If you’ve been on Instagram anytime in the past year or two, you’ve likely seen a #beautyflatlay complete with a jade roller in the shoot. Dubbed the millennial’s beauty tool of choice, the facial tool is said to boost circulation and increase product absorption. I thought it felt nice — especially when it had been stowed in the fridge — but I didn't see visible results from using it.
Fast forward to a visit to my local crystal healing shop, where, alongside myriad crystal rollers, was a different kind of thin, curved tool I’d never seen before: gua sha — the Botox of the East, the owner excitedly told me. For only $15, I picked up a rose quartz one, because millennial pink, and then did my homework by consulting skin experts as to whether the traditional Chinese medicine-originated practice would do everything the store owner said it would. Hearing promises including the treatment of skin issues like acne and eczema, along with all the anti-aging benefits, like delivering a firmer, smoother, and less wrinkled complexion, I wondered if it was maybe the best $15 I’d ever spent. If you want to give it a try and see for yourself, here's everything you need to know about facial gua sha.
What is gua sha?
“Gua sha is a process in which a tool is scraped against the skin to the point that it creates mild bruising,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “The goal of the treatment is to enhance blood flow to the skin.”
“The gua sha technique, which translates to ‘scrape wind,’ was primarily first used on the body to release toxins and relieve pain in tired, sore, or injured muscles,” says Anna Lam, of Ginger Chi, a natural boutique in New York that carries its own line of gua sha tools and jade rollers. “By ‘scraping’ with repeated strokes on the surface of the skin, the gua sha helps stimulate new blood flow and draw out stagnation in the problem areas to help generate metabolic cell repair and healing,” Lam says.
If all that scraping and bruising sounds scary to you, fret not: That kind of gua sha — the one that’ll give you scary search results if you Google image search it — is not used on the face; it’s much more akin to the traditional Chinese medicinal practices of cupping and acupuncture. In facial gua sha, a much lighter hand is used.
How is facial gua sha different?
You can exhale: Using gua sha on your face is not meant to cause bruising. Rather, the scraper is “used much less aggressively over the facial curvatures in an attempt to bring new blood to the surface and promote lymphatic drainage,” says Lam. “Gua sha relaxes tension in facial muscles which can cause lines. It’s kind of like exercise for your face — with regular use, gua sha can tone skin and promote increased skin elasticity.”
If you're wondering, wait, is this the same as jade rolling? I get where you're coming from, but hang on: While similar principles apply to the jade roller and the gua sha tool in theory, they aren’t quite the same in practice. “Jade rolling is a process that takes advantage of the actual contact between the stone and the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “In gua sha, the treatment is not as much about the material used, but rather the scraping technique itself.”
Translation: By dragging the crystal along your face in broad even strokes from the neck up, you’ll see a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles and notice a temporarily more firm complexion, according to Valerie Grandury, the founder of Odacité, a department-store beauty brand which sells a rose quartz gua sha tool of its own. Think smoother, brighter, and younger-looking skin almost instantly — it maybe it takes five minutes to treat your whole face — without leaving home. What’s more, unlike the more effective spa facial treatments, this won’t leave you red or flaking afterward; you can scrape and go without any side effects.
How do you choose a gua sha tool?
Pick the tool that you feel most drawn to as there’s no one model that works best, says Lam. “They should all be carved with curves, rounded knobs, and points to fit within the curvatures of the face and press down on the meridian points,” or pressure points in which traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe vital life energy known as Qi flows through.
Same goes for the crystal you choose for your gua sha: Find your favorite and stick with it. While I purchased a rose quartz scraper, I’ve seen jade, amethyst, and tiger’s eye recently, too. “Each stone is known to have different healing properties, but all should provide similar results as it’s more about the gua sha technique than the crystal of choice,” says Lam. However, jade was traditionally used “because it’s cool to the touch and has detoxifying properties,” she adds.
How do you use the gua sha tool on your face?
Lam says the whole thing is pretty straightforward — provided you use a light touch. “Hold the gua sha tool with the curved side to your face and glide it gently up and out, starting with the neck, jawline, chin, and around the mouth, between three and five times per area,” says Lam. “Then sweep across cheeks and gently glide under the eyes, across your eyebrows and from your forehead up to your hairline.” As for how often you do this treatment, Lam recommends at least a few times a week for best results.
When I first picked mine up, I was admittedly a little nervous — I’d gotten bodily gua sha in the past, and the bruises were no joke. But since the individual is control of how much pressure is placed on the face, I kept things extremely light. I started by softly running the comb up my neck, working from left to right in the most elegant strokes I could possibly produce. While I did expect this to release some of my tech-neck wrinkles, I wasn’t expecting the muscle relief the gua sha tool provided. Turns out my neck is really tight — blame cell phones, computers, and a clenching habit — and the gentle strokes helped to seemingly loosen the muscles a tiny bit, too.
From the neck, Grandury then recommends working from the center of the chin outwards, from the nose to the sides of the cheeks, between the brows and across the forehead. Honestly, the whole practice felt pretty meditative: The counting, repetitive style of motion, and resulting improved circulation honestly made me look like I’d just spent an hour at Inscape or maybe even had sex. And although the pesky wrinkle between my eyebrows didn’t disappear completely, I did notice a temporary reduction in its appearance while applying tinted moisturizer several minutes later.
Skincare: Before, during, or after?
“Gua sha is best done after both cleansing the face and applying a moisturizer or facial oil,” says Lam, “as the gua massage not only gives your skin a ‘workout,’ but also helps products’ nutrients absorb better into skin.”
Likewise, Grandury told me to use an oil-based serum or lotion before gua sha to give the tool maximum slip. Personally, I’m deep into Herbivore Lapis Oil for its anti-inflammatory properties, which leaves my skin looking calmer with just one application.
Incorporating gua sha tooling into my nightly facial oil routine was a breeze, not only because it was calming, but also really upped my skin’s absorption of the products I use at bedtime, too. My skin looked less puffy following gua sha treatments, and maybe I looked a few years younger. Honestly, the gua sha tool felt really good, and it made my products work like they were on steroids.
The bottom line?
Is it as good as Botox? Definitely not. But it definitely made my face feel fresher, and my complexion tauter. But bear in mind that's my individual experience. Writ large, Dr. Zeichner isn't convinced. “The concept behind gua sha is that it enhances circulation to promote healthy collagen production, however there’s little data to prove its effectiveness,” he says. But you could look at it this way: It's rare for such a good Instagram prop to come at such an accessible price point. It’s almost worth it for that alone.