What is gua sha? Meet the skin care technique taking over social media

Experts say it can help prevent fine lines and wrinkles.
Britta Plug

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From eye-catching serums to breakout-fighting masks, we've seen plenty of skin care products and techniques go viral on social media. However, one of the latest trends to take over isn't actually a "trend" at all. It's a skin care technique that has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine.

If you've seen videos of people delicately and methodically massaging their face with flat pieces of jade and rose quartz, you've witnessed what's known as facial gua sha.

To find out why the technique is starting to take over social media, we asked the experts everything you need to know.

What is gua sha?

According to licensed acupuncturist and herbalist Sandra Lanshin Chiu, gua sha has been an important technique in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years — though it originally started as a way to relieve body pain. Traditional body gua sha uses a flat tool (typically made of stone) to treat pain and certain illnesses with a fast and slightly aggressive scraping motion that often leaves red marks on the skin.

However, the facial gua sha that we see today is a modified version that uses much more gentle, relaxing movements that are more appropriate for the delicate skin on the face. A full gua sha routine typically takes 15 minutes, starting at the neck and working your way up to the forehead.

What are the benefits of gua sha?

The upward and outward motions of facial gua sha are meant to increase circulation while lifting and firming the skin, potentially leading to a smoother complexion and more sculpted features. People have seen both physical and mental benefits from practicing gua sha, though licensed aesthetician Britta Plug told us some results are more immediate than others.

"The depuffing happens really quickly because we're working with the lymphatic system to remove any stagnant lymph from the tissue," Plugg said. "The lifting, toning and firming are pretty immediate as well."

So while you may see a fairly swift improvement in areas like the cheekbones and under-eye areas, it will take a little more time to notice a drastic difference in fine lines and wrinkles.

"With repetition over time, we can see a really big reduction in those chronic expressions being etched into the face," Plug told us.

Chiu also noted that the massaging technique can help reduce tension and knots in the face, neck and shoulders, making it a great option for anyone dealing with headaches, sinus congestion, allergies or jaw issues.

Beyond the physical benefits, it has also become known for its meditative qualities.

"It’s a deeply relaxing self-care ritual that soothes the nervous system," Chiu said. "Now more than ever, it’s important to anchor ourselves in practices that support health and emotional well-being."

What do you need to perform gua sha?

First off, you'll need a gua sha stone to practice the technique at home, as well as your favorite facial mist and oil to apply beforehand in order to create some slip for the stone.

The Lanshin Pro Gua Sha Tool

If you're ready to dive headfirst into the world of gua sha, Chiu recommended her professional-grade tool made of high-quality nephrite jade, which is known for its healing properties.

If you're looking for a more budget-friendly way to try the trend, Chiu's brand also makes an introductory tool with a slightly more streamlined design.

Wildling Empress Stone

Plug also has a gua sha line of her own, offering a more traditional-shaped tool with a unique comb-shaped edge to invigorate the flat surfaces of the face. It's also available in a three-piece set including a facial oil and tonic that are designed specifically for gua sha.

If you're looking to take the trend for a test spin, this starter set from Sephora has positive reviews so far.

Sephora Collection Facial Sculpting Set

How do you perform gua sha?

To put it incredibly simply, you begin by applying a facial mist and/or oil and then moving the stone in outward, upward motions while applying light to medium pressure. It's important to keep the stone flat against your skin rather than using the pointed edges.

A full gua sha routine begins with the neck, then moves on to the jaw, the under-eye area, the brow bone and ending with the forehead. Both Chiu and Plug recommend performing gua sha three times a week for around 15 minutes.

Chiu has created a helpful step-by-step guide that walks you through the full process.

If you're looking to target specific areas of the skin, Plug has created several Instagram videos that focus on everything from under-eye puffiness to forehead lines.

While both experts agreed that gua sha is safe for more skin types, those with inflamed skin due to rosacea or acne should either work around those spots or wait until the inflammation subsides. New York-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner noted it should not be performed on sunburned skin, and those who use retinol or frequent chemical exfoliators should be extra cautious.

Why is gua sha so popular now?

Though gua sha isn't necessarily new, the technique has seemed to spike in interest lately thanks to widely-circulated tutorials on social media. Plug thinks part of the appeal is that it provides an almost visual form of ASMR, as many people have told her the videos have a relaxing quality to them.

Many people also have more time than ever to devote to their skin care routine, so incorporating a more involved technique like gua sha might seem more manageable. While most of us are typically looking to save time on our skin care routines, Plug says many people find the ritual to be worth the extra 15 minutes.

"Feedback that I get so often from folks is like, 'Thank you so much for sharing this practice. It gives me the excuse to just take this time for myself and I feel so much better when I am filling my own cup,'" Plug said. "So not only are you putting time into something that is going to promote vitality and the visual appearance of your skin, but it actually feels really, really good.

That feeling — which Plug says is sometimes lovingly called "gua sha-stoned" — is why the ritual may remain part of peoples' routines once their daily lives start to return to a sense of normalcy.

"With facial gua sha, I think it's really how it makes you feel that keeps people coming back," Plug said. "They sort of get hooked in for the visual benefits, but taking care of your skin can promote relaxation and the higher body, which is just so needed right now."

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