In this post, we reveal everything you need to know about gua sha, including how to use gua sha for your face and body, gua sha benefits, and the best gua sha tools. Let's get started!
“Siri, why is everybody obsessed with gua sha?” Speaking objectively, the art of gua sha has a lot to offer human beings everywhere, regardless of where in the world they happen to be. Performed properly, this practice has proven to change lives. But is this just another case of commodification of Eastern medicine in the West?
In this article we discuss the following:
- What is Gua Sha?
- How to Pronounce Gua Sha
- History and Origin of Gua Sha
- How to Use Gua Sha
- Gua Sha for Face
- Gua Sha for Body
- Gua Sha Benefits
- Gua Sha and Cellulite
- Gua Sha on the Back
- Gua Sha for Wrinkles
- Gua Sha for Facelift
- Gua Sha Before and After (with Photos)
- Types of Gua Sha
- Gua Sha Color Chart
- Gua Sha Color Meaning
- Rose Quartz Gua Sha
- Gua Sha Jade Stone
- Gua Sha vs Facial Rollers
- Best Gua Sha Tool
- For Face
- For Body
What is Gua Sha?
Take the head of a tablespoon, hold it up to your face, and press down hard: you are now performing gua sha — kind of!
Gua sha is an ancient form of massage that involves using some sort of tool to increase the circulation of fluids underneath the skin. The goal in gua sha is better health and relief from symptoms such as chronic pain, migraines, tension, and even viral infections such as hepatitis (amongst others).
By kneading the skin in a carefully mapped out fashion, gua sha stimulates microcirculation in all soft tissue it encounters. In Chinese medicine, inflammation is believed to be a result of stagnant chi in the body. Chi is a word meaning life force energy and its flow pattern.
How to Pronounce Gua Sha
If, as a society, we’re going to continue to steal traditions from the East to bring to the West, the least we can do is learn to pronounce them properly.
Gua sha is pronounced ‘gwa-shaa’. Not goowa-sha, not gaia-sha… just gwa-shaa.
The closest English translation we have for gua sha would be the act of scraping. This offers a very limited perception of the practice, and we encourage everyone to investigate far beyond this before drawing any conclusions about what these techniques entail.
The second thing we need to do is get our facts straight. While gua sha is primarily being used in the West as a method of training the skin of the face, traditionally gua sha is performed on a person’s back, buttocks, arms, legs and neck. The facial gua sha technique was introduced much later.
The object used to conduct gua sha is called a gua massage tool; gua pronounced ‘gwa’, as we learned above.
History and Origin of Gua Sha
An old husband’s tale would have us all believe that gua sha was the chosen beauty ritual of Chinese princesses during ancient dynasties. Gua sha was very much alive in Ancient China, but passing it off as an elitist practice would be not only wildly inaccurate, but also largely disrespectful.
If you take the time to speak with Chinese elders, they’ll tell you that gua sha was, if anything, the healing practice of the peasants. It was for workers and families who couldn’t afford to get sick, and needed rapid treatment that wouldn’t cost them their week’s groceries. Gua sha was performed by your average civilians across Ancient China, and seeing as though it works, it’s not unlikely a princess or two were partial to a weekly session.
So, how old is gua sha? Well, there is documented evidence to show that gua sha massage occurred as early as the Ming Dynasty, which reigned between 1368-1644.
Gua sha moved very quickly from China into Vietnam. Here it became extremely popular, and was called cạo gió, which loosely translates to “scrape wind”.
During these times, gua sha was simply a technique that could be performed with whatever makeshift tool was on hand. Some used animal bones or horns, some a metal soup spoon, some would use large coins to press into the skin — whatever worked!
Even today, gua sha is not about the tool in question. Anyone can learn to perform this massage using whatever objects they have at their disposal. But facial scraping tools are infiltrating the market with intent to make the art of gua sha more accessible to those who feel more comfortable having a ‘professional’ companion.
How to Use Gua Sha
Try to see gua sha as a tool to improve your overall well being from the inside out. When used properly, gua sha will transform the outside of the body, but this, as a goal, represents a warped understanding of what the practice really stands for.
Anyone who grew up receiving gua sha from their Chinese grandparents will probably recall not having the most fun time. The traditional techniques are pressure-intense, and children tend to experience this kind of pressure as pain.
Gua Sha for Face
Facial gua sha is less intense. There is only so much tissue in the face, thus only so much pressure that can be applied to move the lymphatic fluid. This technique was actually discovered by mistake, when traditional acupuncturists began using pressure points in the face to cure ailments in the rest of the body.
Over time, they began to notice that there were facial rejuvenation benefits that seemed to arise as a result of the applied pressure. Gua sha was then implemented as a way of moving the fluid and muscles in a more regulated manner.
