There is another skincare tool I can’t stop thinking about: the jade scraper. Also known as a gua sha tool, this little flat pebble of jade is praised near and far for its ability to chisel out cheekbones you didn’t even know existed, de-puff hangover eye bags, and crank up the dial on skin brightness.
But what exactly is gua sha and how can a small stone offer so many beauty benefits? We research the work of four skincare experts:
Board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology; Chinese medicine and skincare expert David Peters; physician and the founder and CEO of Shiffa Lamees Hamdan, MD, and licensed esthetician Ali Tobia for answers. Ahead, find their master advice and everything you need to know about this skincare treasure.
What Is Gua Sha?
While the terms "jade scraping" or "gua sha" may be new to your ears, the facial technique actually dates back centuries ago. "The [face scraping] technique is based on an ancient healing technique called Gua Sha, which was first referred to in a classical Chinese medicine text called the Shan Han Lun dated 220 CE," Peters says. "Originally, practitioners wanted to obtain 'Sha'—redness that encourages the skin to heal itself," he explains. "Having studied both Japanese and Chinese traditions, I have adapted this early technique for my facial treatments. Obviously, I don’t use it as vigorously—I’ve seen it performed with a coin in China."
"Originally a body treatment, [gua sha] has since been adapted to [be] use[d] in facial therapies, with the scraping motion evolving to a gentler gliding technique," adds Tobia, who explains, that gua sha is a method that promotes lymphatic drainage, which helps to eliminate bloating caused by interstitial fluid (fluid trapped under your skin that needs to be released to your lymph system). In other words, gua sha is good for you—and could have some additional benefits to your appearance.
The Benefits of Gua Sha
While modern-day jade scraping might be less invasive, it can still have some pretty impressive results.
- Stimulates circulation: One pilot study found that gua sha can stimulate circulation in targeted areas. Anecdotal evidence has found that it could also help ease the appearance of cellulite by lowering fluid retention—though there's not quite enough science to back that up.
- Helps produce collagen: Anecdotal evidence has found that gua sha can help decrease puffiness and soften fine lines and wrinkles by helping the body produce more collagen—thereby brightening the complexion.
- Decreases inflammation: Science has found that gua sha can help temporarily relieve pain and tightness in certain parts of the body—even leading to results that last. Those studies suggest that gua sha has an impact on inflammation (which often leads to pain).
- Diminishes dark circles: By helping soften fine lines and stimulating collagen, gua sha can help diminish dark circles (at least, temporarily) and temporarily tighten skin.
- Sculpts facial muscles: Used on the jawline and cheekbone area, gua sha can help release tight facial muscles and give the temporary appearance of a more sculpted face. It won't get rid of a double chin (it can't target fat), but it could help ease puffiness in the short term.
How to Use a Gua Sha
So how can you get the benefits of gua sha at home? "There are so many varieties and shapes of gua sha tools that there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all approach to how to use gua sha," Tobia explains. That said, there are some fundamentals to the facial gua sha process for all methods. According to Dr. Nazarian, the best method is to use gentle pressure and "apply even strokes against your skin, preferably in the direction of lymphatic flow."
“These benefits are often apparent even after the very first gua sha treatment,” says Tobia.
"I like to use a combination of short and long strokes across the areas that need it," adds Peters. Lymph nodes are located beneath the surface of the skin. "An easy, feather-like stroke of a gentle facial gua sha technique is all it takes to flush the lymph into your body’s drainage system," Tobia says. The process stimulates lymphatic flow and drainage,1 releasing excess fluids that can make the complexion look a little, well, inflated.
Confused? Tobia describes the process of lymphatic drainage for us: "It’s like a garbage disposal. The interstitial fluids that collect beneath your skin need to be flushed into the body’s natural detoxification system. Gua sha works to move those collected fluids into the lymphatic system where they get cleaned and mixed back into your bloodstream."
