What Exactly is Gua Sha?
“Many Chinese people forgot that some of the best beauty ingredients and the best beauty knowledge were in their own backyard” Reuters Communication’s Head of Fashion and Beauty, Jerri Ng told BoF.
This stuck in my head whilst researching Gua Sha. The first time I learned about Gua Sha––a very nice blonde lady from Los Angeles demonstrated it on me. Gua Sha is technically defined as the practice of using a small, flat and curvy tool usually made of quartz or Jade to apply pressure and scrape the skin to relieve pain and tension. A Gua Sha facial is using the tool to massage a person’s face to help relieve tension in the muscles of the face, boost circulation and encourage lymphatic drainage. It helps break up fascia—the connective tissue that hugs muscles but can sometimes interfere with optimal circulation–– and can even help to make your face look slimmer temporarily. I wanted to learn more so I contacted Sandra Lanshin, a trained Acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. She specializes in herbal dermatology which means she uses Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture to resolve common skin problems like acne, rosacea, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. Lanshin has a Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and completed a course study with world recognized leader in TCM dermatology––Mazin Al-Khafaji.
DF: How do you pronounce it?
SL: Like ‘Gua’ in guacamole and Sha as in ‘shock! There are different types of Gua Sha and it should be mentioned that traditional Gua Sha is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is one of the more important tools that we use along with acupuncture and cupping. It is done usually on the body with a somewhat aggressive technique but it doesn’t necessarily hurt. You pull out the ‘sha’ or the technical term is ‘petechiae’ and the point of that is to draw out the pathogens that is creating pain and illness in your body. That is by and large what people think of when you use the term Gua Sha. Facial Gua Sha is an adaptation, derived from the body version, it’s a gentler, slower form of it but it doesn’t have the goal of getting the Sha out of your body, skin or tissue. Facial Gua Sha is for mobilizing better circulation, releasing tension softly in your face and neck.
DF: Where did it originate?
SL: A Chinese medical practitioner Dr Ping Zhang studied and practiced Gua Sha in China before immigrating to the United States. Dr Ping Zhang has a background in Chinese medicine. She learnt facial Gua Sha from a teacher in China and began to teach in America. She developed her own tool for it called the Nefeli Gua Sha Facial and she started teaching classes in America. Her book––A Comprehensive Handbook for Traditional Chinese Medicine Facial Rejuvenation was published in 2007. That is the start of facial Gua Sha in the mainstream as we know it. Dr. Ping Zhang is now considered a leading authority in the field of holistic beauty and wellness care in the US.
DF: Jade Rolling vs Gua Sha?
SL: I think of jade rolling as a basic 1 speed bike and then facial Gua Sha is the ten speed. There are more things you can do––whereas with jade rolling all you can do is roll. The pressure is different for both techniques involve creating a force on the tissues of the skin. With jade rolling, the force is like a foam roller and so rolling does not create any kind of friction whilst Gua Sha can lift and stretch. The friction is different too––it’s soft and light but those forces can create a bigger relief and a little more heat because of the friction. It amplifies circulation from that heat––this is called thermo regulating. There’s more that can be done with Gua Sha from cradling your jaw line to your neck. Most people see results immediately such as their face feels more lifted, less puffy, skin is smoother and brighter. You can get results right away but the trick is to keep doing it to hold results. Think of it as yoga and pilates for the face. You gotta keep doing it! The experience of doing it can be so relaxing and wonderful that its not hard to work it into your routine. People with acne, if they do it several times and over several days, you will feel like the pimples are less dramatic and it helps the pimples turn over faster. This is something I have learnt through working with Gua Sha. It goes against what everyone thinks. In TCM acne is not a bacterial infection, it’s more of a congestion problem and the inflammation comes from an internal issue.
DF: So give us the Gua Sha 101
SL: Always use Gua Sha after you wash your face because it penetrates more into your dermis so always cleanse first. I like to use a facial mist––a non-alcohol or non-drying toner and then facial oil on top. But there are certain skin types that can’t handle oil–– people with perioral dermatitis and anyone who is experiencing a random/non identifiable skin irritation where their skin feels like everything stinks or itchy and their skin feels raw. With that kind of skin, I would suggest don’t do Gua Sha on your face, just do it on your neck until the skin is stable. The basic point of Gua Sha is to improve and elevate the health in your skin and your tissue. Beauty from health is the goal––it provides a movement for skin and tissue. It’s much more effective if you use a tool and it feels nicer and gives more coverage for your face. Another benefit of Gua Sha is the hydration is helpful for dry skin! Once you have finished using Gua Sha on your face, seal it with a moisturizer. Do not use Gua Sha on open skin, sunburnt, and irritable skin.
DF: What’s the best tool?
SL: There are hundreds of different shapes and materials for Gua Sha so make sure you get a tool with the right curve because your face is made of curves. I like larger and smaller curves because the smaller curves give you a tighter fit so when you want to contour areas like your jaw, brow bone or even your decolletage. You can do it for 10-15 minutes, the fewer the repetitions the faster it’s finished and minimum 3 strokes per step and there’s 6-7 steps where you cover from the back of your neck to the front of your neck, then the jaw, cheeks, under eyes, over eyes, nose and forehead. Those are the coverage areas. You go from lowest area to upper. I think it matters to go from bottom to top. If you think of a hill and the way water rolls down the hill, if you start from the lower ground and then go to the upper ground, anything you want to discharge from higher ground has somewhere to go. Your release has somewhere to should keep flowing down, drain and circulate out. It’s the subtleties and nuances that matter and group together. It all makes a difference. The results are pretty immediate and you need to keep doing it for the right results.
DF: What’s the difference between Cold vs. Hot?
SL: The only time I ever apply cold to the face is if I have heated it up too much and I need to cool it down. Or if there is a rash that is irritated or itchy or too much blood vessels dilating at the surface creating redness and irritation and then I want to put the fire out and shut it down with cold. Cold shuts down circulation and we know this from TCM so I always use a warm tool––unless someone gets red easily.