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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Walters

Featured Product: Gua Sha

I might be behind the curve on this apparently viral beauty method. But upon having this product glide across my feed, my curiosity piqued. My research began, and I quickly realized this technique's connection to massage therapy and other homeopathic methods. I had to test out this product myself -and my husband. You get to benefit from our empirical and academic research!


About Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a technique originating from ancient China, where some records date it as far back as the stone ages, but was officially recognized as a form of wellness in major medical texts during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) (Bedosky). "Gua" literally means "to scrape" as in to scrape the skin, and "Sha" can be translated to mean either sand or disease (depending on the source), referring to the petechiae that can surface when using this technique. Petechiae are small red dots, indicating bleeding under the skin. This is normal for this technique and generally subsides after a few days. As Bedosky articulates, "From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, many diseases and health complaints can be traced back to stagnant “qi” (known as life force energy) and blood in the body, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. By stimulating petechiae at specific points, gua sha is believed to encourage a healthy flow of energy and blood."





There are three main types of Gua Sha including Gua Sha for the body, Facial Gua Sha, and Graston Technique which is derived from Gua Sha. Gua Sha tools can be made out of materials such as gem stone, glass, resin, wood, and stone while tools for Graston Technique tend to be almost exclusively metal with smooth edges.


Usage

The primary mission of Gua Sha is to get into the muscle layers in order to break up scar tissue, increase circulation, and generate other benefits. It should never be painful. Like massage therapy, constant communication between the practitioner and the client is essential to ensure an ideal amount of pressure without injuring the client.


When using Gua Sha on the face or body, oil must be applied first to ensure smooth movements with the tools. Many sellers recommend a rose-based or other nutrient rich oils. Alternatively, some sources state that water or light moisturizer can also be used. This ensures your skin is protected and the tools can move smoothly across your skin.


When using this technique on the face, hold the tool at a 45 degree angle (other sources suggest 80 degrees), moving strokes up and out from the center of the face. The exception is upward strokes into the hairline. Keep in mind that strokes on the neck move down to facilitate fluid drainage. Make short strokes moving in one direction, never back and forth in the same stroke. Use about three to five strokes per area. To help reduce puffiness, begin with short shallow movement, followed by firm strokes. This helps to work into the muscle slow enough as to not cause further inflammation. To alleviate tension between the brows, you can hold and press upward between the brows.





Usage on the body involves holding the tool at a 45 or 80 degree angle (recommendations vary), moving in short or long strokes in one direction at a time. Again, with the intention of this technique being to access muscle layers in order to break up scar tissue, increase circulation, and generate the other benefits, it's important to move in one direction, never back and forth in the same stroke, with about three to five strokes per area.


It is normal for redness from petechiae to slowly dissipate over a few days as well as muscle soreness similar to a hard workout. It is believed that by releasing blocked energy (qi) and heat in the body, it also releases dis-ease and illness, thus enhancing the body's wellbeing. Since this cycling of heat in the body is essential to the healing process, it is advised to avoid sitting near fans or air conditioners for 24 hours after a full-bodied Gua Sha session. Since this technique increases circulation, you want to facilitate this process. Having cold air blowing on the skin will constrict blood vessels and potentially negate any benefits.




Gua Sha Benefits

The Gua Sha technique is purported to assist in various therapies and wellness routines with benefits including:

  • Improve Circulation

  • Decrease Inflammation

  • Lymphatic Drainage

  • Release Tension

  • Improve Skin Appearance

  • Smooths fine lines and wrinkles (by stimulating elastin and collagen)

  • Immune Boosting


Cautions for those who should consult their doctor before using, or avoid using Gua Sha include individuals with thin skin or skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea. Individuals who take blood thinners or those who have blood clotting disorders are recommended to avoid Gua Sha or at least consult their doctor first.


Conflicting Sources

Several sources are at odds in regards to the benefits of Gua Sha. Viral fans demonstrate videos of how it sculpts their face almost immediately, articulating claims of lymphatic drainage and other benefits, while other estheticians explain that this tool cannot be used for lymphatic drainage (Cassandra Bankson).


Jeff Gould, a licensed acupuncturist with the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center in Lutherville, Maryland is also licensed and trained to perform Gua Sha and explains that this technique is commonly practiced in Eastern Europe and Asian households. He specifies that while it may not cure diseases, it can be used as a complimentary treatment regime to help mitigate symptoms and decrease pain and discomfort.


