The Ancient Chinese Roots of the Viral Gua Sha Trend

Photo Illustration: Scouted/The Daily Beast/iStock
Photo Illustration: Scouted/The Daily Beast/iStock

Viral TikTok videos may have you wondering what gua sha is, where it came from, and if it can really give you a chiseled jawline in two weeks. Like many other things in our everyday life, it was invented in China. While gua sha is the name of the tool, it’s also the name of the treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It comes from the Chinese words 刮痧, which literally translates to the words “scrape” and “sand” (though sand refers to raised redness on the skin here, not actual sand).

I spoke with Dr. Ping Zhang, DOM, LAc, who has been practicing gua sha for more than 20 years, to understand the background better. According to Dr. Zhang, farmers thousands of years ago found that gently dragging a piece of china or a coin over their sunstroke would help clear it. Gua Sha was first documented in writing in the Yuan Dynasty. As the technique evolved, it was no longer just used for sunstroke. Practitioners found it helpful for alleviating digestive issues, muscle cramps, and cold symptoms. It’s still used today in TCM to help release pain and increase circulation and energy flow. While there have been many studies in China regarding the efficacy of gua sha, only recently have Western researchers begun publishing findings on the efficacy of the method.

It’s easy to see how facial gua sha has become popular, as it’s simple and accessible, with fake jade gua sha tools available for under $10 online. Dr. Zhang believes that the sudden interest is part of a growing movement toward more holistic anti-aging regimens. Dr. Zhang began incorporating it into her practice more than 20 years ago when she studied under Dr. Qing Zhang, one of the pioneers of facial rejuvenation through acupressure.

Gua sha isn’t the first ancient Chinese beauty tool to hit the mainstream beauty industry. Its predecessor, the jade roller, was also made popular a few years ago. But what’s the difference between a jade roller and a gua sha tool? The jade roller is more of a massage tool for relaxation while the gua sha tool is more of a treatment tool, Dr. Zhang explains.

“A jade roller is not going to hit as many energy points with the same accuracy that the gua sha tool can with its curves,” she says, including the anti-aging acupuncture point right under the cheekbone.

When it comes to the type of gua sha tool, white jade is Dr. Zhang’s personal favorite as it’s a very healing stone in TCM, but you can use any curved tool to perform gua sha. The idea is that wrinkles, age spots, and broken blood vessels often come from toxic heat under the skin, so the more cooling the material the better to help clear the heat.

“If performed correctly, you’ll normally see immediate results in terms of lifting, renewing the look of facial contour, firmness, and smoothness of the skin,” says Dr. Zhang. If you’re doing facial gua sha on yourself, Dr. Zhang has two rules: 1. Make sure you’re working on clean, healthy, and unbroken skin. 2. Be ultra-gentle.

For a simple at-home treatment, wash your face first and go up and out from the inner points of your face, gently dragging the tool in one direction only. Dr. Zhang also recommends anti-inflammatory, water-based liquids, oils, and serums to help the gua sha glide better. You can also use it in the shower as the steam helps move the toxic heat.

“There are at least two different techniques for facial gua sha, one is draining and one is tonifying,” Dr. Zhang says. These more precise treatments are best done by a licensed TCM practitioner.The efficacy of proper facial gua sha goes beyond the immediate results, but for those who are curious but skeptical of the ancient Chinese method, Dr. Zhang recommends simply trying it out for yourself.

"You should experience it, and your body will be the judge," says Dr. Zhang, though she recommends that as with all other natural methods, people should check with their healthcare practitioners before starting gua sha. There are those who aren’t suited to receive a gua sha treatment, such as people with skin infections, broken areas, broken blood vessels, or bleeding disorders. Pregnant women should also avoid gua sha on their shoulders, and those who have thyroid conditions should avoid using it on their necks. If you’ve had Botox or fillers within the last 8 weeks, it’s recommended to stay at least 2 inches away from those areas when getting a gua sha treatment as well.

Sacheu Gua Sha Tool

Self-cooling and durable, this anti-bacterial stainless steel gua sha tool is the perfect companion for those who can’t trust themselves with glass or breakable stone.

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Lanshin Gua Sha Tool

This Lanshin tool was designed by Sandra Lanshin Chiu, who incorporated her years of gua sha and TCM-based skincare expertise to make the tool as functional as possible.

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Over The Moon Gua Sha Duo

Those who want a two-for-one oil and gua sha tool will love this pink one.

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Dr. Loretta Intense Replenishing Serum

This serum plumps and nourishes the skin, boosting skin hydration with glycolipids. It also helps soothe any redness with vitamin E and vitamin F, making it a fantastic partner to a gua sha experience.

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Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant +

With acai seed oil and cranberry seed oil and tone-evening properties, this rosehip oil will give you a perfect glide and an antioxidant boost during your gua sha treatment.

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