Gua sha: what are the benefits and how do you do it?
Gua sha has become something of a buzz in the wellness space. Social media is awash with videos of people sculpting and scraping their glowy, glistening complexions with aesthetically-pleasing crystal tools. Intrigued? Us too.
In short, gua sha (pronounced ‘gwa-shar’) is based on an ancient practice originating from traditional Chinese medicine. It has become a popular facial technique in the West in recent years to contour and massage the face. But what does it actually entail and are there any real benefits to this holistic skincare step?
We spoke to top experts in the field to discover more about gua sha and what the benefits are.
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What is gua sha?
Gua sha is steeped in history, with the ancient scraping technique originally being used all over the body to stimulate blood flow, before it gained popularity as a much gentler facial skincare step.
Nowadays, the technique typically uses a flat, smooth-edged crystal tool, often made of rose quartz or jade stone, with regular use said to help aid circulation and lymphatic drainage.
According to red carpet facialist and acupuncturist Ada Ooi, ‘Gua (scraping) Sha (sand) means that by scraping the skin, you’re able to stimulate reflexive regions along the Chinese Meridian network, stimulate blood circulation to unblock internal imbalance through letting stagnated blood (essence of life) disperse and dissipate through the surface of the skin.’
Meanwhile, creator of PRO Gua Sha Francesca Canzano-Franklin adds: ‘The technique was predominantly used in Chinese medicine on the body to release toxins, inflammation, pain, speed up muscle recovery and qi [life energy] stagnation, which in turn relieves pain in tired, sore, or injured muscles.’
What are the benefits of gua sha?
It’s fair to say that gua sha has a long list of benefits, some of which sound too good to be true – added glowiness, reduced fine lines, a sculpted face – but according to its fans, these aren’t just empty promises.
Ada says that the technique is great for ‘brightening’ and evening out the complexion, as well as getting rid of any puffiness and dark under-eye circles.
The skincare expert explains: ‘As you ‘gua’, you will also be able to stimulate the lymphatic drainage system, helping to de-puff and sculpt the contour. Gua sha around the eyes really helps move stagnated blood to minimise dark circles and eye bags.’
Ada adds that it can reduce the appearance of fine lines, too.
Meanwhile, Katie Brindle, founder of Hayo’u Method, says that gua sha is the ‘single most effective technique for transforming your skin.’
She explains: ‘The technique stimulates the dermis to support collagen and elastin production and releases tension to relax your facial muscles.
‘It has been shown in studies to exponentially increase circulation and aid lymphatic flow; release congestion and soothe sore eyes and skin; brighten your complexion and leave you with a radiant glow.’
How do you do it?
Katie has shared a basic gua sha technique with us, perfect if you’ve never tried it before. It’s important to use an oil on your face beforehand to allow the tool to glide over delicate skin.
- After applying oil to the face and neck area, press the tool gently all over your neck, face and décolletage. The oil allows sufficient ‘slip’, and the tool can glide easily to avoid dragging the delicate facial skin. If you are using your gua sha tool briefly in the shower, you can lubricate your skin with water.
- Gently press and hold the tool under each eye, then over each eye, with the lid shut.
- Starting under the jawline, press-stroke downwards either side of the neck to drain excess fluid into the lymph glands. Be sure to avoid the delicate windpipe area right at the front of the throat.
- Angling the tool at 45 degrees in the direction that you want to work, use the rounded edge to press-stroke the forehead, the cheekbones, then the lips – about eight sweeps in each direction. Use the double curved end on your throat and jawline.
How often and how long should you do it for?
Katie says she practises the facial massage technique at least twice a day, daily. In fact, all of the experts we spoke to said that consistency was key in reaping the rewards from gua sha.
‘Establish a routine that fits you well and follow it patiently and responsibly,’ Francesca reiterates. ‘Good things take time, and it goes the same way with gua sha.’
What shouldn’t you do?
While anyone can give gua sha a go, there are a couple of things you should avoid while using the tool.
‘It’s important to correctly apply the techniques or else the skin may get inflamed if over scraping, or scraping incorrectly,’ explains Francesca. ‘Using the tool on dry skin is one of the biggest mistakes ever as the skin should be moisturised for the tool to work without causing any irritation.’
‘Dragging or pulling the skin is a big no no. Gua sha or any other face tool for that matter is supposed to be used on hydrated skin.’
Ada adds that if you feel your skin getting too hot while using the tool, then you should stop.
Watching experts gua sha-ing can help you to perfect your technique and avoid errors.
‘Do learn from the experts, for example practitioners and those on YouTube, but also don’t drop the fun of being creative or use strokes that make you feel good!’ Ooi explains. ‘After all, it is a moment for you to pause and enjoy,’
Will you see instant results?
In short: yes!
‘You will see immediate and prolonged significant improvement on your skin,’ says Ooi. ‘Even after a few minutes, you can see the results starting to appear.’
She adds that the more frequently and consistently you perform the rituals, the better the results will be.
‘It is like exercising, you keep pumping fresh blood, which contains oxygen, in the long term keeping an active metabolism of skin cells for recovering from internal and external damage and boosting renewal.’
Is there a difference between the different crystals?
When it comes to choosing a gua sha tool, it’s just as important to choose one with a high quality crystal.
Francesca explains: ‘The quality of the stone is just as important as the design of the gua sha board as each gua sha tool comes in different materials, with different skin benefits depending on which you choose.’
Jade stone is traditionally known for its restorative properties. Meanwhile, rose quartz is said to support the heart energy. It may be helpful for skin that is inflamed or sensitive.
The shape is also important.
‘The regular gua sha tools that come in heart or flatter shapes are great for lymphatic draining and a simple self-care ritual and are often recommended for beginners who wish to do a basic treatment,’ Francesca says. ‘More advanced tools with indentations – such as our Aphrodite and Goddess stones – are used for scraping techniques like the original gua sha treatment encompasses and help with oxygenation and micro-circulation.’
Is there anyone who shouldn’t do it?
What’s great about gua sha is that almost everyone can introduce it into their routine. This is regardless of what category your skin falls into.
‘Facial gua sha, in some form, really is suitable for almost everyone,’ says Katie. “The practice is so versatile, the technique can be performed so gently, and the tools can be used in a variety of ways, that even the most sensitive, fragile or troubled skin can benefit.’
However, it’s always worth erring on the side of caution for some skin struggles. This includes rosacea, spider veins, raised moles or active acne. But it doesn’t mean you can’t try the method altogether. Instead, work around the area.
She adds: ‘You can, however, gua sha around any inflamed blemishes as this will help to draw toxins and stagnation away from the area where it can be eliminated via lymphatic drainage.
‘Once a blemish has healed, gua sha can be very helpful in reducing any residual marks. For large, raised moles we would also recommend working around the area to avoid the risk of inadvertently knocking and damaging skin.
‘If you have had cosmetic procedures such as Botox or dermal fillers, we would advise against gua sha directly over the treated area for about four weeks after treatment. However, you can continue to use the tools on other areas of the face.’
Our favourite products:
- The Jade Gua Sha, Beauty Bay – £10.50
- Clear quartz beauty restorer, Hayo’u Method – £42
- Aphrodite Rose Quartz Gua Sha board, Philosophia Botanica – £59.80
- MicroSculptor® No.3 The Three Slopes, 001 London – £65