Do you even gua sha? Using this pretty little facial tool, a close cousin of the jade roller, is one of our favorite forms of self-care as of late. Once you know the basics, just a few minutes of gua sha action every day can have a major impact on skin’s tone, tautness and clarity.
We asked the holistic facialist and gua sha guru behind LA’s most-beloved reiki facial, the radiant Julie Civiello Polier, to explain everything we need to know to build our own gua sha practice. From how to pick the perfect tool to the wide range of gua sha benefits, we’re exploring it all in the name of glow below…
What is gua sha?
Gua sha is a traditional East Asian and Chinese technique used to invite well-being, circulation and remove stagnant toxin build-up in the body. It is used gently on the skin of the face, and quite aggressively on the skin of the body. Gua means scrape and sha means sand, and this practice has been used for thousands of years. The tools used in gua sha practices range from a Chinese soup spoon, to an animal bone and horn, to rose quartz gemstones. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the entire channel organ system unites on the face. So, I am able to infer imbalances occurring in the body by simply observing my client’s faces.
What does gua sha do?
For context, gua sha pre-dates acupuncture. The stroke pattern used awakens the meridian lines (lifeforce path) to activate the body’s natural healing abilities. For the skin, gua sha encourages collagen production (strength in cells). It sculpts and tones the face shape, allowing inflammation to drain and muscles to become free of tension — allowing them to do their supportive jobs properly. It also helps the skin return to its most radiant state as circulation is increased, sending nutrients to areas that may have been starved because of blockage.
Gua sha’s effect is more than skin deep. Because the meridian lines are enlivened, organs such as the stomach, liver, spleen, heart and kidneys also receive great benefit. Working with gua sha tools over the area of the face connected to the kidneys, for example, sends a message down the meridian line of the kidney inviting them to let go of their toxins, relax and receive nourishment. This enables them to function at optimal capacity.
What are the benefits?
+ Carries nutrient-rich and oxygenated blood (food for the cells) to the skin and tissues
+ Drains lymph fluid (which is often filled with toxins and waste) out of the cells to be cleansed
+ Eliminates or greatly reduces wrinkles
+ Treats and prevents sagging skin (lifts and tightens the skin)
+ Aids in eliminating dark circles around the eyes
+ Aids in breaking up and releasing the skin from dark spots and hyper-pigmentation
+ Brightens the complexion
+ Greatly speeds the healing time of breakouts and pimples, helping these skin issues overall
+ Has the ability to heal and relieve rosacea
+ Aids in product penetration
+ Treats TMJ disorder and migraine headaches
+ Can be an alternative to injections and face-lift surgery (when practiced on a regular basis at home or when receiving treatments from a licensed practitioner)
How do I choose a gua sha tool?
Gua sha tools come in a myriad of different shapes, sizes and forms. Some tools are made from animal bone and horn, some from gemstones (like jade or rose quartz) and some practitioners use Chinese soup spoons. I’ve even seen the lid of a glass jar (one with rounded and soft edges) used in a pinch.
Trending right now are rose quartz and jade. Jade is known for inviting serenity and purity, as well as promoting fertility, balance and deep healing. Rose quartz is known for restoring harmony deep into the heart. It is the stone of universal love and encourages unconditional loving and compassion.
Choosing your gua sha stone is similar to choosing a crystal or gemstone. If you are able to pick it out in person, please do so. Pick it up, feel it, observe how it feels in your hand. Notice which one catches your eye — if one is sparkling a little more to you than the others, choose it!
What is key to a rewarding practice?
Consistency is key. To maintain a flourishing and healthy body, we consistently nourish ourselves with water, sleep, clean eating and movement. Likewise, practicing gua sha on a regular basis will prove most beneficial. The body doesn’t thrive when we are oscillating to either extreme — the middle is always most beneficial.
Since there are 20 liters of fluid that flow through the body every day (and about three liters of this fluid becomes lymph fluid) it is very supportive to the body to build this practice into your daily routine. However, bringing gua sha into your life every single day may be challenging. But, carving out even a little bit of time a few days a week is productive (even if it’s only two minutes). You may even notice your body starting to crave these moments of self-care.
Pressure and intention are also important to your practice. The touch should be very gentle, and you can play around with different amounts of pressure. But always sweep the gua sha stone across your face in specific motions. The lighter the touch, the more you are supporting the lymph fluid, and with more pressure know you’re moving into muscle. Please be mindful that you should not bruise or cause discomfort.
How do I prep the skin?
With a clean face and clean hands, mist generously with a hydrosol (I love True Botanicals Renew Nutrient Mist, OSEA’s Sea Vitamin Boost or Heritage Store’s Rose Water), then apply facial oil (I love True Botanicals Renew Radiance Oil, OSEA’s Undaria Argan Oil or Shiva Rose face oil) all over your face and neck. With the oil left on your hands, grease up your gua sha tool just slightly. Then, begin — all while taking deep, cleansing breaths.
