How to use the gua sha facial tool and its skin care benefits

Among all the viral beauty hacks, gua sha is a legitimate practice with a centuries-old history. Gua sha not only helps lift and tone the face, it also aids in lymphatic drainage and reduces inflammation. Originating from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), facial gua sha can be found all over TikTok and social media thanks to its transformative abilities. Its virality has also led to the smooth stones used for gua sha becoming bonafide beauty tools, found on the shelves of Sephora and Ulta.

Here we consult two Asian beauty brand founders and TCM experts about the traditions behind gua sha, its beauty benefits and how to incorporate it into your own skincare routine.

“Gua sha is a traditional Chinese medical (TCM) practice that goes back centuries,” says Sandra Chiu, founder of Lanshin, licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and master of science in TCM. “The practice involves using a gua sha tool to stroke or ‘scrape’ tight, tense or pathological areas of the body to break up and remove blood stagnation in those areas. This in turn improves blood circulation , fluids and qi (energy). It was used to treat pain, and even diseases as serious as cholera. Today, gua sha remains an important modality that TCM practitioners use to treat pain and stimulate immune function.

“[It] is excellent for lymphatic drainage, addressing stagnant energy, promoting blood flow, soothing headaches, reducing inflammation, shortening acute illnesses such as colds and flu and releasing tension from head to toe,” says Lin Chen, founder and CEO of Pink Moon.

There is a difference between medicinal gua sha and facial gua sha. According to Chiu, “Medical gua sha for treating pain, illness or internal disorder should only be done by a trained and licensed professional.” Facial gua sha, however, uses a “much slower speed and gentler touch,” and is safe for people to practice at home.

While there have been studies to support the benefits of medicinal gua sha, there is still research to be done on facial gua sha. “There is a large body of modern research and evidence that anti-inflammatory and immune protective effects of [medical] gua sha treatment,” shares Chiu. “It has been shown to be effective in treating painful conditions such as acute and chronic internal organ disorders, including liver inflammation in hepatitis.” For facial gua sha, the expert notes that there is a lack of studies in the west, however, TCM universities in China have conducted studies “that demonstrate the effectiveness of facial gua sha protocols in treating conditions such as melasma and anti-aging care.”

Facial gua sha can help de-puff and sculpt the face, increase circulation, release tension, ease headaches and even help reduce blocked sinuses and congestion. The most prominent beauty benefits have gone viral on TikTok, showing transformations where people’s faces look more contoured and lifted.

Whether you use a gua sha tool to sculpt your face or you want to release tension, the right technique is important. Chen says the best way to learn is to get training from a licensed acupuncturist and TCM practitioner (“Look for an ‘L.Ac.’ after their name, or a doctorate (Dr.) credential indicating that the acupuncturist received a doctorate in Chinese medicine.”) or watch online tutorials by professionals. Lanshin has a number of useful tutorials on its website and social media. TikTok can also be a great source for how-to videos, featuring TCM experts as well as Dr. Laurel Liu and Yina’s founders, acupuncturist Angela Chau Gray and Dr. Ervina Wu, who share their techniques.

Chen recommends doing facial gua sha for five minutes twice a day, or at least once a day, for the best results. Incorporating gua sha into your morning and/or evening skin care routines is an easy way to make it a consistent practice. According to Chen, doing facial gua sha in the morning can help with “reduction of swelling in the cheeks and under the eyes,” while gua sha at night “promotes relaxation and better sleep.”

When you​​​​​​are ready to pick up your gua sha tools, here are some expert-approved guidelines for practicing gua sha.

  • Start with a clean face. You can incorporate gua sha into your skin care routine by doing it right after you cleanse your face in the morning or evening.
  • Prepare your skin. “Before you do gua sha, you want to make sure you prep your skin with something emollient like a facial oil or a balm,” says Chen. Chiu agrees, saying a facial oil is optimal for providing “slipperiness.” You want your skin to be smooth so the gua sha tool can slide easily without pulling.
  • Keep the tool flat. Using the thin edge of the tool, when perpendicular to the face, is a common mistake when doing gua sha. Instead, “Keep the stone as flat and close to the skin as possible, [at a] 15º angle so you don’t create unnecessary friction or pull your skin,” says Chen.
  • Start on the neck. You can start using the tool by gently scraping each side of the neck. “On the neck, you can use downward and upward strokes,” advises Chiu. “However, you must do all the up strokes at once, and all the down strokes at once (don’t stroke up-down-up-down like you’re painting a wall).”
  • Use light pressure and go slowly. “The pressure varies depending on the area of ​​the face or neck, but I recommend light to medium pressure, and always feather-light around the eyes,” says Chiu. “The face really responds to a ‘less is more’ approach.” You also don’t want to rush through the routine. Taking your time will yield better results and less risk of bruising or pulling on the skin.
  • Work outwards. “On the face, the general rule is to stroke from the center of your face outward and upward, using the flat body of your tool (not the thin edge of it),” shares Chiu.
  • Do not exercise on acne. If you have an active breakout, Chen says you can skip the face and just do gua sha on the neck and chest. “This will help increase circulation and reduce inflammation,” she says.
  • A little redness is normal. Your skin may turn slightly pink or red during your gua sha routine, indicating that blood is rushing to the surface of the skin. The small spots of red are the “petechiae” and represent a release of toxic energy.

When you​​​​​​are looking for a gua sha tool, the experts recommend choosing one that fits the natural contours of your face. The tool should be comfortable in your hand and against your face. They are often made from natural stones such as rose quartz and jade, which have natural cooling properties and are believed to have spiritual and healing properties in TCM. When buying a gua sha tool made from this, it is important to look for authentic natural stones – glass lookalikes are common – as they last longer and are less likely to break. Shopping from an Asian-owned brand is another factor to consider, as gua sha is primarily a wellness practice rooted in TCM and supporting the community it comes from helps keep the traditions alive.

$60 at Yina

Created by TCM doctors, Yina’s gua sha tool is shaped and sized to be used on the face and body. It is made from Bian Shi stone, which contains over 30 minerals believed to have healing benefits. According to the brand, “Mineralogical studies show that Bian stone creates far-infrared waves, ultrasound pulses and negative ions that help stimulate and regenerate healthy human cells and DNA.”

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ prices at the time of publication.