Gua sha is an ancient massage technique that involves scraping the skin to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and improve blood circulation.
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have been performing gua sha (pronounced gwah-shaw) since the Stone Age. Today, beauty experts, influencers, and wellness coaches can’t stop talking about the wondrous, skin-clearing effects of gua sha.
What is Gua sha?
In Chinese, gua sha literally means “to scrape sand,” although others translate it to mean “to scrape away illness.” Older generations originally used gua sha to treat heatstroke and the common cold by applying pressure to a person’s arms, legs, neck, and back. Objects such as animal bone and soup spoons were treated like medical instruments to invigorate blood flow, restoring balance, or qi (chi).
Although this type of therapy may seem painful, professionals in alternative medicine are careful to apply only as much force as a patient can handle. Lubrication from massage oil helps gua sha tools glide along the skin. It’s not uncommon to see gua sha therapy used alongside acupuncture to treat muscle and joint pain.
What gua sha leaves behind seems more brutal than intended: bruises, welts, and hickey-like spots. The “sha” in gua sha refers to these markings, which appear sandy when the blood becomes dotted on the surface of the skin.
Younger generations speak fondly of gua sha as an essential part of at-home skincare routines. You can find women scraping their faces with dainty gemstones all over the Internet, but despite it being a beauty trend, gua sha shows promising health benefits for a range of conditions.
What are the benefits of Gua sha?
Considered an alternative form of therapy, a handful of evidence suggests that gua sha may alleviate the symptoms of:
- Perimenopause: Perimenopause, more commonly known as the beginning of menopause, causes hot flashes, spells of anxiety, and insomnia. Findings from this 2017 clinical trial suggest that gua sha may lessen the burden of menopause symptoms, making it a possible alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
- Neck pain: People with chronic neck pain may find short-term relief from gua sha. Constantly craning your neck from extended computer use can wreak havoc on your sleep quality and day-to-day. A 10-minute gua sha massage may do the trick.
- Migraines: As a supplemental form of therapy, gua sha may help insufferable migraine pain. Continue your normal course of treatment, making sure to get plenty of rest and water when you feel a migraine coming on. Then, consider a gentle gua sha massage, applying pressure to the base of your skull, along the neck, and on the forehead.
- Dull skin tone: While there’s little science to back the miraculous skin-clearing abilities of gua sha, anecdotal reports say it helps with wrinkles and puffiness. Many women see it as a natural way to clear up imperfections.
Initial findings also suggest that gua sha may benefit people living with Tourette’s syndrome and Hepatitis B. Future studies would shed light on the positive effects of gua sha for people living with these conditions.
How often should you do Gua sha?
Because gua sha causes blood to pool to the surface of the skin, this type of massage isn’t an everyday therapy. It may cause tenderness, so aim to do gua sha two to three times a week, taking days in between to give your skin a breather.
Beauty experts say it’s okay to scrape your face as you please, anywhere from two to three times a day. Giving yourself a gua sha massage allows you to control the pressure and speed, minimizing the likelihood of unsightly facial bruising.
Side effects and risks
Considered a safe treatment, gua sha does come with minor potential risks, such as bruising. This discoloration is caused by friction from the smooth-edged tool, but typically only lasts a couple of days.
Gua sha tools
For a relaxing gua sha home massage, this toolkit has everything you need:
Gua sha should never be performed on bare skin. For a full body massage, you’ll need massage oil to help glide the stone over your skin. Hemp lotion is also an option, which has additional therapeutic value for muscle tension. Hydration mists and serums work great for facial gua sha massages.
- Helps tool penetrate deeper into skin
- May intensify massage pressure
Stone gua sha
Modern gua sha tools are stone pieces made of jade, rose quartz, or amethyst. They come in many shapes and sizes to target different parts of the body, such as comb, curved, and notch edges. Experts recommend pressing the stone up and then out in a sweeping motion.
- Easy to perform on self
- May help under-eye circles, puffiness, and wrinkles
- Technique requires practice
- Dozens of products to sort through
Facial rollers are similar to gua sha but different by design. This tool features a handle connected to a stone roller, allowing you to glide over your forehead, cheeks, and neck with ease.
- Crazy simple to use
- Feels tingly and relaxing
- Pressing too hard could break blood vessels
To sum it up
With zero context, someone hearing about skin scraping for the first time might find it odd, counterintuitive, and somewhat terrifying. However, the centuries-old practice of gua sha has become popular and well-respected in the West as an alternative form of therapy.
Should you try it? That’s up to you to decide, but gua sha is certainly worth a shot if you’re feeling adventurous.
The Run Down
Is Gua sha legit?
Gua sha is a common practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Gently stroking the skin, practitioners work to bring blood to the surface. With the end goal of restoring balance and reducing inflammation, gua sha is a popular treatment in China for heatstroke, colds, and pain. It’s believed to drain the lymphatic system of toxins.
Is Gua sha bad for your skin?
Using a gua sha gemstone on your face isn’t bad for your skin, so long as you apply gentle pressure in short strokes. Visiting a professional may be a different experience, however, as the friction could cause bruises and tender welts. Talk to your gua sha therapist to find the pressure that works for you.
What is a Gua sha massage?
Gua sha massages involve scraping lubricated skin with a blunt tool. This can be a full body massage or a facial. Generally, practitioners will glide a smooth stone up and out along various parts of the body.