"Unlike the circulatory system,” she continues, “there is no pump for the lymphatic system… By performing gua sha techniques, you are giving your lymphatic system the boost that it needs to rid yourself of the fluids that are stuck beneath the surface of your skin and causing your face to bloat.”
At home, I apply a 50p-size (or, for our American readers, about the size of a quarter) puddle of facial oil and then use the tool over my entire face, neck, and décolletage. I’ve found it’s brilliant for the days when I want to really ham up the facial massage or need to iron out a cheese board-induced puffy jawline. It isn’t hard to use at all. Whilst on our hunt for gua sha inspiration, I came across queen of holistic skincare Britta Beauty on Instagram. Her gua sha videos are not only great to have on hand if you're unsure how to use a gua sha tool, but they're seriously mesmerizing too.
How Often Should You Gua Sha?
While once a week is recommended for gua sha, the frequency of use will depend on your skin type and your skin’s tolerance for the method. “As you start to familiarize yourself with it and get more comfortable with your techniques, you should aim to use gua sha at least two to three times per week,” recommends Tobia. “Once you get into a routine of performing gua sha on yourself… you’ll achieve the best results doing it daily.”
At Home vs. In-Office Gua Sha
Unlike, say, microneedling or microdermabrasion where it can be very challenging to achieve at-home results that are comparable to the in-office version, the experts we talked to repeatedly sang the praises of DIY gua sha facials. However, if you're a gua sha newbie, it's a good idea to see a pro first. Along with experiencing the professional treatment, your esthetician can also help show you the proper technique to follow in order to achieve maximum results, says Haifa. Choose a good gua sha tool and use it every morning for five minutes. First, apply a face oil or serum, then gently sweep the stone up the neck working your way toward the hairline, focusing on the cheekbones and jaw; this helps drain fluid downward and promotes circulation, explains Haifa. The key word is gently—you don't need to apply much pressure at all in order to reap the benefits.
Ultimately, professionals are more well-versed when it comes to the specific and nuanced gua sha techniques that can be done on particular areas of the face; as such, an in-office gua sha facial will yield more dramatic results. But DIY-ing daily in-between appointments is a great way to both increase and maintain those results.
When to Avoid Gua Sha and Potential Side Effects
Gua sha is not recommended for those with rashes, sunburns, or blood coagulation issues. It's also worth noting that your skin may look a little pink or red for a few moments after a treatment (or bruise depending on the pressure and your susceptibility to bruising—but remember, gentle pressure is advised).
Does Gua Sha Hurt?
Keep in mind that, if done improperly, or with too forceful a hand, gua sha may be uncomfortable. But other than that, if done correctly, gua sha is a pretty safe bet for all skin types. (In other words, if gua sha hurts, you are likely doing it incorrectly). But as always, with any specific concerns, you should speak to your physician.
Shop Our Favorite Gua Sha Tools
Before purchasing a gua sha tool, it’s important to consider its quality and material. "This is not an area where you should cut corners," Tobia reminds us. "You’re better off getting one or two high-quality tools than getting [several] cheaper tools… Not only will the higher quality stones last longer, but they’ll also provide a much more therapeutic effect," she concludes.
There are also tons of different skincare serums or facial oils that are perfect to use with your gua sha. As a general rule of thumb, you want something with enough slip that will let you really work the product into your skin, without too much pulling or dragging.
We have nothing but time to show us that this centuries-old approach is a skincare secret we should all be privy to. It's important to add that while gua sha is a great non-invasive technique, it cannot always be combined with other procedures. For example, "If you have had facial botox or injectables within the past three to four weeks, you’ll need to wait at least four weeks from your most recent injection before beginning a gua sha routine, and should never perform gua sha in the four weeks that follow any facial injections,” explains Tobia. Last but not least, while gua sha can offer rewarding results, Nazarian reminds us that most of the visible benefits are temporary, so it’s important to incorporate it into your weekly routine if you wish to maintain the benefits.