What is gua sha??
‘Gua Sha’ has been a staple in the homes of Chinese peasants as well as in the clinics of Chinese medics for thousands of years. These days it is gaining popularity as a beauty and anti-aging treatment, with all kinds of claims to its name. For me, it is a symbol of autonomous care as well a wonderful aid to facial massage. While not truly holistic in its own right, paired with Facial Reflexology, massage or facial yoga and healing gemstones we can each build our own personal arsenal for facial rejuvenation and overall wellbeing.
Gua means to scrape, whilst sha refers to the redness that rises to the skin as the body releases toxins. In the body, this method has been traditionally been used with the help of a household oil, or perhaps Tiger Balm, to vigorously rub against the skin at the sight of pain or discomfort for fast and effective relief. It calls Qi or vital energy to the point of discomfort and can provide instant and drastic release of blocked or stagnant energy. This helps move energy in the entire body.
Let me be honest and tell you that you don’t really need to use a special tool as porcelain Chinese spoons or lids from a standard jam jar can and do make great substitutes. Like many Eastern terms, gua sha is a somewhat elusive term, referring both to the name of an object as well as to a technique which is as simple as it is effective.
The shapes and design of gua sha tools are infinite.
Traditionally, this item is made from buffalo horn (no hate mail from Vegans please), though it has for a long time been produced from natural stones such as jade or, my favorite rose quartz, and can be found today in a range of materials including plastic, bone, china, and steel.
So what is Facial Gua Sha?
It is believed that Chinese women have used jade gua sha to massage their face for hundreds of years, to achieve results both anti-aging and beautifying.
A keen advocate of facial massage, I fully endorse the sharing of this beauty ritual. It excites me to see more and more people discovering this tool, though it saddens me that few seem to know how they should be using it on the face…
Now before we go any further let me say that it should be obvious that ‘scraping’ of the face as we would the body is not suitable or even necessary. This technique is applied to the body in times of pain or dis-ease, and that to scrape regularly otherwise is unwarranted. The skin and structure of the face call for a softer approach. Abrasive invasion of this delicate structure is simply not a good idea as it can lead to bruising and burst capillaries. I use the tool a bit harder on places like the forehead wrinkles or my “mommy lines” between my eyebrows to break up some of the rigid collagen formations but only maybe once every week or so.
Facial gua sha requires natural oil, a light pressure, decisive movements and a good knowledge of the levels of the face. Just like reflexology, its results are cumulative and a daily practice is ideal. My favorite oils at the moment to use are de Mamiel’s Restorative Cleansing Balm and Amly Botanicals Day Light Face Oil and their Sleep Tight Rejuvenating Face Balm.
Use of crystal gua sha like this one by Solaris Lab NY or this crystal trio by Inner Outer Balance adds a vibrational aspect to treatment and seals our beautifying intentions with each stroke as well as providing a divinely smooth texture (visualization is highly encouraged). With many stones to choose from, I recommend you choose a stone suited to your elemental constitution, skin type and one that calls to you intuitively. Whichever tool you choose it is swiped almost flat against the face and the sensation is supremely relaxing.
So what are the benefits?
At the top of my list is circulation which is crucial when working with any kind of troubled skin in order for it to heal and evoke radiance. Facial Gua Sha boosts circulation of blood, oxygen and vital fluids to your face, instantly encouraging a brighter complexion and in the long-term improving skin functions as it can more readily eliminate toxins and rejuvenate skin cells.
Next, it moves lymphatic fluid. To be clear, the movement of lymph around the body requires movement in the body – no amount of gua sha massage alone will improve lymphatic circulation in a sedentary person. That said, applied in the mornings there is a great opportunity to drain excess build-up acquired overnight, particularly in the cheeks and under the eyes, moving it on to the rest of the body. Done regularly, with the right pressure and direction, this can be a wonderful aid to reduce puffiness and inflammation. Effective lymphatic massage must be slow and gentle, another reason not to be over-zealous with your pressure.
The muscles on our face are, for most, long neglected, but vital to acknowledge when seeking to tame wrinkles and fine lines. By learning about the muscles of the face and how to tone them with the flat sides of your gua sha, you can break down any adhesions and hardness they might have, whilst lengthening, toning and relaxing. Relaxation of the facial muscles can, in some cases, also relieve chronic headaches and facial or neck pain. Over time, improved muscle tone will lead to tighter skin ( think toned biceps creating smoother skin on the upper arms). Relaxation overall as a result of a regular gua sha ritual can have multiple effects on your state of mind: used before bed this ritual calms, soothes and prepares you for restful sleep.
Next, is one of my favorite buzzwords, that you might be aware of if you have cellulite. ‘Fascia’ is a medical term that refers to the connective tissue of the body which surrounds and infuses every muscle, bone, and nerve like a 3-dimensional web of fibers and fluid. Much like lymph, healthy fascia relies upon movement to stay hydrated and elastic. As before, facial gua sha can play a role to release fascia so skin can function better, and muscles can ‘find their place’ in the webbed lining. Note that when the skin is able to function better, specialist creams will finally be absorbed and put to use. Otherwise, even the purest or expensive ingredients are wasted.
Considering everything gua sha is an unrivaled tool for facial massage. Used correctly it diminishes the appearance of wrinkles, reduces puffiness, offers more prominent looking cheekbones and a smoother jawline as well as treating dark circles and pigmentation. Side effects include: release of neck tension, fewer headaches, sinus de-congestion and improved sleep.
By toning the muscles and generating improved circulation you can expect a more youthful and slimmer appearance after just one session, with big improvements to follow within a matter of weeks. If you suffer from acne, hyperpigmentation, dry skin, scarring, bumpy or rough texture, it is an extremely effective and helpful technique for your skin’s recovery often with dramatic improvements within just two weeks of regular use.
My own experience has been a reduction in breakouts and faster recovery from eruptions, a more even complexion, and a changing face shape – generally less roundness. As a woman in my 40s I don’t have many wrinkles to worry about, though my ‘computer scowl’ between the eyebrows and my jawline has benefited significantly from daily gua sha. These kinds of ‘trouble areas’ are easily spot treated in addition to the full face routine. I practice Facial Reflexology in tandem so the results are amplified.
As we all know, real beauty comes from within. If I had my way, I would take any woman (or man) considering botox, cosmetic surgery, microdermabrasion or any other extreme methods and have them practice Facial Gua Sha for 10 minutes a day. The gua sha routine will transform your skin aiding you to ‘balance and beautify from within. Reflexology effective hacks your nervous system and puts re-balance in motion to target the digestive/ hormonal/ respiratory/ emotional causes of skin disorders/ marks… and that is just the tip of the iceberg!
The way that I teach and share gua sha elevates face care to the status of ritual because we invite a different energy and because it becomes a practice that brings pleasure. We engage with intention and connect to our power, healing wounded self-perception, and cultivating self-love. Self-care is sacred because done right, we then carry that love out into the world wherever we go.