha and heart-shaped Gua Sha tools can be used without oil— but remember to be mindful of the force you are using when applying it to the body. When in doubt, follow the guidance of a certified Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner.
Since Gua Sha became popular in beauty regimes, its origins have largely been forgotten or misunderstood. When using the Gua Sha, it is important to keep in mind that it belongs to a health tradition lasting thousands of years. Be curious, stay informed, and give credit to where it belongs.
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Sun, M. F. (n.d.). Is Gua Sha only effective when the red streaks show? How often can I Gua Sha? Answers from the The Dean of the School of Chinese Medicine of the University of Chinese Medicine. (Original language of source: Mandarin Chinese). https://health.gvm.com.tw/article/69181
Jin, M. (2020, April 10). Why Gua Sha Is the Original Form of At-Home Self-Care. Vogue. https://www.vogue.com/article/gua-sha-history-at-home-self-care