By Debra Waters
The benefits of gua sha have been much touted in recent years. Ostensibly loved by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle McPherson for its anti-aging qualities, and used by Justin Bieber to ease neck pain, gua sha tools are applied to the face or body for an effective anti-ageing facial, to potentially reduce acne, ease pain and muscle tension, and even lessen the appearance of cellulite.
But is gua sha legit? I asked three experts—Francesca Canzano-Franklin, a Chinese Medicine practitioner and founder of Philosophia Botanica; Charlotte Conwy, an acupuncturist and practitioner in Five Element and Traditional Chinese Medicine at acu:east; and Cecily J Braden, founder of CJBand a recognised trainer in the wellness industry—about the benefits of gua sha.
What is gua sha?
“Long before gua sha became a fashionable tool, it wasan integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years,” explains Francesca. “Gua sha is an ancient practice for energy flow and blood circulation; ‘gua’ means to scrape, and ‘sha’ means sand. The term means the act of scraping the skin to remove an energy blockage using a stone made of bian, jade or rose quartz [you’ll also find tools made from other materials such as obsidian, amethyst and copper].” While scraping the skin may not sound particularly relaxing, gua sha is a gentle process that works as “a natural face lift, to reduce pain and get rid of toxins,” says Francesca.
How does gua sha work?
“Gua sha is a form of massage, whereby you use oil and a smooth-edged tool on the face or body to rub the skin, stroking along the meridian lines,” says Charlotte. “It boosts circulation –studies show by up to 400% – and creates micro trauma, boosting collagen and stimulating the lymphatic and immune system.” While many of us only know about gua sha facials, its uses extend further. “Many of my clients ask for gua sha as it’s the perfect antidote to tightness in the neck and shoulders, or tension in the jaw or face,” says Charlotte.
Is gua sha good for the face?
“From a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) perspective, gua sha can help to increase the flow of blood, qi and fluids, opening the pathways that feed the skin, to return vitality to the skin and support a healthy ageing process,” says Cecily. But how does that make gua sha anti-ageing on delicate facial skin? “Varying pressures and angles of the stones work different layers of the skin with techniques that are specific to lymphatic drainage (surface), fine lines and deep wrinkles (middle layer) and tension in the muscles (deeper layers),” explains Cecily. “The combination of different techniques – and not all movements today are strictly ‘gua sha’ but a mix of different facial massage techniques – ignites a chain reaction within the skin to promote the healthy exchange of nutrients and waste.”
“Regular face gua sha also helps drain puffiness anddecreases any swelling that has occurred during the night, or as a result of eating salty foods or consuming alcohol,” adds Francesca – good news if you’re trying to counteract the effects of the snacks and glasses of rosé you’ve been enjoying.
Gua sha benefits
Beauty benefits of gua sha
“The skin is an amazing organ and it has the ability to heal, nourish and protect itself naturally,” says Cecily. “Gua sha is effective because we are able to use a stone to ignite its natural healing ability. This is done by manipulating the tissue and muscles of the skin to function at a more optimal level.”
Cecily says a gua sha face massage:
- Tones, firms and lifts sagging skin
- Reduces inflammation, puffiness and dark circles
- Brightens the complexion
- Minimises fine lines and softens deep wrinkles
- Diminishes blemishes and redness
- Stimulates the production of collagen and elastin
- Regenerates facial tissue
- Relieves tension and reduces pain
- Increases the skin’s ability to absorb vital nutrients
- Purifies tissue and oxygenates skin
- Regulates the free flow of qi and blood
health benefits of gua sha
Gua sha is effective on other parts of the body, too. “The pressure of the tool on the skin feels like a lovely massage,” says Charlotte. “It relaxes muscles, releases tension and reduces inflammation. When used on the body, studies show that it helps reduce pain, speeds up muscle recovery and improves movement.”
There have been various studies on the effectiveness of gua sha to treat pain. In one German study, ‘neck pain severity after one week improved significantly better in the gua sha group compared with the control group'. In another study cited in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine,gua sha was found to 'be an effective treatment for patients with chronic neck and low back pain.' Other studies indicate that it may be helpful as a treatment for migraines and mastitis.
How often should you gua sha?
“Consistency is key and practicing gua sha on a regular basis will prove most beneficial,” advises Francesca. “I’m an advocate of self-care and strongly suggest adding gua sha into your home beauty rituals.Butdon't over do it, as the skin on the face is so delicate.”
“Gua sha can be done daily,” says Cecily. “However, if you’re experiencing any redness, or tenderness, it’s best to wait until it’s subsided. It's important to work in a gentle way that allows the skin to respond to the movements and use its natural power to rejuvenate.”
How to use gua sha
“The touch and pressure should be very gentle, and you should always sweep the gua sha board across your face in specific motions,” advises Francesca. “The lighter the touch, the more you’re supporting the lymph fluid, while with more pressure you will be lifting, toning and sculpting the facial muscles.”
“Always start at the neck area for optimal lymphatic drainage and move upwards,” says Cecily. “The gua sha board should be held at a 15-degree angle (almost flat against the skin). Then gently glide along the skin using sweeping, upward strokes. Each motion should be repeated five times.”
Before you start, make sure your skin is clean. Then use a hydrating spray or apply a few drops of facial oil or face serum. See our gallery below for recommended products.
Watch this video tutorial for advice on how to do an at-home gua sha facial.
Is there a difference in the types of gua sha stones?
“Rose quartz opens the heart chakra and bian produces the most ultrasonic pulses, but jade has a long history of use. It's the ultimate gemstone of ancient Chinese beauty treatments,” says Francesca. “However, my personal advice would be to choose a stone that you feel drawn to. There’s no one model that works best.”
It’s not just the material you need to consider, but the shape of it, too. “You should select a stone based on your expert level; the simpler the tool, the more beginner-friendly it will be. Whereas more advanced stones will have a few sides and textures so you can try different techniques,” advises Francesca. Cecily agrees, “It’s less about the material and more about the unique combination of the stone's pressure, angle and edge."Charlotte suggests you don’t even need to use stone. "In China they would use a variety of tools, including coins and spoons. One modern gua sha expert even swears by jam jar lids!”
Debra Waters is an experienced online editor and lifestyle writer with a focus on health, wellbeing, beauty, food and parenting. Currently, she writes for the websites and Woman&Home and GoodtoKnow, as well as the Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly magazines.
Previously, Debra was digital food editor at delicious magazine and MSN. She’s written for M&S Food, Great British Chefs, loveFOOD, What to Expect, Everyday Health and Time Out, and has had articles published in The Telegraph and The Big Issue.
When she’s not parenting, cooking new dishes or trying (in vain) to make her cats Instagram stars, Debra writes fiction—she won the Bridport Short Story Prize in 2020, which led to an interview on R4’s Woman’s Hour, and her stories have been long- and short-listed in a number of writing competitions.
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