I’m a Gua Sha Practitioner: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Using One
Main image – Hausklaus/Stocksy
Scraping – commonly referred to as ‘gua sha’ is a Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique used for centuries to address issues like colds, low immunity, minimising pain and removing toxins from the body.
Traditionally, this technique doesn’t need any special tools and is performed on the body/back, using anything from a Chinese soup spoon to coins to scrape the skin.
With over 3B views under #guasha on TikTok now though, you’re more likely to know this popular practice by the pretty rose quartz or jade tools you will have seen influencers using to massage their faces (often as part of some kind of 37-step skincare routine).
But just because it’s suddenly in fashion, it doesn’t mean gua sha is without benefits – or that it’s difficult to do on your own skin.
As a beauty journalist and certified gua sha practitioner, I’ve seen a lot of benefits using these techniques. Even trying it out for two minutes per day can make a difference.
That’s why I’m sharing my steps for exactly how to use one here, as well as the common mistakes I see users make (and how to avoid them).
What are the benefits of gua sha?
Without going over the theoretical parts too much, gua sha aids the movement of the lymph.
The lymph is part of our body’s natural detoxification system and helps protect us from illness, bacteria and more. Although our lymph nodes work on their own, sometimes lymph fluids can build up in our faces and bodies (hello puffiness) and a helping hand through gua sha massage can drain this excess fluid.
Dr Zainab Laftah, consultant dermatologist at medical clinic HCA Shard, confirms the benefits. “Gua sha helps improve circulation and lymphatic drainage,” adding that this can provide a depuffing and lifting effect.
I’ve personally noticed these benefits using a gua sha on my own skin. As I’m in my early 30s, I can’t speak on how gua sha performs on wrinkles and skin sagging but these are the benefits I have seen:
- Decrease in inflammation from spots
- A more sculpted face
- Minimised tension in my muscles (temporarily)
- Alleviates pain from teeth grinding (TMJ)
- My face looks more awake and brighter by improving blood circulation
- It’s a relaxing technique
You can also see the difference (especially in my under eye puffiness and jawline) in my before and after photo below.
While all this is impressive, there are limits to what you can achieve with a gua sha though, and Dr Laftah explains, “The effects of lifting and reduction in lines/wrinkles however are temporary and may only last a few hours.
“In order to reduce wrinkles the activity of the muscle needs to be reduced/suppressed and muscle relaxing injections are needed.”
She also says that any social media posts you see claiming that gua shas can help increase skin collagen levels are probably untrue.
“There is no scientific evidence for increasing collagen absorption elastin production [via gua sha].”
Who shouldn’t use a gua sha?
Despite its benefits, gua sha isn’t for everyone.
Dr Laftah explains the treatment should be avoided when the skin is inflamed; “I would not recommend treatment if there is active skin inflammation for example in eczema, acne or rosacea. Friction from gua sha may result in worsening of the skin irritation and inflammation.”
You should also avoid using one if any of these apply:
- Bleeding-related conditions or if you are on blood thinning medications
- Right after botox/fillers (you can do it after 2 and 4 weeks respectively avoiding the areas treated)
- Open wounds, scratches, sunburn
- During the first trimester of pregnancy
How to use your gua sha
Top tips before you start:
- Clean your face and remove any makeup
- Use an oil or a thick cream. You need to glide the stone on your face otherwise it creates friction
- If you have an active breakout, avoid gliding over those spots, as you can spread the bacteria and cause further breakouts
- Wash your gua sha before and after every use with warm water and mild soap
- It can be used morning or night, as it’s both invigorating and relaxing
- Use a shallow angle to your skin, laying the gua sha almost flat against your face
- Always move the tool in an upward motion on the face and downwards on the neck (to improve lymphatic drainage)
- Go gently. As Dr Laftah explains, “Inexperience and heavy-handedness can result in redness, swelling and bruising”
Step 1: Start with your chin
Starting at the chin gently move the curved edges of your gua sha along to the ear 8 times at a 15-degree angle. Use the opposite hand to the side you’re working on.
Step 2: Move on to your nose
Lay the inside curve of your gua sha (the straight side of the tool) towards your nose and sweep the tool outwards, holding the nose. Repeat 6-8 times on each side.