How do I perform gua sha?
Cleanse face and hands. After drying the face with a clean washcloth, generously mist your face. The hydrosol is a wonderful vehicle to drive the oil — which you’ll apply next — deep into the skin, especially to the layers that need nourishment and hydration. (Tip: I only use my washcloth once and then it goes in the hamper. If you suffer from breakouts, it’s best not reuse facial towels before washing. Bacteria can transfer back onto the skin.)
Apply facial oil (anywhere from 4-10 drops), covering the face and neck. Apply oil starting on the forehead and moving down in the direction of draining lymph fluid. This activates movement in skin and tissues, and it’s a nice prep before the gua sha. (Tip: For step-by-step directions, I have a video in my Instagram highlights called Lymph Drainage Massage.)
Warm your gua sha tool slightly by rubbing it between your hands. This also greases the tool up a bit so it doesn’t pull on your skin in the areas that didn’t receive as much oil.
Sweep up your neck on both sides. Sweep very gently over your Adam’s apple — this is more of an energetic sweep to activate your REN line. (The REN channel in Chinese medicine collects the body’s yin energy, treats the problems of the abdomen, chest, neck, head and face.)
Sweep under your chin from the middle of your face out to your earlobe, keeping your tool flat. If you’d like, hold the skin under your chin with your other thumb as you glide the tool back to your earlobe in the opposite direction.
Sweep from the middle of your chin over your jawline back toward your earlobe. You can gently jiggle at your ear to encourage the fluid to drain down the neck to the lymph nodes at the base, just above your collarbone.
Sweep underneath your cheekbone, really picking up a lot of fluid that tends to be stored here, and direct it toward your hairline. You can lightly and gently jiggle your tool at your hairline.
Sweep over your cheekbones, finishing at the hairline.
Very gently sweep under your eyes. I love sweeping from the corner of the eye moving in toward the midline. The muscle contracts in this direction and the lymph has little rivers flowing down from the eyes all the way from the inner corner of the eye to the outer corner. But if it feels better to sweep from the inner corner of the eye to the hairline, then do that — this is a more traditional direction for gua sha.
Sweep over the eyebrow out toward the hairline and up from the brow bone (up the forehead) finishing at the hairline. When you sweep up, do it in tiny sections, moving along the eyebrow in three to five sections.
Sweep from between the eyebrows over the third eye and up to the hairline. Notice if your clairvoyance feels more activated after this stroke!
Sweep from the middle of the forehead out to the hairline. (Tip: One of my favorite moves comes from Britta Plugg of Britta Beauty in NYC. She sweeps from the middle of the forehead — and doesn’t stop at the hairline — and continues into the hair, behind the ear and down the neck. It feels divine.)
Now caress the other side of your face, starting again with your neck and working through the steps.
Slide down the side. When you’ve finished the other side of your face, finish the treatment by sweeping down the neck to assist with lasting drainage. Keep your tool very flat and hug underneath your jawbone. Lovingly sweep down the neck to the collarbone.
Take stock of your work. Does the one side look or feel different than the other?
Key tips to make the most of your practice:
+ I suggest sweeping each area at minimum three times. For a longer practice, sweep up to 10 times.
+ Keep your tool almost flat to your skin (about 15 degrees) rather than having the edge of the tool at 90 degrees to your skin.
+ When your tool starts to drag or pull on your skin, add a little more oil for better slip.
+ Have fun experimenting with which side and shape of the tool best fits with your face. Remember, what feels good to you may look different than how it looks in videos.
How often should I practice gua sha?
What will it feel like?
Gua sha is often described as very relaxing, especially when the pressure is just right. Use loving, gentle strokes. Be intentional in your touch. It should feel as if you are sweeping the gua sha over the sweet, soft skin of a baby.
You may feel the fluids moving, which is great! You may also feel your skin becoming alive or as if it’s coming back and waking up.
It can be a fun exercise to gua sha one half of your face. And I like starting with the left — it’s the side of the body that is the feminine energy, which is more practiced at receiving. I have noticed that when the left side of your face is receiving, it primes the right side to be more responsive.
How much gua sha is too much?
Avoid gua sha if you just received injections. Botox takes at least two weeks to settle and gua sha can move it, which you do not want.
Avoid gua sha over cystic acne, pimples and open lesions, as it will only irritate infected areas. But gua sha is very beneficial underneath the breakout. Draining below the breakout will allow the lymph to carry toxins to the lymph nodes. This is where waste will be cleansed before returning to the circulatory system to nourish the body.
Repeat each stroke over the same area a maximum of 10 times. If you repeat the sweep too many times you will cause too much stimulation. Fluids are powerful — you could end up moving too much waste at one time causing detox symptoms (such as dizziness or feelings of coming down with the flu).