Gua Sha 101
Gua Sha is my newest obsession. Not only is it incredibly fun to say (guaaaaa sha), but the results have been so profound and immediate that I’m completely hooked. This article will cover the in’s and out’s of this ancient traditional Chinese ritual, aptly names “the Eastern facelift,” for its instant ability to de-puff, boost circulation, and give you a natural glow.
Gua sha is comprised of two Chinese words: gua, meaning to rub or scrape, and sha, a type of stagnant energy that triggers the excess heat to build within the body. Together, the term gua sha means the act of rubbing the skin to remove an energy blockage. This ancient massage technique comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and involves gently scraping well oil’d skin in a particular fashion to boost circulation and move lymph fluid towards drainage points.
Your lymphatic system is actually twice as big as your circulatory system, but unlike the circulatory system (which naturally pumps and cleans the blood with oxygen), the lymph fluid has no natural way to circulate on its own. It’s up to you to ensure that lymph gets moving, which is a necessary pathway of your body’s self-detoxification! Your lymphatic system is responsible for transporting the immune cells to tissues in need, it rids the body of foreign substances (like cancer cells) by trapping and destroying them, as well as foreign organisms like viruses.
In Eastern medicine (both TCM and Ayurveda) the cause of illness is often rooted in stagnation of Chi (or life force energy), which manifests itself in many ways including bloating, water and fat retention, swollen lymph nodes, morning stiffness, joint pain, skin conditions, swollen face, constipation, and lack of energy. If you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, you're probably over-due for some lymph lovin'. The lymphatic system is connected to your digestive, immune, respiratory, and circulatory systems, and so improving your body’s lymphatic circulation will improve the overall health of many of your bodily systems.
There are many ways to get lymph fluid moving, including rebounding (on a trampoline), dry brushing the skin, exercise, cupping, and of course: gua sha! The reason I love this technique so much is that the face generally gets neglected, and yet it works so hard, all day long. We hold so much tension in our faces/ jaw/ neck, and it’s often not until you get a proper jaw massage or start a gua sha protocol that you realize it. By incorporating gua sha into your routine (ideally every day) you will notice a dramatic release of tension in the TMJ area, as well as all the physical perks.
For links/ more information on these lymph-moving tools, check out my products page HERE.
1. tones the muscles of the face which reduces and prevents sagging skin
2. firms and hydrates the skin
3. puts the body into a parasympathetic state, which is relaxing and integral to allow the body to heal
4. boosts blood flow & circulation, which reduces dark circles/ bags under eyes, and removes puffiness (caused by stagnation)
5. naturally slims the face and instantly lifts and revitalized the skin
6. helps the skin recover from trauma (blemishes + scars)
7. prevents wrinkles and helps smooth existing lines
8. allows serums to penetrate deeper and hydrate/ nourish the skin releases
9. improves TMJ disorders and tension of neck/ jaw muscles and fascia
10. practice of self-care and cultivation of self-love and self-worth
Skin is such a fascinating subject; not only is it our largest organ, but it is deeply connected to the health of all our other organs. Although it is our outer shell, it basically acts as a mirror for what is going on internally. I’ll be honest in saying that my skin and face before incorporating gua sha was already on point. Despite being 27, I look 16…. and my lifestyle pretty much guarantees that ill be youthfulAF deep into my 90’s. Gua sha is not a panacea, but an absolutely amazing tool to incorporate into a healthy, conscious lifestyle.
A few benefits I have noticed straight away was first of all the instant de-puff and lift. This is why I gua sha in the morning: it’s a great way to get the lymph moving after an entire night of stagnation. Secondly, I hold heaps of tension in my jaw/ neck and upper shoulders area. It doesn’t cause me pain (yet), but because I exercise a lot, and just by being human- I’ve noticed these areas definitely build up tension. I get a monthly deep tissue massage to help release this, but incorporating gua sha has been mind blowing in terms of releasing tensions in area that never get touched/ massaged (like the upper lip!!!). Despite smiling and talking all day long, how much self-care does your upper lip get? None. Within the first couple of weeks (performing gua sha every day) I noticed a significant reduction is the gritty cartilage sensation in the upper lip area in particular, a sensation I didn’t even know existed until I started gua sha.