When it comes to receiving gua sha on the back, legs or arms, it’s relatively difficult for one to apply the procedure on oneself. The face is different; your own two hands can learn to give gua sha as part of your daily morning ritual if you so desire.
We’ll introduce you to our favorite gua sha scraping massage tool a little later. For now, know that the tool is not what makes gua sha. Gua sha is available to you as you read these words; there is a Youtube video out there to guide you, and there is a spoon in your kitchen drawer to enable you. You don’t need to buy more stuff to perform gua sha!
If you’re not confident in your abilities to perform this kind of massage on your own face, that’s okay! The gua sha community is growing, and trained practitioners are becoming more of an abundant resource in many parts of the globe. Estheticians were amongst the first individuals to get clued up in gua sha for the face; they recognized the undeniable benefits of the technique early on. You may also have a traditional practitioner running a private establishment somewhere near your place of residence; start putting some feelers out and see what you have access to.
Gua Sha for Body
As we mentioned above, gua sha for face and gua sha for body are different in that the latter is largely not conductible using one’s own hands. Gua sha for body requires a third party with knowledge of the techniques to perform the procedure.
Thanks to the rapid spread of interest behind this subject, gua sha massage centers are becoming more commonplace. If you live in a city where there is a Chinese expat community, this is a good place to start looking for genuine gua sha practitioners.
Finding a traditional healer will give you access to affordable and effective gua sha; you can expect to pay around $60 for a full body gua sha experience. Seeking gua sha from a Westernized aesthetic or beauty institution will see gua sha retailing upward of $200 for a single session.
Gua Sha Benefits
As a practice, gua sha is completely safe and risk free. You could receive gua sha everyday for the rest of your life and there may only be good that could come from it.
Receiving gua sha for face brings different physical results compared to receiving gua sha on the rest of the body. The skin and tissue of the face seems to be more ‘trainable’ compared to other body parts, which is why gua sha is oftentimes referred to as an instant facelift.
Using long, slow strokes, the gua sha practitioner moves the chi energy in a rhythmic fashion. The inflammation living within the bodily tissue is broken down and can begin to subside, inviting healing into the newly rejuvenated flesh.
Any lymphatic toxins that have been stuck are dislodged and can move toward the body’s natural waste disposal systems. But what creates that ‘facelift’ effect? Well, when the fascia, or connective tissue, is ironed out using pressure, facial tension can be relocated and used to construct a more lifted look. This is why it’s often referred to as a gua sha facial.
Gua Sha and Cellulite
Gua sha is concerned with all things flow! Flow of chi, flow of blood, flow of good health… just flow.
Regular massage has, for a long time, been considered a beneficial practice for anyone struggling with cellulite. Massage is a non-invasive way of breaking down fat deposits in the skin, and in the process, stretching skin tissue to reduce the appearance of cellulite scarring.
What this practice doesn’t take into consideration is chi, or the flow of the energy field of the human body. This is why gua sha has shown to be more effective at treating cellulite compared to regular massage techniques.
As gua sha increases the natural blood flow of the individual, the body’s lymphatic drainage system is able to kick in, the stagnant fluid living around the cellulite is flushed out with the chi, and nutritious new blood is delivered to these areas.
It’s a relatively straightforward case of out with the old, in with the new. The best thing about gua sha for cellulite? You don’t physically have to do a thing. You simply have to lay there, and allow the magic of the chi to move through you. We’ll take that over a suppressive diet and compulsive exercise any day!
Gua Sha on the Back
When laying on one’s stomach, the surface area of the back is exposed to the world. The human back is, in many ways, the central hub for energy inside of the body. The back is responsible not only for the flow of energy up through the neck, but also the flow of energy down into the womb and lower limbs.
Western medicine has seen gua sha heal everything from premenopause to Hepatitis B. Chronic migraine conditions have been eradicated, and people have experienced total curing of conditions that involve involuntary movements, such as tourette syndrome.
In order to achieve healing of any of the above ailments, the back can be considered the best receiving area for gua sha. Aiding nutrient dense blood in reaching the compromised organs, tissues and cells means that the conditions are less likely to persist.
Interestingly, gua sha on the back and neck has also proved extremely beneficial to individuals suffering from bad cases of heat stroke, which some believe to be caused by a temporary build up of toxins that make a person feel physically ill.
Gua Sha for Wrinkles
Gua sha facial training has allowed certain acupuncturists and estheticians to target wrinkles through the ancient practice. As mentioned, it was the acupuncturists using pressure points in the face who first began to notice a gradual easing of deep lines over time.
So long as you have a suitable gua sha massage tool, you too can target wrinkles on the face and neck by performing gua sha at least once a day.
