Gua sha: how to use it, the skincare benefits and the best ones

From increasing circulation to aiding lymphatic drainage, gua sha has a wide range of benefits. Here, we explain everything you need to know about the ancient Chinese healing technique.

You may have spotted a gua sha tool on your Instagram feed before. But it’s far from a passing skincare fad. Gua sha (pronounced “gwa sha”) is a skincare tool used for facial massage. The boomerang-type shape allows you to utilise the different angles and sides to target different areas on the face for a deep massage. 

“It’s been widely practised in China for thousands of years,” explains Katie Brindle, founder of Hayo’u and Chinese medicine practitioner. “‘Gua’ means to press-stroke, whilst ‘sha’ describes the temporary red flush that results.”

Alongside a long list of benefits – Stylist’s senior beauty writer Hanna Ibraheem has found it particularly effective in helping to relieve the muscle tension she gets in her jaw from teeth grinding – there are a number of ways to use them and different stones to choose from. Here, Brindle explains everything you need to know about gua sha…

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What are the key benefits of gua sha?

“I believe it’s the single most effective technique for transforming your skin. Facial gua sha stimulates the dermis to support collagen and elastin production and releases tension to relax your facial muscles. It has been shown in studies to exponentially increase circulation and aid lymphatic flow, release congestion and soothe sore eyes and skin, to brighten your complexion and leave you with a radiant glow.”

How do you use a gua sha tool?

“This is a super-quick exercise to wake up your face and eradicate all signs of sleep. Take a jade gua sha tool into the shower and use the water as a lubricant. Simply press-stroke gently all over your face for about a minute. Then you can repeat this technique before bed, using oil.”

“There’s really no right or wrong way, do what feels good. But practice gua sha after cleansing and before any night creams or moisturisers.”

If you do want a basic routine to follow, Brindle recommends:

1) Press the tool gently all over your neck, face and décolletage.

2) Gently press and hold the tool under each eye, then over each eye, with the lid shut.

3) Starting at the neck, press-stroke downwards to drain excess fluid into the lymph glands.

4) Angling the tool at 45 degrees in the direction that you want to work, use the rounded edge to press-stroke the forehead, the cheekbones, then the lips – about eight sweeps in each direction. Use the double curved end on your throat and jawline.

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How often should you gua sha?

“You can practice as much as you like, just make sure you ensure that any sha (red flush) has subsided before re-treating. This usually disappears within an hour on the face, so daily is perfect if you feel like it.”

How long should a gua sha session be?

“The lovely thing about gua sha is that it is such a holistic treatment. I do a quick gua sha treatment in my morning shower using rose quartz (the optimum time to gua sha with rose quartz is believed to be in the morning, as this enhances the natural energy patterns of the day) – and then a longer treatment before bed using a jade gua sha and oil.

“There’s really no wrong way to do it. I have a suggested ritual which people often use when they are getting started – because it’s a new concept it feels reassuring to have instructions to follow. This ritual works really well as a general treatment, but you can really do as much or as little as feels good to you, or depending on how much time you have in the day.”

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What is the difference between a jade and a rose quartz gua sha?

“These two crystals have both been revered in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The philosophy is that gemstones support our Jing Qi (life essence), blood (circulation) and fluids (lymphatic drainage).

“Traditionally, different crystals have different purposes. Jade is used to balance yin and yang energy, whilst rose quartz supports heart energy in particular. It’s good to gua sha on the chest with rose quartz because the action tonifies the heart qi.

“It’s believed that the properties in rose quartz serve to help generate skin cell renewal, as well as improve uneven or dull skin complexion. That by simply holding crystal to your skin so you can absorb its properties.”

So how do you know which one to pick?

“Jade is the perfect all-rounder, whereas rose quartz is especially good to use in the morning or if you have sensitive or inflamed skin. These differences I’m highlighting are subtle ones, so if you are hesitating to choose I’d go with whichever you are drawn towards – or both!”

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