Everything old is new again, and as we look for ancient remedies for modern health and beauty, gua sha has solid clinical evidence that the treatment not only helps with pain but with the skin as well. The name gua sha is broken in two words: gua—the tool to scrape the skin, and sha—the redness that appears from the scraping. Gua sha has been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Tools like horn, stone, and jade have been used throughout history to scrape the skin. Gua sha increases the skin’s surface micro-circulation by 400 percent. It helps with myalgia in the body, upregulates heme oxygenase the immune system so it helps with oxidative stress in the body, helps decrease inflammation, and helps regulate allergic reaction. Gua sha therapy has shown to help with respiratory and hepatic issues as well.
The ancient treatment is becoming very popular now because of the dramatic effects it has on lifting and scalping the face. It can lift and sculp the face, improve blood circulation, help TMJ (lock jaw), reduce puffiness and drain the lymph, reduce fine lines, and creates a healthy glow. Many gua sha fans claim the practice can truly change the shape of one’s face.
As with any popular beauty trend, misuse and misinformation can spread like wildfire, particularly in the age of technology. Unfortunately, there are many bloggers and influencers that are using gua sha tools like windshield wipers on their face, or are doing it way too hard and not supporting their skin. They do a huge disservice to the amazing practice, as it can make things worse by pushing lymph and blood to the center of the face.
As a doctor of Chinese and integrative medicine, I always make sure to educate my clients on the proper ways to practice gua sha on their own. Here are several safe steps for gua sha at home:
- Find a light oil or cream, as gua sha always needs a carrier oil or a slippery lotion to move across the skin.
- Always begin at the midline of the chest, holding your tool at a 15-30 degree angle slanted against the chest.
- Begin from the midline with light pressure, dragging the tool gently towards the armpit, as this is the way to drain lymph. Drag the tool in sets of three to seven passes on the chest before moving to the other side, working from the bottom of the chest up, always staying lateral. Many women will hear a crunchy sound; that is the gua sha breaking the fascia in the chest. A good therapist can tell if a patient is right or left handed during this process because one side always has more bound fascia. Keep your passes light and consistent. You do not want to make a rash but do want to increase circulation.
- Gently go up the sides of the neck, beginning along the sides to the jaw line. Be very careful on the neck as there are arteries and veins, so don’t press too hard. Always end each stroke with a little wiggle to help move lymph. Repeat three to seven times and end at the midline of the neck, going to the sternal notch to the tip of the jaw.
- Move the gua sha midline on the jaw to the joint on the mandible. Again, do three to seven passes with a slight wiggle at the end to drain lymph along the lateral sides of the face. Do not go back and forth, only move lateral to the ears, and make sure to do each side.
- Move tool up to the check bone and repeat steps using a sweeping motion at a 15-30 degree angle, using light pressure with a small wiggle at the end to push lymph out.
- Use the smaller side of the tool to work very gently around the eyes, nose, and mouth, moving always to the sides of the face. Repeat three to seven passes holding the tool at a 15-30 degree angle. Make sure to anchor eye issue by using a V hold under the eyes, not to pull the skin too hard.
Go over the brow, sweeping up to the hairline then out to the sides of the head.
For a bonus, you can use the tool behind the neck along the midline. going from the neck into the scalp.
Pro tips: I use two gua sha blades at once for the sake of time, and I can also feel the difference on each side of the face and what needs more work by the sound of the fascia. Some cosmetic acupuncturists like treating one side and showing their patient the difference. I also like using an H or a square shaped tool. This tool looks like a square with bunny ears—I like to use the “ear part” to get into the jaw. Around the eyes and the brow, I will use a rose quartz or jade tool.
Be careful with tools that have sharp edges. Everyone is selling gua sha tools and many of them are cheap and not checked for jagged edges. This can rip or tear the skin. Always run you finger around the perimeter of the stone and check for cracks. Stone will naturally have inclusions so always check first.