TikTok is a goldmine when it comes to staying ahead of beauty, makeup and skincare trends and hacks. Open the app and you’ll be sure to see hundreds of videos showing off new tricks and tools to add to your repertoire, cure pandemic boredom or level up your self-care routine.
But the bite-sized videos often don’t do justice to the history of some of these practices – they have a way of making things seem new when, in fact, they’ve been around for a long, long time. Enter Gua Sha (pronounced gwa-sha), a Chinese tool and method that has now exploded in popularity for its depuffing effects, especially on the face, thanks to TikTok user @devonkelley_. Last month, she posted a 13-day transformation video that’s now garnered more than 2.5 million views.
@devonkelley_#stitch with @devonkelley_ some great authorities on TCM are @laurel_acupuncture and @lanshin_skin (find her on Instagram)♬ original sound – Devon Kelley
A quick search of “Gua Sha” on TikTok produces thousands of videos showing different peoples’ before-and-after results.
It may seem like an emerging beauty trend now, but the method is steeped in centuries of history, dating back to paleolithic-era China when it was used to treat ailments. Coins, tins and stones – typically made out of rose quartz or jade – were used to massage parts of the person’s body to reduce symptoms of their illness, increase blood flow and lymphatic drainage in various parts of the body and, most popularly now, used to depuff and smooth the face.
You may also like: Glass skin vs. cloud skin: Here’s what we know.
My mom used [Gua Sha] on me when I was sick with a cold
Now, it’s a popular service offered at aesthetician studios. Vivian Lau, 36, is the founder of Kintsugi Studio in Calgary. Offering clients different kinds of facials, dermaplaning and, of course, Gua Sha treatments, Lau’s studio infuses modern treatments with ancient rituals. Who does she have to thank? Her mother.
“My mom used [Gua Sha] on me when I was sick with a cold,” she said. “She would grab her Chinese menthol oils and use the back of a Chinese soup spoon to scrape the back of my neck… I never liked having it done as it was pretty painful, but I grew up learning the philosophy behind this therapy and it worked.”
“As an immigrant and Asian business owner in Canada, it’s very important for me to show the historical significance of Gua Sha,” she says. “These Chinese tools are often referred to as ‘new’ or ‘re-invented’ beauty tools, but not properly acknowledged of its origin. It’s important for brands to educate their customers of its historical roots and what the term ‘Gua Sha’ actually means.”
Western science also seems to back up what practitioners have observed for centuries
How does Gua Sha work and what does it do?
The method can be broken down into two parts: Gua meaning “scrape” and Sha meaning “sand.” The household items or stones are used to unblock, release and scrape toxins out of the body.
After applying an oil to the face, swift, gentle and vigorous upward strokes across the skin will help to relieve pain, stiffness and tension, as well as increase blood circulation. Be mindful that the tool is meant to lay almost flat, with a slight angle, against your skin. With pressure, scrape the stone across the skin repeatedly. The tool can also be used gently under the eyes, with an upward motion on the forehead and a downward motion down the back and front of the neck.
View this post on Instagram
Lau only started using the tool in her own at-home skincare practice a few years ago when she came across a jade heart-shaped stone online. As an aesthetician, she was inspired to research the historical practice she’d been introduced to as a child. Now, she’s brought these tools and their cultural significance into her treatment room.
“Facial Gua Sha creates movement in the skin. With movement comes vitality,” she says. “A clearing and dispersion of stagnation, a fresh flow of nutrients and oxygen to sluggish areas, replenishing and feeding skin cells, flushing toxins and metabolic waste that manifests as dull, lacklustre complexion, puffiness, congestions and most unwanted skin concerns.”
And Western science also seems to back up what practitioners have observed for centuries. One 2007 study out of New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center found that Gua Sha increased microcirculation fourfold in the first 7.5 minutes following treatment, and that there was a significant increase in surface microcirculation during the entire 25 minutes of the study period following treatment. Additionally, and perhaps even more interestingly, researchers discovered that pain relief persisted to some extent up to the follow-up visit; “There is an unidentified pain-relieving biomechanism associated with Gua Sha.” There were no adverse reactions.
You may also like: The science behind why caffeine may be the secret to really good hair.
How to choose the right shape and stone
The shape of the tool, Lau explains, can provide a different experience for different contours of the face. The type of stone determines the weight, temperature and healing properties. Bian stone, for example, is heavier than jade, while jade is cooler in temperature than bian.
“If I’m looking to relieve muscle tension in my jaw, I’ll usually grab my bian stone, as it is thicker and heavier and will give a deeper pressure,” Lau says. “For depuffing, I’ll reach for my jade stone to cool.” Her boutique carries a variety of stones for different techniques, but she assures that there are really no bad choices.
“When someone asks which stone they should go with, I suggest choosing any stone that resonates with you,” she says. “The benefits will grow with you as you improve your routine.”
A roller, rather than a flat stone, also helps with improving circulation, lymphatic drainage, softening of fine lines and wrinkles, and can help serums penetrate the skin. But Lau adds that a facial Gua Sha will do all of that with the added benefit of tension relief, and contouring and lifting of the skin.
“One isn’t better than the other,” she says. “It’s nice to have both types of tools in your skincare repertoire.”