Posted by Patty Liu, MS on Oct 28th 2021
Most of us would love for our complexion to maintain its youthful glow. Unfortunately, as we age, our skin starts to lose its elasticity and suppleness, resulting in fine lines, uneven texture, and puffiness. So what do we do? We often turn to expensive tools or procedures that help to slow, or even reverse, the natural process of aging—often through very unnatural, and sometimes unsafe, means.
But if you’re looking for a natural and affordable way to keep your skin radiant and glowing, a wonderful option to consider is gua sha, a massage technique with a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Gua sha, when used on the face or body, helps to relieve muscle tension, boost blood circulation, and promote lymphatic drainage. It also enhances the delivery of fresh oxygen and nutrients to various tissues throughout the body, which means a healthier glow for the skin! Based on ancient Chinese healing practices, gua sha is now making a comeback and is here to stay because of its proven effects on overall health and vitality.
History of Gua Sha Massage
Translated from the Chinese words “scrape sand,” gua sha was traditionally performed by Chinese medical practitioners who used tools of various materials (e.g., ivory, bone, buffalo horn, porcelain, metal, etc.) to vigorously scrape the patient’s skin until it turned red. Patients would develop petechiae—red or purple raised patches in the subcutaneous tissues —that indicated internal conditions of blood stasis or deficiency. By intentionally causing petechiae to appear, a traditional gua sha treatment helped to clear blood stasis to promote improved blood flow and circulation.
According to Chinaculture.org, gua sha therapy dates back to the Paleolithic age and was first documented in medical records during the Ming dynasty in the 14th century CE. Although gua sha remains one of the oldest forms of medical treatment in China, it continues to be highly regarded as an effective therapy for various ailments. Recent studies, for example, have reported promising results of gua sha therapy in alleviating perimenopausal symptoms, neck pain, and chronic back pain, as well as lessening the severity of diabetic peripheral neuropathy in patients.
Modern Gua Sha Use
In ancient China, precious stones such as jade or bian were carved into slim tools for gua sha therapy. Now, with the rising popularity of crystals, gua sha tools carved out of rose quartz, amethyst, clear quartz, and blue spot jasper gemstones are now available. Five Flavors Herbs carries a variety of gemstone gua sha massage tools to satisfy your needs and preferences, whether you wish to perform gua sha on the body, face, or both. And if you’re wondering how to pick the right stone for you, check out this gua sha massage tool guide to see which shape and style is best for you!
This article will introduce the basics of facial gua sha, a modern variation of traditional gua sha therapy. Facial gua sha is a gentler massage technique that focuses on boosting lymphatic drainage by applying slow, light to medium pressure strokes to the face. This technique not only offers benefits for the skin and appearance, but also provides an opportunity to ground and practice mindfulness during this relaxing self-care ritual.
Although there are no peer-reviewed studies on facial gua sha to date, many users have reported favorable results when a facial gua sha massage is performed regularly.
TOP BENEFITS OF A FACIAL GUA SHA ROUTINE
- Brightens complexion by increasing blood flow and circulation
- Reduces puffiness around the cheeks, jawline, and undereye regions via lymphatic drainage
- Firms and lifts the skin through the pulling sensation of gua sha that helps to break up fascia (the connective tissue surrounding your muscles)
- Smoothes out the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (a combined result of benefits 1-3)
- Reduces facial tension, including temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder through targeted facial muscle engagement
- Enhances the absorption of nourishing topicals (e.g. facial oils, creams, and serums) by unblocking pathways and increasing circulation
One of my customers, Stacey G., recently shared these gua sha before and after photos with me. She practiced facial gua sha massage two to three times a week for a month and was extremely pleased with the results: a brighter complexion, improved skin texture and tone, and a reduction in puffiness, especially around her cheeks and jawline.
Complementary Herbs for Gua Sha
When it comes to holistic treatment approaches, gua sha massage can easily be combined with medicinal herbs for optimal benefits. For example, individuals experiencing muscle tension may consider combining gua sha therapy with Five Flavor Herbs’ Pain in the...Tincture* to ease musculoskeletal discomfort while promoting blood flow and circulation. Another option is the Uplift Kit*, an incredible selection of herbal support remedies that pairs wonderfully with gua sha massage to help lift the spirit and soothe frazzled nerves.
* Please consult with a trained herbalist and/or your healthcare provider before taking herbs or herbal remedies for the first time (especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking prescription drugs).
Gua Sha Directions for Facial Home Massage
Here are the basic steps for giving yourself a facial gua sha massage at home. For a more detailed overview of this technique, watch this step by step gua sha tutorial!
Step 1: Apply a quality facial mist and facial oil to clean skin. Using a facial mist hydrates your skin and primes it for optimal absorption of beauty products, while a facial oil gives your skin a bit of slip that allows your gua sha tool to glide effortlessly across your skin. This product combination can also help to prevent any rashes or irritation on your skin when performing a facial gua sha massage.
Step 2: Hold the gua sha tool at a 15 to 30 degree angle and gently scrape along skin, using light to medium pressure to stimulate the movement of lymph.
Step 3: Referencing the graphic above, move upwards along the neck (1), chin (2), cheeks (3), under eyes (4), forehead (5 and 6), and jawline (7). Finish by gently gliding your gua sha tool downwards towards the base of the neck (8) to allow lymph to drain into collecting ducts, where your body’s wastes can enter the bloodstream to be eliminated from your body.
Step 4: Clean tool with a mild soap cleanser, dry completely, and store.
Gua Sha Safety Precautions
While facial gua sha is a generally safe and noninvasive massage technique, it is not recommended for individuals with the following:
- Active breakouts, inflamed skin, or irritated skin (e.g., acne, eczema, rosacea)
- An infection, cyst, tumor, or wound that is not completely healed
- Recent local injections (such as from Botox)
- An implant
- Medical conditions affecting the skin or veins (e.g., deep vein thrombosis)
- Blood clotting disorders or who are on medication to thin blood
Get Started with Facial Gua Sha Massage!
Watch my video below, which includes a step-by-step tutorial on how to give yourself a gua sha facial massage to sculpt, lift, and de-puff your face—right in the comfort of your own home!
Adding facial gua sha massage to your daily self care practice can offer many wonderful benefits for your skin and overall health. It can also help you cultivate moments of self-love as you give yourself permission to slow down while tending to your skin. With the proper technique and a consistent practice, you’ll be able to experience the lasting effects that gua sha massage has to offer.
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Written by Patty Liu, MS: A Clinical Herbalist and San Francisco native with a Master's degree in Molecular and Biochemical Nutrition, Free Flow Botanicals founder Patty Liu has devoted her life to unlocking the potential of plant-based medicine to support one's health, happiness, and well-being. Her skincare products are handcrafted in California and made in small batches with organic and natural plant ingredients inspired by traditional Asian beauty rituals and healing practices. Infused with Reiki healing energy, these plant-based products promote skin health as well as the health of our planet.