If you’re wondering how gua sha is able to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, refer back to another strange practice that has become known as the ‘vampire facial’. This is an invasive form of wrinkle treatment whereby a qualified practitioner draws blood from the receiver in question and paints the plasma of the blood into small holes in the face created via microneedling.
The blood is nutrient rich, and is able to get to work repairing the lost collagen in the skin that resulted in wrinkles. Similarly, gua sha on the face works to flush that same nutrient dense blood into the skin, but this time from the inside out.
Gua Sha for Facelift
Gua sha is many things, but an instant facelift is not one of them. Gua sha has the ability to give the illusion of a facelift, and with regular repetition this illusion can be maintained long term, but this is never guaranteed.
Gua sha, when done correctly, has the ability to re-sculpt and almost train the lines of the face to sit in more appealing positions. One can see this quite clearly during their first session, when only one side of the jaw has been sculpted and the other remains its normal, puffy self.
Lasting effects for all gua sha, be it in the face or other parts of the body, require the receiver to take a long, hard look at the lifestyle habits that may be working against them. There is little sense in performing gua sha on yourself each morning but continuing to eat a diet fueled by inflammation inducing foods.
A gua sha facelift will become a permanent benefit of this practice once you start to honor your body as a whole. Give it nutrient rich foods, give it ample water, give it love, and your chi will start to glow from the inside out.
Gua Sha Before and After (With Photos)
The above point rings true when we start to look at before and after images of individuals claiming to have used gua sha successfully. With this kind of practice, it is necessary to bear in mind that the results of one individual do not guarantee the same results for yourself.
Our lymphatic systems function differently; some may not function at all. Therefore an ‘overnight facial’ may have been the experience of “Zoe” on Pinterest, but flow might occur much more gradually for those following her journey.
We encourage everyone who feels called to gua sha to give it a try. Hold as few expectations as possible, and allow the practice to bring to your body what it really needs. Remember that gua sha is beauty from within.
For reference, here are a few gua sha face before and after images where you can see the subtle sculpting and hydrating effect that has become apparent:
Types of Gua Sha
As gua sha moved through the ages, healers began drawing parallels between gua sha facial tools and naturally occurring substances within the Earth. Many believe that the human body responds particularly well to precious stones and crystals on the basis that their energetic charges are able to positively affect the charge within the body.
By fashioning gua sha tools out of different types of crystals, there is another energetic field being incorporated into the process that can bring a new layer of benefits. Many believe that every crystal derived from the earth comes with a range of metaphysical properties that either heal, enhance, or protect the user.
There are some types of gua sha approaches which give great importance to the design/shape of the gua sha tool. A gua sha stone can be shaped and polished to resemble anything from a soft-edged lightning bolt, to a shark's tooth, to ‘pac-man’ type symbol.
As we said, it’s wonderful to have this kind of variety and accessibility within the market, but don’t let the multitude of tool options deter you from the reality that, traditionally, gua sha was successfully performed using whatever hard objects were laying around the house.
Gua Sha Color Chart
It’s not always about crystals and magic; gua sha is serious business, and there is very real pressure applied to the body during the practice. After receiving gua sha, each physical body has the chance to react to the treatment. This might be instantaneous, or it might manifest in the days following the procedure.
Most people undergoing their first round of gua sha will start to exhibit what are known as ‘petechiae’ in different parts of the skin. Petechiae are small spots that develop under the treated skin as a result of whatever work was done during toxin removal.
Petechiae are harmless, and usually fade out a few days after they come in. They are beneficial in that most trained gua sha practitioners can identify specific health concerns of an individual simply by observing the color and density of the petechiae; this is also known as the gua sha color chart.
You are likely to develop petechiae when receiving gua sha on the body and neck. Petechiae are unlikely to occur on the face, especially if you are performing gua sha on yourself.
Gua Sha Color Meaning
So, what do the different shades of petechiae mean? Use the following gua sha color chart as reference:
Pink petechiae are the most common. These tend to develop over areas where the individual in question is likely to be suffering from general deficiency of nutrient blood flow. Pink petechiae is also a sign that any illness that an individual suspects they are suffering from would only have developed very recently.
Brown petechiae is a sign that the person lives in a generally dehydrated state. They likely do not consume enough water by day, leaving their body deficient of fluids in areas that need it most. Brown petechiae are a good sign because this is a problem that is easy to correct!
Like most things red, these petechiae should be seen as warning signs. Red petechiae is confirmation that the body is riddled with inflammation, and not necessarily just in the areas that they have appeared.
Red petechiae are showing us that there is inflammation building up, and that underlying health conditions are potentially going to surface very soon. This is a great sign, as it becomes motivation for the individual to continue with further detoxification in order to change the course of their bodily health.
