An ancient practice for a modern world.
Advertisement

If you're a fan of skincare rollers and tools, there's no doubt that you've heard of gua sha, the little flat pebble loved for its ability to chisel out cheekbones you didn't know existed. Pronounced "gwah-sha," gua sha is an ancient Chinese practice that's meant to improve circulation, relax your muscles, and improve blood flow. In that sense, you can think of it as a trifecta of skincare, massage, and self-care.

"The literal translation of 'gua' means 'scrape' and 'sha' means 'sand,' which refers to the sandy dark spots that look like light bruising on the skin that comes up after a gua sha body treatment," explains Patricia San Pedro, an esthetician, founder of Sunina Skin, and author of Face Fitness.

Facial gua sha is particularly popular right now, but it can be performed on the entire body. Though the movements are very light—there's no literal scraping and only the slightest amount of pressure is applied—the technique lends to a glowing complexion and skin that's more sculpted and toned.

Types of Gua Sha

Gua sha tools come in many different shapes and sizes designed to accommodate different parts of the face and body.

"Gua sha tools are heart shapes, moon shapes, [and] different variations of rectangular shapes. Some have comb edges, pointed edges, curly curved edges, and concaves for different areas of the face," says San Pedro. "There are also gua shas made for special, specific functions like the knobbed-looking 'mushroom' gua shas for the eye area, and acupressure gua shas that are longer, stick-like shapes."

No matter the tool, all feature softly rounded edges that won't damage skin. In addition to the varying shapes, you'll notice gua sha tools are made from an assortment of material types, including rose quartz, turquoise, jade, obsidian, glass, or even wood. The idea is that each stone serves a unique healing purpose.

"Each material can benefit our body with different energetic and therapeutic properties, so when you choose a gua sha tool for yourself choose one according to your needs," says esthetician Elina Fedotova, founder of Elina Organics Spas.

Benefits of Gua Sha

People who are enthusiastic about gua sha agree that the practice has two core benefits: physical and mental.

Physically, "Gua sha brightens your complexion, contours and sculpts, and softens wrinkles and fine lines," says Taylor Campbell-Semien, a certified family nurse practitioner and owner of Restorative Injectables. Some also say that it can help relieve TMJ, headaches, and sinus pressure.

"Gua sha tools can be helpful in reducing inflammation and puffiness by compression facial massage," says Stefani Kappel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Corona Del Mar, Calif. "It can also help with the microcirculation of lymphatic drainage in the cosmetic subunits of the face. This is especially true for the under eye area in the morning to reduce puffiness as interstitial fluid can accumulate in these areas overnight when laying flat."

As for the mental benefits, San Pedro says, "To me, any type of self-care practice can be a ritual for you. Performing gua sha feels grounding to my spirit and inner self-care. I feel balanced when I include the ritual as a part of my skincare regime; I am breathing through the techniques and clearing [my mind]."

How to Use Gua Sha

Ready to use your gua sha tool like a real pro? It's a relatively simple process that anyone can do.

how-to-use-a-gua-sha
Credit: Patricia San Pedro

Step One: Cleanse and Tone

It's best to perform gua sha on clean skin. If you use toner, apply it after cleansing. Also, make sure your hands and the tool itself is clean. A drop of cleanser and water are all you need.

Step Two: Apply a Facial Oil 

Place a generous amount of face oil to your face, neck, and chest. Oil will help the tool glide more easily, but if you prefer a cream or water-based lotion that is OK. Just note that you may need to reapply more throughout the process.

Step Three: Perform Gua Sha  

Now you can begin your actual gua sha practice. Holding the tool at a 30 to 45-degree angle, very gently pull/scrape it across your skin. As a rule, all movements should be upward and follow lymphatic flow. Repeat each movement three to five times before moving onto the next area of your skin.

Campbell-Semien recommends the following movements as part of your gua sha facial routine:

  • Jawline and Chin: Glide your tool upwards from the center of the chin out to the earlobe to contour the jaw.
  • Forehead: Start at the center of the forehead and divide your forehead into three sections and glide your tool outwards. Scrape once, then move down a bit and scrape again.
  • Cheek: Start at the nose and work upwards in a sweeping motion along the cheeks and cheekbones, moving outwards toward your ears. Scrape once, then move down a bit and scrape again, move down a bit more to the center of the chin and scrape again.
  • Under-Eye: Start in the inner corner of the eye and glide outwards to the temple.
  • Brows: Glide upwards along the brow bone - going from the inside out.
  • Lips: Glide over your lips back and forth about five times for a plumping effect.
  • Neck: Section your neck into four areas and scrape each section from the bottom up.

Step Four: Remove Excess and Complete Regimen

If you want, you can massage the remaining product into your skin with your hands, or you can wipe away any residual oil or cream with a damp cloth. Afterward, complete your go-to skincare routine.

For best results, our experts recommend performing gua sha three to four times a week for about three to five minutes each time.