Step 3: Massage your forehead
Start at the middle of the forehead using the flat side of your gua sha and move towards the temples with light to medium pressure. Repeat 6-8 times on each side.
Step 4: Lift your jawline
Start from under your chin and move the curved edges of your gua sha towards your ear. Do it for 8 times each side.
Step 5: Repeat with your cheekbones
With the double edge of your gua sha pointing down, go upwards under the cheekbone and towards the temples. Do a few pulse motions and repeat 6 times on each side
Step 6: Move back to your forehead
Using the flat side of your gua sha, start in the middle of the forehead and move upwards diagonally towards the hairline. You can do this for up to 30 seconds on each side.
Step 7: Do your lymphatic drainage
Move down the side of the neck to move the fluid down to the lymph. Repeat 8 times on each side, using light pressure.
From the collarbone move outwards using light pressure. You can press over or under the collarbone depending on how pronounced it is.
Step 8: Press an acupressure point
As an extra tip, if you want a quick moment of calm try this acupressure point using your gua sha.
Press in between the brows for 30 seconds. This point is called Yin Tang and I find it instantly relaxes the forehead. Remember to take nice deep breaths while doing this.
Step 9: Finish with your skincare
Wash your face after your gua sha routine before moving on to the rest of your skincare routine.
Struggles I had learning how to use gua sha
For me, when I initially started using my gua sha back in 2017, I struggled with understanding the right techniques for me and the amount of pressure to use.
Having read about the traditional Chinese techniques, I initially thought I had to apply a lot of pressure on my face just like they do on the body. This is wrong as the face on the skin is more delicate.
Another thing that was hit and miss for me, was doing gua sha with acne. Initially, I avoided the breakout areas completely but then understood how to use gua sha to my advantage. If you only have a few spots, you can use a pinpoint gua sha stone (I like this one) and go around the spot and push out, without touching the spot. I’ve noticed this takes down the inflammation quicker.
At first, I was also holding the tool wrong at a nearly 90-degree angle to the skin. The ideal angle is nearly flat or max 45-degree angle to the skin.
Most commons issues I’ve seen with clients
As gua sha has become a trend in the last few years, it’s natural that more and more people are keen to try it out. They purchase a stone but then don’t know how to use it. There are countless videos online but it’s hard to know where to start.
Questions I often get asked are how much pressure to apply (start with a light and gradually move to medium pressure) and what techniques to use.
I advise them on the same simple techniques I’ve mentioned above to start but also tell them to use the tools intuitively. As long as you use upward motions and a 15-45-degree angle, you can create your own moves – that’s how I started! Later on, you can get professional help and tips to target your specific concerns.
Initially, I recommend people to do 1-2 minutes a day maximum and gradually increase depending on their needs.
How to choose the ideal gua sha tool
If you choose a stone, like jade, ensure it’s 100% crystal. To keep the costs down manufacturers might mix it with plastic or resin and other materials.
You also want your gua sha to be thick- definitely not too thin- and it’s easier to tell the thickness if you shop in store rather than online.
Many companies buy crystals in bulk and just add their logo on them – so most of them, regardless of the company name, are the same. These are okay if you are just starting and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a tool, but they shouldn’t be used long term as they don’t have the right weight to them.
Finally, do your due diligence in terms of the ethical sourcing of the stones/crystals
My favourite gua sha tools
- I highly rate The Hayo’u Method’s tool (£20 from the Hay’ou Method UK and $25 from the Hay’ou Method US). They are high-quality, pure, GIA-certified crystals.
- A stainless steel gua sha is a good option if you want to use it on the face and body:
- A mushroom gua sha massager can be used in a similar way as a tradition gua sha and it’s ideal for massaging the temples and jaw.
- I also love the Mout Lai gua sha tool ($30 from Mount Lai US) from this highly rated brand rooted in TCM.
Gua sha doesn’t have to be complicated and you’re likely to notice less facial puffiness and a possible lifting effect if you use one regularly (although those benefits will disappear once you stop using one).
Stick to my simple steps above, go gentle on your skin, and you should be seeing those gua sha benefits in no time.
Meet the expert
Dr Zainab Laftah is a consultant dermatologist working at the renowned St John’s Institute of Dermatology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. Her interests within the field of dermatology include medical and aesthetic dermatology and she strives to deliver safe and effective dermatology with rewarding clinical results.