Another benefit I noticed is how profound this self-care routine is in terms of cultivating self-love.... just by spending a couple of minutes every morning really mindfully loving your face and skin. Focusing on areas that usually get neglected- like the top of your lip, or the muscle behind your eyebrows (another sneaky spot of tension!), and really just spending time mindfully on each part of your face… you get to know yourself on some weirdly deep new level. Taking 5 minutes every single day to honour your face is a powerful way to cultivate self-worth and respect for your skin suit, for your home.
To see sustained benefits, it is suggested you commit to at least 2x week, but honestly: take 5 minutes and try to incorporate it every single day. I personally gua sha in the morning, to help get the lymph moving after being stagnant all night; but some people prefer doing it before bed (the relaxing parasympathetic massage can help you sleep!). Find a way that works in your current routine so you are more likely to keep up with it. Implementing this routine was super easy for me because the benefits are so instantaneous, and the invigorating aliveness that your face feels after a gua sha session is hell-a addictive.
There are multiple tools you can use to perform the scraping gua sha movements. Back in the day they would often use a ceramic Chinese soup spoon, a well worn coin, jade stone, animal bones, and even horns. Today they range from plastic, to wood, to quartz- but I would avoid using anything synthetic on your skin. There are many gua sha sets, commonly from plastic or crystals; my set is made of rose quartz (um hells yes), but you could even start off by using your fingers/ the palm of your hand and still get the lymph fluid moving. Is there any better way to tell your face you love it than massaging it with the love stone every morning? I think not! Go rose quartz, pals! #selfloveAF
You will also need to oil your face and neck, and ensure you opt for a face-friendly oil. Most oils (despite being natural) are not suited for the face. The particles of many oils (like coconut) are too large for our pores, and can cause allergic reactions in some. Oils suited for the face include jojoba, tamanu oil, and rosehip oil. To learn more about which oils are best for the face vs. body, check out the epic book Renegade Beauty, by Nadine Artemis... it is truly a natural living Bible. My favourite oils are the Living Libations “Best Skin Ever” line, in Sandalwood, or Frankincense. Just a couple of drops cover the whole face, and the gua sha really enables these oils to deeply penetrate and nourish the skin.
First, well-oil your face and neck using a face appropriate oil. I like to wipe down my face before oiling it with some warm water, using an organic face cloth. Using slightly warm water helps open the pores, and washes any dirt or dead skin cells.
In gentle, sweeping motions, you gently drag the skin using your gua sha tools starting at points from the centre of the face outwards, and then down towards the nodes above your collarbone. Many gua sha protocols will tell you to start at the top and work your way down, but as guided in the picture below- it is more beneficial to start down and work your way up. By starting at the bottom you open up the lymph nodes and create a draining system for the lymph fluid above. I personally like to go though the face twice, so bottom to top, and then a quick top to bottom.
The lymphatic system is very superficial, so to prove the lymph you need to apply very gentle pressure. More pressure with target the muscles of the face, which has its own set of benefits… but will not move your lymph. If your scraping is causing your face to turn bright red (or leaves a bruise!) mate, you’ve gone too far. If you google “gua sha” you’ll most likely stumble on pictures of bright red marks induced by intense body gua sha methods, this is very different from gua sha performed on the face. Facial gua sha is gentle, and I cannot overstate that less is more when it comes to pressure and the lymphatic system. The pressure should be that of a 5cent coin- yep, gentleAF.
The gua sha tool is to be held on an angle (around 20 degrees)- basically laying flat along your face. You’re not using jagged edges to scrape inwards; you are gently dragging a large part of the stone along your face.
This roadmap will guide you through the general motions, starting at 1 with the neck, and working your way up:
Note: You'll notice the neck area has arrows going both upwards and downwards- this is because the nodes (drainage points) are found both at the top and bottom of the neck. I like to gently get things moving in both direction before working my way up the face, but ultimately get stuff moving down towards the heart (and the larger nodes that sit above the collarbone).
A great video to better understand the process; I suggest following along your first time:
That's it folks! Have you tried it? Are you going to? Leave any questions or comments below! Happy gua-sha-ing!