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A centuries-old technique that offers a multitude of health and wellness benefits, gua sha has now become a cosmetic mainstay, with both at-home gua sha tools and professional gua sha facials readily available. But, what exactly is a gua sha facial and why should you consider one? Ahead, Giselle Wasfie, D.A.C.M. and founder of Remix Acupuncture + Integrative Health in Chicago, Jade Haifa, Master Esthetician at Daphne Studio in New York City, and Dr. Lamees Hamdan, founder and CEO of Shiffa explain everything you need to know.
What Is a Gua Sha Facial?
First, we need to talk about what gua sha itself is. "The traditional Chinese medicine technique involves using a flat stone to scrape the skin to bring in blood flow, thus improving circulation to the area," explains Wasfie. "Traditionally, gua sha is done fairly aggressively on the neck and shoulders to help relieve muscle tension, but facial gua sha is much more gentle and soothing." To that point, gua sha on the body usually causes dark marks that look like bruising, technically referred to as transitory therapeutic petechiae, notes Hamdan. But don't worry, this type of "bruising" doesn't occur during a gua sha facial, when the goal is to simply energize the muscles and fascia of the face, rather than flushing out toxins and stagnation.
What is gua sha?
Used in traditional Chinese medicine, gua sha (gwah-shah) involves scraping a boomerang-shaped or rounded edge tool (usually made of jade stone or rose quartz) along the face and body to relieve muscle tension, boost circulation, and reduce inflammation.
Benefits of a Gua Sha Facial
- Reduces puffiness
- Increases circulation
- Releases muscular tension
- Lifts skin and contours the face
- Stimulates collagen production
This fairly simple treatment delivers a multitude of benefits, both immediate and long-term. First and foremost, gua sha promotes lymphatic drainage, thus reducing puffiness, explains Wasfie. Similarly, it stimulates blood circulation: "This increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the skin and can result in an overall clearer and brighter complexion," says Haifa. It's also a choice technique for releasing muscular tension—which can downturn your face—so much so that it's often times called an "Eastern Botox facial," adds Hamdan. Similarly, it can have a pretty noticeable (albeit temporary) lifting and contouring effect, creating more definition, particularly around the cheekbones and jawline, notes Wasfie.
All of the above are fairly immediate effects that you'll see right away, a boon for those seeking cosmetic treatments that offer instant gratification and can last up to a week or so, according to Wasfie. But the experts we spoke with agree that, with repeated treatments, gua sha facials can also help stimulate collagen production (translation: fewer wrinkles), and ensure that all of the aforementioned benefits will only become more noticeable and last longer. "The more often you gua sha your face, the longer the results will last and the faster you'll see difference," points out Haifa. The good news? You can easily DIY a gua sha facial (more on that in a moment).
How to Prepare For a Gua Sha Facial
Long story short: There's really nothing you need to do. The only caveat? Hamdan advises waiting three days after Botox injections before gua sha-ing in order to minimize the risk of the Botox diffusing into areas you don't want it. Making sure you're well-hydrated, both before and after, is also a good idea, advises Wasfie; this will help promote that lymphatic drainage we talked about.
What to Expect During a Gua Sha Facial
This is one facial where you can get ready to totally and utterly chill the eff out. "It's a very relaxing, detoxifying treatment," says Haifa. You'll lay back and close your eyes, and your practitioner will apply a serum or oil to your face to help the gua sha tool glide more smoothly across the skin. You don't have to gua sha for very long to see results, so most sessions will last only about 15 to 20 minutes. And while it can be done as a standalone treatment, gua sha is often just one step that's combined with other Eastern modalities, such as acupuncture, as part of a larger facial, says Wasfie.
Before and After
The above before-and-after shows that a gua sha facial can noticeably lift the face, creating a more sculpted and defined look, particularly around the chin and jawline. There's also less puffiness under the eyes.
At Home vs. In Office
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.
Stash your tool in the fridge. "The cold temperature of the stone helps constrict blood vessels, which can further increase the de-puffing and skin tightening benefits," notes Haifa. And make sure to clean your tool (a few spritzes of rubbing alcohol will do the trick) before and after each use.
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, says Wasfie; 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.
Potential Side Effects
There really aren't very many to speak of. Your skin may look a little pink or red for a few moments afterwards (or bruise depending on the pressure and your susceptibility to bruising—but remember, gentle pressure is advised), but other than that, if done correctly, gua sha is a pretty safe bet for all skin types. A few exceptions: It's not recommended for those with rashes, sunburns, or blood coagulation issues, warns Hamdan. Haifa adds that you may also want to avoid gua sha treatments while you have your period, as it can affect the heaviness of your flow.
As with pretty much every cosmetic treatment, the price range varies greatly depending on where you live and the practitioner you see, as well as if the gua sha facial is a standalone or part of a larger facial. But roughly speaking, gua sha facials can range anywhere from $25 to $200, says Wasfie.
As mentioned, drinking water after your treatment is advised. You should also consider avoiding exercise and hot showers, as well as any further pressure on your face right after your appointment.
The Final Takeaway
Gua sha facials are an excellent way to score instant results, including glowier skin and a more contoured and defined face shape. The more often you gua sha, the better, because these results will last longer and longer. And while professional gua sha facials are definitely worth it, you can also easily score similar benefits by going the DIY route.