#SkinSchool: Everything you need to know about gua sha

An ancient practice with modern benefits.

Harper's Bazaar India

First came the jade roller revival, purporting skin de-puffing benefits as well as therapeutic appeal. But those hoping to extend their holistic self-care into the realms of sculpting quickly graduated onto gua sha: an ancient Chinese therapy that’s hard to pronounce (phonetically, it's gwa-sa), yet surprisingly simple to understand.

It swiftly made it mainstream: with celebrity endorsement aplenty (“I love my gua sha,” Kendall Jenner told us in a recent interview; as did Brooke Shields in the video you'll find below), as well as social-media virality. Indeed, new research by The Body Shop has just named the 12 most popular 'SkinTok' trends from 2023 ranking gua sha at number three.

But if you're wondering exactly what gua sha is–and how you can reap the benefits–you're in the right place. We asked the experts exactly that.


What is gua sha?

"Gua sha can be literally translated as 'scraping sand'," explains Ada Ooi, facialist and founder of 001 Skincare. The technique originates from ancient China, and involves scraping the muscles along the different meridians of the body, using a small, smooth-edged stone.

The intense traditional body treatment, which leaves bold red marks all over the skin, has now evolved into a gentler, therapeutic facial therapy, best known for its purported contouring benefits.

How does gua sha work?

According to Ooi, the firm, sweeping movements used in a gua sha therapy work to boost circulation, which can have multiple benefits for the face.

“When combined with other techniques such as lymphatic drainage, gua sha can also lift the contours of your face, or break down blockages and correct facial asymmetry caused by bad habits and irregular alignment of the body,” she says.

So far, so appealing–but can a gua sha facial massage really live up to such big claims?

Despite the therapy’s ancient origins, modern research does provide plentiful support for its benefits–notably when it comes to muscle recovery, pain management, and skin microcirculation.

A recent study revealed that gua-sha therapy increased microcirculation in the skin’s surface fourfold, decreasing muscle tightness and pain. Increased blood flow in the face means a heightened update of nutrients and oxygen, which ultimately shifts toxins and leads to healthier skin.

It's this boosted blood flow that makes gua sha such a great treatment for both face and body. Myriad skin conditions are believed to be related to a sluggish system and stagnant lymph flow, as toxins trapped in blocked passageways will move out of the body in other ways, potentially leading to skin infections and breakouts. By getting the lymphatic system moving again, gua sha allows for any excess waste to be flushed away.

So, while claims that gua sha can reduce wrinkles long-term should be met with apprehension, it seems these smooth stones can potentially lead to healthier skin while easing chronically clenched muscles.

Gua sha or jade roller–which is best?

Of course, if there’s already a jade (or amethyst, or rose quartz) roller nestled on your skincare shelf, you might be wondering if you really need to invest in a gua sha tool.

According to wellness consultant David Petrusich, which one you opt for is simply down to a matter of preference in modality. “The facial roller can be a much more convenient and quick option for stimulating blood flow and draining puffiness, while the gua sha can help the user bring some intuitive flow to their routine, working on a deeper level while spending more time really indulging in the ritual of skincare.”

So, a jade roller makes for a speedy de-puffing tool – especially when fresh from the fridge – but a gua-sha allows for more precision, firmer pressure, and deeper benefits.

While she agrees that facial rollers offer gentle blood stimulation and massage, Ooi considers them limited when it comes to manipulating face structure. “Gua sha tools have been made in many different shapes, and you can take your pick depending on the results you are looking for,” she says. “For instance, a larger tool with a fan-like shape is best used to target the cheeks. A smaller one with a pointed edge is useful for precision around the eyes and lips.” She also advises running a gua sha around the ears: “The area is rich in meridian points, and it feels absolutely relaxing.”

Ooi herself prefers to work with a heavier stone, as they require less strength for adequate pressure, and can reach deeper into the tissues. “The edges of the stones are an important factor too: a gradually slimmed edge can go under the musculoskeletal structure and offer deeper control,” she says.

How to use a gua sha at home

While gua sha’s intense cheekbone-sharpening effects may be best left to a professional facialist, it’s easy to reap the lymph-boosting benefits of the therapy at home. All you’ll need is a tool – most on the market now are made of rose quartz or jade – and an oil of your choice to layer beneath (we like the luxurious Murad Multi-Vitamin Infusion Oil, which alone targets visible signs of ageing and brights skin).

“First of all, do not be intimidated,” says Ooi. “You can barely create ‘sha’ (the red marks) when performing gua sha on the face.” She likens the oxygen-flushed results of an at-home treatment to that of a post-gym glow.

Contrary to popular belief, a gua sha shouldn’t typically be stored in the fridge, as the aim is to let the blood vessels expand and flow, rather than restrict.

How often should a gua sha be used?

The key to seeing results faster is consistency in your practice. Petrusich suggests using your gua sha once a day for two to five minutes, to make the biggest difference over time. “If you’re not able to commit to that time, you’ll still notice a difference–it just might not be as long-lasting,” he says.

This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar UK