I first came across Gua Sha about 11 years ago. I had a bad reaction to a chemical hair straightening treatment and came out in hives all over my face and body. My skin remained sensitive and reactive over several years – I even came out in a horrible rash after having a regular salon facial with a high-end brand. I was desperate to find something to improve my skin health and appearance without using chemicals as it had already taken a battering from steroid creams, and I felt it was aging prematurely. I bought a jade Gua Sha tool from Hayo’u but I didn’t really know what to do with it, so it stayed in my bathroom unused!
Then a few years later I attended training that touched upon using a Gua Sha tool. As soon as I started using one, I found myself totally in the zone and it soon became my favourite way of working. Fast forward a few years and after lots more training with a range of teachers, most of my facials are based around Gua Sha and I’ve started to incorporate body Gua Sha into treatments too.
I’ve found that lots of people are really intrigued by Gua Sha but don’t really know what it is. Here, I’ve tried to answer some of your questions:
What is Gua Sha and where does it come from?
Gua Sha is an ancient healing technique that has been used in East Asian cultures for hundreds if not thousands of years. Originally it was used within families to help treat infectious disease such as cholera. Most people are familiar with acupuncture, but this was the medicine of the nobility whereas Gua Sha was the medicine of the poorer classes. It was passed down orally within families but there were no written instructions on the method until much later.
Gua Sha translates as ‘scraping sand’. The word ‘scraping’ has unpleasant connotations but refers to the press stroking method used on the body’s tissue. Original tools were cheap and whatever people had to hand – hemp rope and coins were commonly used. My body Gua Sha teacher Clive Witham likes to uphold this tradition and in his classes he gave everyone a Chinese soup spoon to practise with. Even though I have many more expensive and beautiful tools this is my go-to tool for working on the body.
What is the rash?
Sha is the rash that can be raised during a body Gua Sha treatment – facial Gua Sha is a much gentler treatment so shouldn’t create a rash.
Sha doesn’t happen to everyone but if it does it is a positive sign that change is happening. It shows the release of obstruction within the tissue and is leakage of blood within the capillary bed. It fades between 4 to 5 days, often less. It’s not painful – you usually feel warmth and a release from areas of tension or pain.
What are the benefits
Gua Sha has anti-inflammatory benefits, it’s known to improve the immune system and relieve chronic pain. Therefore, it can be used to ease a whole range of ailments from headaches, shoulder pain and sciatica to digestive issues, PMS and anxiety. After I received my first treatment, I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time!
How can I try it?
Currently, I offer body Gua Sha either as part of or as an add on to most facial treatments or as a stand-alone 30-minute treatment applied mainly on the back, neck and shoulders.
I apply a massage oil and use a Gua Sha tool to press and scrape along the tissues. I’ll work along certain regions depending on the desired outcome, but the back is usually a good place to start.
I include the option of body Gua Sha in my facials too, starting with back, neck and shoulder release. Why? Removing stagnation or obstruction in the body can result in changes in the face. For instance, if you have puffy eyes, it’s useful to work channels or areas on your arms and legs!
Everything is connected.
What about Facial Gua Sha?
Facial Gua Sha has become popular in the last few years. You will see plenty of videos on social media of people demonstrating the method but often their technique is incorrect or misleading. It is far more than just rubbing a pretty crystal over your face.
Even though it is a much gentler than body Gua Sha, experienced practitioners should work with intention over specific areas and be able to adapt their pressure and technique spending on the desired outcome.
There is often much confusion about lymphatic drainage and Gua Sha. Having studied both (I’m also trained in Dr Vodder’s original Manual Lymphatic Drainage technique) I can say that Gua Sha is not lymphatic drainage as it uses a feather light pressure an a very specific direction. The pressure of a stone is too heavy, but you can encourage the lymphatic pathways to open and any work on blood circulation influences lymph circulation (and vice versa).
Traditionally tools for face Gua Sha were made from jade or bian but you can get them in a wide variety of stones and designs. What I love about them is that once you have one, if it doesn’t break, you have it for life – so it’s incredibly cost effective. However, it’s also very easy to become addicted and buy a range of different stones!
What are the benefits?
Facial Gua sha is hailed as an effective facial rejuvenation technique. It works from the inside out to improve overall wellbeing and skin health which improves skin appearance. The results are immediate and cumulative. You will definitely notice the difference after one session – many clients say people tell them they look years younger – but regular sessions are obviously hugely beneficial.
Depending on how you use the tool, it can de-puff, soften lines and wrinkles, melt tension, lift and sculpt, improve circulation and skin tone, reduce dark circles….
Gua Sha can release stagnation physically and emotionally – and it’s incredibly relaxing. Gua Sha practitioners are always thinking of opening up space and pathways for blood, lymph and qi to flow and we are thinking about the meridians and acupressure channels and how working these areas can benefit the client too.
Is it an alternative for Botox and fillers?
It can be an effective alternative for these procedures, but you need to be consistent. Botox and fillers give instant results and last for months, but they do nothing for your skin health. Gua Sha has the opposite intention to Botox and fillers as it encourages flow whereas Botox freezes areas to get rid of wrinkles, so limiting flow and creating stagnation. But if you want to avoid chemicals or invasive procedures and have the added benefit of feeling amazing afterwards gua sha, face massage and face yoga can give you great results.
How can I try it?
I’ve trained with a variety of facial Gua Sha teachers and have been most influenced by Cecily Braden’s Gua Sha Facial Fusion techniques which allow you to blend Gua Sha with other mediums such as facial reflexology or Thai Herbal Poultice massage. It remains one of my favourite treatments, so most of my facials include some form of Gua Sha.
You can read about the Gua Sha Facial Fusion and see some Before and After photos here:
I also teach group workshops and 1:1 sessions where you can learn how to use your Gua Sha tool correctly for selfcare.
There have been many research trials to test the effectiveness of Gua Sha. Here a just a few:
Effect of Gua Sha on Peri-menopausal Syndrome: A randomized controlled trial
Effectiveness of Traditional Chinese ‘Gua Sha’ Therapy in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain: A randomized controlled trial
Gua Sha Therapy for Chronic low back pain. A randomized controlled trial
For more information, I recommend reading Clive Witham’s books Gua Sha A Complete Self-treatment Guide, Facial Gua Sha: A Step-by step Guide to a Natural Facelift