What Is Gua Sha? Here’s Everything You Need To KnowOctober 25, 2023
There are many different types of facial massages out there, but only one has dominated our social media feeds in recent years. ICYMI, we’re referring to gua sha — a form of tissue manipulation derived from traditional Chinese medicine known to depuff and sculpt the face. To find out more about the self-care practice that’s got everyone buzzing lately, keep reading. We asked skincare experts how to use the ancient tool and recommended some of our favorite facial oils to pair it with.
What Is Gua Sha?
Gua sha is a massage modality that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, also known as TCM. “It involves 'scraping' a flat stone across the body or the face. Gua sha for the body involves much deeper pressure than on the face,” explains Christina Uzzardi, esthetician and founder of Cheeks+Co. The stone is smooth and has varying edges that you can glide across different parts of your face, such as your jawline, cheekbones, forehead and the contour underneath your eyes. “It is primarily used to improve lymphatic flow and to improve blood circulation,” says Dr. Usha Rajagopal, plastic surgeon and medical director of San Francisco Plastic Surgery and Laser Center. “It is best for someone who has dull skin with some puffiness.”
You can find gua sha tools made from various materials, but the two most common are jade and rose quartz. Gua sha tools are also available in a variety of sizes, so they can be used easily on the face and body.
Benefits of Using a Gua Sha
Break Down Fascia
As mentioned above, gua sha has been used for centuries as a way to massage and break down fascia, the band of connective tissue that surrounds and supports every structure in your body, from from tendons and joints to cells, nerves and muscles, per the Cleveland Clinic. Everybody has four layers of fascia: superficial, deep, visceral and parietal. In between each layer, there lies a substance called hyaluronan.
When the fascia is at its healthiest, it’s relaxed, flexible and stretches with your face and body as you move. If, however, the hyaluronan between layers of fascia dries up, the fascia becomes stiff and inflexible,which can contribute to pain and limited mobility. The Cleveland Clinic recommends keeping fascia healthy through regular stretching and physical activity, as well as restoring flexibility to the fascia with the use of massage therapy. “[Gua sha] was created as a healing method to break down tightening and restore circulation to the fascia,” adds Erica Marie Gatt, esthetician and founder of EM Skin.
On the inside, using a gua sha helps to promote blood circulation and improve lymphatic flow, which in turn will help reduce puffiness on the outside. Dr. Sheila Farhang, a board-certified dermatologist, recommends that you keep the tool flat and pull (don’t push) it gently across the skin in the direction of your lymphatic flow. “For example, if you’re using a gua sha to reduce the puffiness of a double chin, start with the tool below your chin and move it up along your jawline until you reach below your ear,” adds Elina Fedotova, a celebrity esthetician. A gua sha can also be beneficial for gently smoothing a puffy under-eye area, says Gatt.
Tone the Face
“There has been no research done in western medicine, but anecdotally, [gua sha] has been shown to help improve puffiness in the skin as well as help the skin appear a little bit leaner, toner and slim,” says Dr. Rajagopal. This can be partly attributed to gua sha’s ability to reduce fluid retention (and, as mentioned before, puffiness), leaving your bone structure looking sharper and more defined.
Ease Aches and Pains
Before gua sha became a trending facial tool on TikTok, it was primarily used in traditional Chinese medicine to encourage lymphatic drainage and break up fascia in the body. “[Gua sha] has been known to ease any muscle pain or aches, especially if it is used on the body,” says Dr. Rajagopal. In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, participants with chronic lower back pain reported lower pain intensity after just two gua sha treatments.
How to Use a Gua Sha
Fedotova suggests using a gua sha after you’ve applied your topicals, serums and creams on cleansed skin. “Not only will the products you apply help the tools run more smoothly across your skin, but the heat and increased circulation from the gua sha will help them be more efficiently absorbed into the skin,” she says.
After you’ve applied your regular skincare products, you can also add a facial oil to provide better slip for your gua sha. Gatt’s favorite facial oil for this step is the Jacqueline’s Blend - Extraordinary Face Oil for Anti-Aging. “Glide the stone lightly as flat as you can, using strokes of three in each section,” she instructs. “Start upward on your neck towards your hair line, then follow the cheekbones and jawline down the neck from the chin and nose towards the hairline down the neck; this breaks down the fascia and promotes blood circulation. You don’t have to go too hard, because the fascia is right below the skin.”
In fact, it’s very important to massage your skin gently, with only light to medium pressure. “One thing to understand is that if you put too much pressure on scraping the skin, you can actually break the tiny capillaries underneath the skin and you can get what is called telangiectasia, or tiny blood vessel capillary bursts,” explains Dr. Rajagopal. ”If that happens, it causes a small bruise that could take days to resolve.”
How Often Should You Use a Gua Sha?
Our experts agree that you can use a gua sha every day, as long as you do so gently and avoid using the tool on reactive skin. “If you’re prone to inflammatory acne, rosacea and eczema, you should be careful to avoid using the gua sha tool on irritated or compromised skin barriers,” Dr. Farhang says.
For best results, Gatt suggests using a gua sha up to twice a day, five minutes at a time. Dr. Rajagopal notes that with daily use, most people start to see improvements in their skin in as little as one week.
How to Pick the Right Gua Sha Tool For You
Different types of stone are used to make gua sha tools (each with its own therapeutic and energetic properties), and according to Fedotova, it’s essential to select the material that will best address your specific needs. “For example, if you have a cooler-toned complexion and want to add some brightness to your skin, gua sha tools made of warm-colored stones like rose quartz, jade or carnelia could help stimulate more blood flow, warming up your complexion,” Fedotova says. “Those with a red complexion should choose cooling stones like turquoise, blue or green fluorite, which can reduce inflammation.” If you’re unsure where to start, Fedotova says gua sha tools made from amethyst, green jade or clear quartz work well for all skin types.
The shape of your gua sha is another important factor to consider. “The mix of contours helps you to use your tool on different parts of your face like your jawline, cheekbones and under the eyes,” says Dr. Rajagopal. “Make sure your gua sha is made of a strong substance so that it does not break when you do your gua sha massage.”
Gua Sha Tools and Facial Oils Our Editors Love
This classic gua sha tool is available in four materials: amethyst, the stone of tranquility; black obsidian, the stone of clarity; rose quartz, the stone of love and jade, which is known as the stone of eternal youth. Gatt recommends choosing a jade stone if you struggle with puffiness, rose quartz for sensitive or redness-prone skin and obsidian if you have acne-prone skin.
This sculpting tool features three divots on one side that glide easily across the skin and make for a deeply relaxing, at-home facial massage. Reviewers rave that it helps relieve tension and leaves their skin smoother and more glowy.
If you want to target the under-eye area specifically with your gua sha tool, pick up this petite, curved option that’s made from real rose quartz. To use, the brand recommends applying your go-to eye serum or cream, then gently gliding the tool along the under-eye area, staring at the inner corner and working your way out to the temple. Finish by gently rolling above the eyelid.
This calming, non-comedogenic oil is a standout for skin that’s prone to redness, blemishes and sensitivity. It features a comforting formula made with cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil, which work together to visibly soothe stressed out skin.
Give your skin a boost of moisture and glow with this antioxidant-packed oil. Inside, you’ll find a brightening and hydrating combination of vitamin C, jojoba, moringa, squalane, prickly pear and acai, among other omega-rich superberries.
Recommended for normal to combination skin, this oil serum is exceedingly lightweight and fast-absorbing, making it great for daytime use. In addition to fatty acid-enriched rice bran oil, the formula contains intensely moisturizing jojoba and avocado oils.