The Detox Toolbox: Gua Sha

The main reason I regularly attend aesthetics and nutrition conferences and trade shows is for the continuing education. Of course show specials and free samples are fun too–but by attending and listening to the speakers and attending the seminars, I get to learn about new technologies, scientific advancements, techniques and modalities much sooner than I’d learn about them just surfing on the Internet. Best of all, I get to share what I learn with you!

gua sha facial demo
Facial gua sha demonstration at the International Congress of Esthetics and Spa Philadelphia 2014 show

I especially love learning about new detox techniques since I’ve found that helping one’s body naturally release toxins is so crucial to healthy, clear skin and a healthy body. Gua sha is detox technique that isn’t new at all–it actually dates back about 3,000 years in Eastern healing traditions–but it hasn’t had the same amount of popularity as other detox techniques like dry brushing, cleanses, foot baths, salt baths, cupping, and body wraps have. In fact, I only had ever heard of it as a modality for the body done in conjunction with acupuncture from my friend Jennifer who had experienced it and liked it. Learning about it as part of a facial ritual (both as part of a spa treatment and home care) was completely new to me.

What is gua sha?

Gua sha is a long-used technique both by acupuncturists and also practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that involves using a smooth-edged implement–typically a jade stone–to “scrape” along the meridians of the body using short or long strokes and varying amounts of pressure with the intention of removing stagnation along the chi/tsubo points for detoxification, lymphatic drainage, and also pain relief.
Traditional gua sha can actually cause temporary redness and even bruising, but facial gua sha is much gentler and doesn’t use enough pressure to cause these reactions.

Why use gua sha as part of a facial?

Eastern healing modalities like TCM and Ayurveda look at the systems of the body and the body as a whole in a completely different way than Western medical and even Western plant-based healing modalities do. Instead of treating an ailment based on a symptom, Eastern and Eastern-minded practitioners seek to keep all fluids, tissues, organs, and systems functioning property by maintaining a healthy flow of chi (or ki/qi) energy along the meridians of the body–the same energy used to heal during Reiki treatments. Without chi–or lifeforce energy–we cannot live.

acupressure head
This is my facial acupressure head–all the points you see correspond to different organs and systems of the body and are stimulated during facial acupressure as well as facial gua sha treatments.

In Eastern healing, different organs of the body can be stimulated and/or healed at various points of the body–not just in the location of that organ. Different areas of the hands, feet, ears, and face all correspond to different organs and systems of the body, so by applying pressure and/or movement to these areas, a healthy flow of chi is either restored (if there was stagnation) or maintained.
According to Janel Luu of LeMieux Skincare, there are 12 major meridian lines in the face, and the points along these meridians correspond to 11 organs in the body. By keeping all of these energy points open, we can prevent stagnation and the buildup of toxins in these organs. She also pointed to a belief that through toxic build-up in the skin and its underlying subcutaneous fat layer, disease is able to enter into the body by penetrating through these deeper layers of skin into the muscles and internal organs, which is why starting at the skin can be so helpful.
The scraping movement is great for reducing inflammation and toning facial muscles which makes this treatment ideal for congested skin, acne-prone skin, as well as to maintain youthful, firm, vibrant skin.

Why use jade?

There are different types of jade–jadeite, Transvaal jade, and nephrite jade–which are all known for their energetic healing properties in Eastern healing, as well as metaphysical healing using crystals and gemstones. According to one of my favorite books, LOVE IS IN THE EARTH: The Crystal & Mineral Encyclopedia, jade is helpful in the balancing and healing of the heart, hips, kidneys, and spleen and it is famous for its ability to sooth, stimulate, and tone the skin. It’s also helpful for hormone balancing, reducing inflammation, and overall healing.

gua sha kit
My new jade and celadon clay facial gua sha kit

While I was at the spa show, I also saw gua sha implements made of bronze at Diamond Way Ayurveda’s booth. I asked how that differed from jade and Robert Sachs said the metal was a much better conductor of energy which he felt was more effective than the jade.
I love jade and felt a stronger connection to the jade, so that’s what I decided to purchase.

What technique is used for facial gua sha?

In addition to facial detox and energetic stimulation, gua sha is also great for facial contouring and lifting. You’d apply a facial oil or moisturizer onto clean, toned skin, and then with gentle pressure (about 2 pounds worth of pressure, according to Luu), you’d gently use the smooth edges of the jade to scrape and lift the skin from the center brow upwards toward the hairline. Then you’d begin at the side of the nose and the jawline and scrape outward and up towards the ears along the meridian lines (see image* below), and then you’d gently scrape downwards on the sides of the face for release/drainage.
facial meridians
This YouTube video shows how simple this technique is.

Luu also recommended a celadon clay massaging tool like the one in my photo above, which has smooth ridges for use on the scalp, back of the neck and shoulders, and even on back, abdominal, and thigh muscles. It literally feels like you’re being massaged with a thousand tiny little fingers.
Many spas now offer gua sha as part of a facial treatment or as a stand alone treatment. I highly recommend trying it out. If you’d like to try it yourself at home, Amazon has some nice jade gua sha tools you can purchase.

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Have you ever experienced gua sha as a facial or body treatment?

Please share your experience in the comments below!
*Image scanned from PurErb Exotic Voyage product brochure.


7 thoughts on “The Detox Toolbox: Gua Sha”

  1. Can you use the gua aha technique if you have Rosacea on your face?
    I have very sensitive skin with Acne Rosacea and find any sort of stimualtion
    even a light dry brushing with an appropriate facial brush causes increased irritation
    and redness. Is this a normal reaction for an inflamed skin type? Does the the skin eventually adapt and rebalance after continuous use?
    I have many food allergies, eat clean mainly raw but seem to have developed this in my
    mid 50’s.

    1. I wouldn’t recommend any kind of friction at all on the areas of the face where there’s rosacea–and I’m not a fan of facial brushing at all in general. You could use the gua sha technique on the areas of the face that aren’t inflamed, but I don’t advise it on flare-ups or directly on broken out skin.

  2. My Ayurvedic practitioner has been using a gua sha on me for many months, and you can really tell a difference on the areas she gives the most attention! I had never heard of it before. I have not tried Jade. She uses hardwood for her gua shas. Works for me. She recently started making and selling her own gua shas on Etsy, along with some herbal formulas and things. She uses local and exotic hardwoods and they are really almost works of art. I got one in Walnut and it is beautiful! I don’t know if this is allowed, but here is a link for anybody who might want a custom, one-of-a-kind gua sha!
    Thanks for this article, and all the other great information!

  3. Pingback: Can Stone Medicine Give You Clear Skin? Interview with Sarah Thomas

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