Our Experience

I primarily used our Gua Sha set on my face which seemed to be the most applicable with these tools. I didn't realize how much tension I held in my brow, jaw, and hairline. It definitely felt like a release working out these points of tension. Using the resin Gua Sha blade that came with our set and was intended for use on the body, seemed subpar in breaking up buildup in certain muscle groups, to the extent that another tool would yield better results. Using the smaller glass blades on my forearms near the tendons where tension builds, felt surprisingly invigorating (especially post garden and yardwork) and was the most alleviating use on my body.





The curvature of the glass blades for specific bends of the face are ideal; cradling the bridge of the nose, the bone of the jaw, or curves of the cheeks. These were especially versatile in precision work of clearing out sinus cavities and releasing the trigger points around the eyes.


We did not notice much difference in the inflammation or puffiness of our face. Similarly, only slight toning of the face could be discerned. No other sensations of lymphatic drainage were observed. The skin does redden due to the friction of using the tools and increased circulation, although we did not try to "scrape" the skin as this technique involves (rose and lavender oil helps decrease skin redness). The redness dissipates in less than thirty minutes. Overall, the Gua Sha application on the face feels very relaxing to both Chase and I.


In Conclusion

As Jeff Gould stated, while Gua Sha does not cure diseases, it seems ideal as a complimentary therapy to help manage symptoms. As with most eastern wellness approaches in our western society, limited research has hitherto been conducted, with more needed to produce reliable and consistent results to support claims more than correlation.


We're doubtful of some of the purported benefits of Gua Sha, especially with so much conflicting sources. Some of these benefits could also be attributed to additional products used such as the type of face oil which could benefit skin appearance rather than the use of the tools, however we do not deny the benefit of invigorating one's energy (qi) and its relation to overall health and wellbeing. Our experience with this product does support its use as a face massage method, especially with its precision to release trigger points in the brow and sinus build up.


As far as recommending this tool in self-massage, we're inconclusive. Giving yourself a massage is difficult regardless, but these small tools are not ideal for most parts of the body. It could however be useful in a maintenance routine for carpal tunnel in the wrist and helping to relieve mild headache or sinus tension in the head and face. If your intention is using this to "scrape" the body and stimulate circulation, then yes, these tools are well suited for this purpose and overall do not agitate the body if pressure is not too deep.





References:

Bedosky, L. (2022, November 7). What is Gua Sha? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://huntvalleylife.town.news/g/timonium-md/n/123665/what-gua-sha

Bedosky, L. (2022, August 22). What Is Gua Sha? A Guide to This Traditional Chinese Medicine Wellness Practice [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/wellness/what-is-gua-sha/guide/#:~:text=Gua%20sha%20originated%20in%20ancient,Ministry%20of%20Culture%20and%20Tourism

Cassandra Bankson (2024, March 13). Fake Gua Sha vs Real Gua Sha - Medical Esthetician Reacts to Olivia Rodrigo #skincare #guasha [video]. Youtube. Retrieved from https://youtube.com/shorts/-fxJS2OGXr4?si=YHwEdH1vfuAmp2te

Cotton, E. (2021). How To Use A Gua Sha! [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.glossybox.co.uk/magazine/2021/02/16/how-to-use-a-gua-sha-facial-massage-techniques/

Dr. Abby (2023, March 23). Does Gua Sha work? Dermatologist reacts. #guashafacial #skincare #boardcertifieddermatologist [video]. Youtube. Retrieved from https://youtube.com/shorts/798Ns-qKKLI?si=rUhawuGtfTWL3676

NAT Global Campus (2023, July 4). How to Apply Gua Sha [video]. Youtube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/B5yDVQhOaGE?si=n0D4JtiRfR4_O2Jv

Parzynski, M. (2023, January 3). The History of Gua Sha: Ancient Origins to Modern Medicine [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.acuartistry.com/acuarticles/the-history-of-gua-sha-ancient-origins-to-modern-medicine

Quinn, D. (2021, January 22). How to Use Gua Sha for Tension, Puffiness, and Lymphatic Drainage [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/how-to-use-gua-sha#takeaway





Additional Reading:

Elliott, S. (2023, October 5). Gua Sha For The Face And Neck [blog post]. Retrieved from https://eminenceorganics.com/us/blog/2022/07/05/gua-sha-face-and-neck

Fernandez, D. (2023, March 12). The History of Gua Sha: Origins and Evolution [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.guasha.pt/en/the-history-of-gua-sha-origins-and-evolution/


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