What is gua sha?
Used in traditional Chinese medicine, gua sha involves scraping a flat, rounded tool, usually made of jade, over the skin. Translated, gua means press or stroke, and sha refers to a rash or redness, but while traditional Chinese therapists work hard and deep – skin can be left bright red – for its beauty benefits, you need a lighter touch on the face. “Even if you have a facial once a week, you still need to do something every day,” says Katie Brindle, who has been working with Chinese medicine for more than 15 years and who created the Hayo’u Method, which makes use of gua sha tools. “Gua sha treatment relaxes the muscles, gets the energy and blood moving and shifts any puffiness. It boosts the circulation – studies show by up to 400 percent – which takes away toxins and brings in oxygen and nutrients.” Best described as a hands-on mix of massage and workout, it helps release tension (I find it amazing for headaches and tight jaws) and leaves skin instantly more supple, glowing and healthy-looking. “You are also creating a controlled trauma [that short-term flush of redness], which the skin then starts to repair by making new collagen.”
Gua sha: the expert advice
“You can do gua sha on the face, body and scalp, and it’s best to use water – I do it first thing, in the shower – or an oil, but never on bare skin,” says Brindle. “Hold the tool flat to the skin, under the eyes or over any redness, to soothe and de-puff. Then use the curved side and work it over the skin, always taking short strokes in just one direction, not back and forth,” she says. “Stroke it down the neck to drain [not upwards], working it in small horizontal strokes over the brow bone to lift, or hold and press upwards between the brows to release tension. If you want to drain puffiness, work lightly, then more firmly to relax muscles.” Your skin may look flushed after, but, like post-workout redness, this just shows a boost in circulation.
Working from the forehead back through the hair is said to help hair growth and, according to Brindle, is key to a great night’s sleep – doing it before bed is incredibly soothing, like having your hair brushed as a child. You can also work on the body, stroking about six times in one direction to help release tight connective tissue (making it good for cellulite and spongey flesh) and to make skin healthier – this almost freestyle approach ensures that it’s easier than skin brushing.
Although gua sha is done relatively gently (you’re in control of the pressure and the shape of tool you use), it’s not for you if you are prone to broken capillaries. It should also be avoided over broken skin or acne breakouts.
How to use a gua sha
1. You can use a gua sha on the face, body and scalp, and it’s best to use with water or an oil – but never on bare skin.
2. Hold the gua sha tool with the curved side to your face and glide it gently up and out, starting with the neck, jawline, chin and around the mouth, between three and five times per area. Always take short strokes in just one direction, not back and forth.
3. Next, press the tool flat to the skin, under the eyes or over any redness, to soothe and de-puff.
4. Work the tool in small horizontal strokes over the brow bone to lift, or hold and press upwards between the brows to release tension.
5. Stroke down the neck, never upwards, to drain fluid.
6. If you want to reduce puffiness, work lightly, then more firmly, to relax muscles.
How often should you gua sha?
“We look after our teeth every day, and we need to do the same with our skin,” says Brindle. “In the morning, it’s about treating puffiness and energizing the skin, while at night you work more on relaxing the muscles and releasing tight connective tissue.” Simple to do, this method also passes my personal ‘Netflix test’: I can do it while watching TV.
Can gua sha relieve migraines?
If you suffer with headaches and migraines, you’ll likely already be attuned to the feeling of relief that comes with a simple scalp and forehead massage. Gua sha takes things one step further and has been shown to be a useful tool to add to your pain-relief kit. A study* that’s often referenced by experts when talking about the benefits of using gua sha for pain is that of a 72-year-old woman who saw a reduction in her chronic headaches after 14 days of using gua sha. More research needs to be done, but it looks promising.
The next time you feel a migraine or headache creeping up on you, use your chilled gua sha to massage the tension areas of your face, such as your jaw, and then use the long edge to apply pressure over your forehead, above and below your brow bones and the area between your brows. You can even use it on your scalp to relieve pressure around your temples and down towards the nape of your neck. Gua sha is by no means a replacement for normal migraine therapies, but it is certainly a helpful support act.
Which crystal gua sha to use
As with face rollers, there is a variety of tools to choose from. “Jade is known for its balancing effects and its ability to cool, so it helps de-puff features while clearing inflammation,” says Brindle. “Rose quartz relates to the heart, so it’s especially good to use on the neck and chest, but not at night, as it can be too stimulating. And while amethyst is associated with evenings and winter, citrine is good for summer and mornings.” The true crystal connoisseur knows to first cleanse their crystal of previous negative energies by washing it and then leaving it outside overnight during a full moon. Who knows whether or not this works, but the ritual provides a nice way to clear and cleanse your crystals and make them all your own.