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What is Facial Gua Sha, Exactly? Here's Your Gua Sha 101 Guide

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What is Facial Gua Sha, Exactly? Here's Your Gua Sha 101 Guide

Type “gua sha” or “facial gua sha” into Google and it will return a mix of shopping results for facial gua sha tools, gua sha video tutorials, and disturbing images of reddened skin, broken capillaries, and bruising. Don’t be afraid! Facial gua sha won’t give you bruises, it'll give you a glow. You’ve come to the right place.

What is facial gua sha?

Facial gua sha is a form of gentle self-massage adapted from traditional gua sha that uses a stone to help improve the complexion and detoxify the body. Ideally, the stone is specifically suited for the contours of the face. The foundational practice of gua sha involves slow, steady strokes that, both immediately and over time, can create the appearance of lift, tone, clarity, and brightness in the face. Some have called facial gua sha a natural alternative to injectables like botox, even though it works in the opposite way. Botox freezes the face and the muscles around it, while gua sha infuses the tissues with blood and chi (or “qi”), the Traditional Chinese Medicine word for energy, or “life force.”

Facial gua sha vs. gua sha bodywork.

Today, traditional gua sha is practiced by acupuncturists and involves vigorous, sometimes painful, scraping that’s meant to increase blood flow and chi, or qi, our bodies’ life force, to an area of the body that needs healing. Practitioners work with the meridians of the body as well as locally to generate a minor “wound” that the body responds to with its natural healing processes.

Facial gua sha has become a treatment all its own. Instead of using lots of pressure and quick scraping motions, it’s a gentle but firm slow pull of the skin with the same intention of helping to move blood, lymph, and manipulate sub-dermal fascia. Lymph, the colorless liquid in our bodies that stores white blood cells and hydrates our tissues, moves through the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, and eventually makes it way into the bloodstream. The major drainage spot for lymph is at the base of the neck, which is one of the reasons it’s so important to start and finish with the neck in your gua sha practice.

Benefits of facial gua sha.

While gua sha for the face is different from a gua sha body treatment, most of the research and studies on gua sha have been done on the bodywork. It’s worth taking a look at how this ancient modality can change pain levels and stimulate healing because it’s essentially doing the same thing for the face, just at a more gentle, subtle scale and rate.

Gua sha on the body has been associated with short-term benefits for people with chronic neck pain, chronic low back pain, and has been shown in two small-scale studies to increase blood circulation, increase blood volume, and decrease pain levels.

Both studies measured arbitrary perfusion units, which is a fancy way of saying blood flow, using Laser Doppler Imaging at the surface of the skin before and after gua sha treatment. One study found that circulation increased 400 percent on areas treated with gua sha scraping, and the increase in circulation continued for more than 25 minutes after treatment. In between visits, patients reported that pain relief was sustained to some degree. In another study that used Laser Doppler Imaging to measure blood flow to the treated area at different intervals, 0, 15, 30, 60, and 90 minutes after treatment, and found that the surface temperature and blood volume was significantly increased even after 90 minutes post-scraping when compared to a baseline of no scraping, which helps to improve circulation and energy metabolism.

This is all to say that gua sha can indeed effect measurable change by increasing circulation, blood flow, and blood volume. In the face, a regular gua sha practice activates the tissues, the lymph, and lifts the contours of the face with the same mechanisms, just at a gentler pace and scale. Below are the benefits of a regular facial gua sha practice—while some are immediate, others come with time, patience, and care.

Gua sha and anti-aging.

As we now know thanks to science, stimulating blood flow has a lot of benefits particularly for the skin. One happy side effect of facial gua sha is that it can increase collagen production by way of, you guessed it, stimulating blood circulation. Collagen is a protein that our skin naturally makes—it’s the most abundant protein in the body—but production decreases as we get older, which contributes to the look of aged skin. Increasing collagen production has been associated with more plumpness and less gravity-induced sag. Gua sha also manipulates the fascia, muscles, and layers underneath the dermis, which contributes to a sculpted look over time.

Gua sha and fine lines.

A regular gua sha practice is constantly renewing and rejuvenating the fluids in the face. Using the basic strokes (described below) with consistency, you’ll be helping blood, lymph, and fluids move, undoing stagnation and resulting in a face with improved circulation. Special techniques with the gua sha stone (we’ll share them in a future article!) can help target wrinkles specifically and locally, further releasing the deep fascial creases beneath the surface of the skin and allowing chi to flow there, plumping up fine lines and wrinkles.

Gua sha and puffiness.

In addition to increasing blood flow, lymph drainage is a key benefit of facial gua sha. When we’re puffy, the face is typically holding onto excess fluid whether it’s from eating a salty meal the night before, allergies, or—let’s be honest—a good cry. Holistic facialist and gua sha expert Britta Plug often says that the neck is the lymphatic  “highway” to the face. By treating the neck, lymph and excess fluids from the face are given a helping hand and a place to down—down and out! You never want to skip the neck.

Gua sha and acne.

Because gua sha works with the epidermis and dermal layers underneath, it has the potential to help clear chronic blackheads, whiteheads, and prevent hormonal breakouts. Sometimes starting a gua sha practice can aggravate the skin and cause a breakout—this happens and is normal. It’s like you’re stirring up debris that’s settled at the bottom of a lake, the debris needs somewhere to go. This is part of the detoxification process that can get a little worse before it gets better. That being said, we never recommend gua sha on skin that’s broken out or otherwise inflamed. Doing so could agitate it further.

Gua sha and hyperpigmentation.

Another positive effect of increasing blood and lymph circulation? Addressing hyperpigmentation. Stimulating blood flow can help to repair microwounds, scarring, and hyperpigmentation in the skin, as facial gua sha brings blood to these areas and can help the healing process along.

Gua sha and the eyes.

Many gua sha practitioners report that they look more awake when they’re committing to a daily practice, even if the practice is just a couple of minutes. Gua sha works some kind of magic around the eye area. It helps to depuff the sensitive skin under the eyelid, can help to drain a droopy or hooded eyelid, and also helps release tension between the brows, creating a “lifted” and more awake look.

Gua sha and stress.

Whether you’re getting a gua sha facial (lucky you) or you’re doing the practice yourself (good on you), facial gua sha can help put the mind and body at ease. Nonsexual physical touch, whether it is self touch or from another, has been shown to be enormously beneficial for the human body. Touch can boost feelings of physical and emotional well-being, it can chemically stimulate feel-good hormones while lowering blood pressure, and, last but not least, it has the superpower of abating intense feelings of stress as they are happening. Receiving facial gua sha from yourself or from another is a form of self-love and in our touch-deprived way of living and being, is an important part of caring for yourself.