Purple or Black
Purple and black petechiae share the same meaning. They are representative of the fact that there has been an existing condition residing in the body for quite some time now. They also show underlying tissue damage which may or may not be linked to said condition.
Rose Quartz Gua Sha
Gua sha tools in rose quartz are a popular new-age way of practicing gua sha from the comfort of one’s own home.
The benefits of crystal healing have found a solid home within the world of skincare. Gua sha tools carved out of genuine quartz crystal essentially combine the benefits of the gua sha technique with the benefits of this beautiful crystal.
Quartz is widely known as one of the most beneficial stones to use up against the skin of the face due to its natural coolness. Quartz takes a long time to heat up, so the skin is able to receive great benefit from having the cold rock brushed against it. The temperature can work to alleviate active inflammation, giving the skin an almost immediate glow.
Rose quartz is known as the stone of love. Those who work with it believe that the crystal is able to amplify the amount of love one experiences in personal relationships, in their work life, and within themselves.
Gua Sha Jade Stone
Jade is another gua sha stone that has proven to be quite effective when made into a massage tool.
Like quartz, jade is also a cooling stone. There are two forms of genuine jade and they are nephrite and jadeite. Jadeite is more rare, and thus considered to be more precious. Nephrite is more abundant in the earth and thus easier to source, making this a more affordable (and thus profitable) material for gua sha manufacturers to work with.
The quality of your gua sha massage is not dependent on a specific form of jade; it’s all about the technique and the level of pressure applied.
In general, jade, as a crystal, has been called a natural detoxifier and works closely with the kidneys. It seems logical then that jade would be an ally to anyone seeking facial gua sha for the purpose of moving and removing built up toxins underneath the skin.
Gua Sha Vs Facial Rollers
You wouldn’t be the first to liken gua sha to what we know as facial rollers. There are many who would argue that gua sha is actually the original form of face rolling, and it was these techniques that lead to the invention of the modern day roller.
Many ancient civilizations practiced some sort of rolling of the face using egg-shaped crystals. Their technique wasn’t necessary gua sha specific, but the goal was the same: move out unwanted lymphatic build up.
In the Western world, gua sha still feels a bit unfamiliar to a lot of people, whereas facial rollers have been commoditized enough that they’re all over Instagram, Youtube and other social media platforms. They feel popular, trusted and accessible.
What we find most interesting is their interchangeability. We’ve made a point of stating that, up until very recently, most people were performing gau sha with random tools such as spoons or container lids. Owners of jade rollers could technically use their device as a means of administering gua sha. Facial rolling doesn’t have a strict set of rules for how to best perform it, so using the gua sha technique could see some incredible results.
Best Gua Sha Tool
It’s been of importance to us to hunt down gua sha tools that are a) not exploiting the ancient practice, b) not exploiting the consumer, and c) of sound quality to get the job done. These are the tools that stand out with these three criteria in mind:
Gua Sha for Face
While any relatively hard object could be used to perform gua sha, it’s undeniable that there are some shapes and edges that make things a lot easier.
This little unit by SHIFFA looks soft and dainty, but it packs quite a punch. The ‘V’ design on one end allows the user to get up close and personal with the line of the jaw, forcing the lymphatic fluid into the desired direction. This same ‘V’ is used on the other areas of the face as needed; you’ll notice one side is thinner than the other for those hard to reach places.
The jagged edge on the opposing side of the tool is intense for use on the back of the neck. The slightly curved, longer edge of the tool is for the front of the neck and chest area. You can even use this tool right over the shoulders and down the upper back.
It’s value for money, as far as gua sha tools go, and we love that the brand is actually invested in skincare, and not just out here to profit off of a trend.
Gua Sha for Body
If you seek an external practitioner for gua sha, you’re likely to find they use the shark tooth shaped tools such as this unit by Mount Lai.
We’ve been big fans of Mount Lai’s facial rollers over the years, so their gua sha tool is one that we trust without much hesitation. Their products are generally reasonably priced, and do the work that they claim to be able to.
This jade tool is easy to hold, clean, and store. It’s the perfect travel tool for those who like to take the magic wherever they go. It can be used all over the body, and it is suitable for facial massage.
We’re partial to jade, but Mount Lai makes the exact same tool in rose quartz, amethyst and black obsidian as well. You can also invest in their beautiful combo sets that get you a crystal gua sha tool and a crystal facial roller to match.
We also feel a duty to make it known that jade is a naturally flawed, green stone that appears in many different shades and marbled patterns. Please resist being the customer that leaves a bad review when a gua sha tool is not identical in color to the one pictured on a sales page. Nature didn’t come to be judged!
We hope you enjoyed this article! If you enjoyed this article, you will probably also enjoy learning about facial rollers, which are in many ways similar to gua sha tools. To learn more, check out our comprehensive article on the subject here.