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Road Test: Gua Sha Facial

A centuries-old Asian skin treatment is fast becoming the favored facial for women seeking to smooth wrinkles and plump fine lines using natural methods versus synthetic dermatological pharmaceuticals. It’s called gua sha — pronounced war-sha — and on the surface (pun intended) it’s a soothing facial massage. But this ancient Chinese treatment may be the most therapeutic facial you’ll ever have, due to the magic it works deep within your skin, and its calming meditative effect.

A believer in the power of crystals — and on a mission pursuing holistic health care (including heavenly flotation therapy) — I was intrigued by gua sha when I started seeing social posts popping up of strangely shaped rose quartz and jade stone tools that claimed to reverse the years and give your face a youthful glow. I decided to give it a go.

gua sha pink tool

Freeing Up Facial Traffic Jams

Simply put, gua sha is a massage using a smooth stone to help increase fluid and blood flow to ease inflammation, tight muscles, and pain. (Be warned, if you google it, you will see images of gua sha body scraping, which is a much more aggressive technique than the soothing facial gua sha.)

Angela Peck, a holistic aesthetician specializing in gua sha face and neck rejuvenation who teaches and treats private clients at Angela Peck Wholistic Skin + Care in Capitola, California, says many of us have “traffic jams” of fluid blockage under the skin’s surface, which can cause wrinkles as well as inflammation and puffiness. “Lymphatic fluid carrying waste has to drain through the jaw, and many women 45-plus have jaw tension, which acts like a blocked sieve: Vessels drain more slowly, which blocks the lymphatic drainage pathways. So when you have this tension at the jaw, it creates puffiness in the face and turkey neck below,” Peck says.

She says doing facial gua sha massage unblocks, unravels, and releases tension, allowing the lymphatic system to drain and flow, which helps everything from expression lines to rosacea. “It’s great for age spots, which are basically inflammation and melanin trapped in the skin that the lymph system couldn’t pick up, creating fibrotic tissue surrounded by proteins,” she says. Practicing gentle gua sha releases what’s trapped and gives you a glow from within as the lymphatic system and fascia flow again. “It’s very nurturing and soothes your nervous system, which is important for relieving tension and helps the body relax.” 

Aesthetician Elizabeth Thomas owns Pure Skincare by Elizabeth in Bradenton, Florida. She says, “I see some of the most profound results with those with more mature skin. Immediately, the skin is lifted and contours are sculpted; puffiness is reduced, therefore creating a visibly tighter complexion; textural issues are smoothed and softened; muscle adhesions are melted away; and a boost in circulation creates an undeniably youthful glow. My clients instantly look 10 years younger after a single session.”

gua sha demo

Getting My Gua Sha On

Sold on the ancient science, I joined a demo by Sandra Lanshin Chiu, L.Ac., whose high-end Treatment by Lanshin holistic skin care, healing, and wellness studio in Brooklyn, New York, is a haven for well-heeled Manhattanites to get their gua sha fix. 

“Gua sha beats filler, Botox, and other medical procedures because it elevates your skin’s health while it creates lift, improves texture, and gives your complexion glow,” says Chiu as we first prepped and hydrated our skin for nourishment and tool glide. Chiu likes Josh Rosebrook Organic Skin & Hair Care Accelerating Hydrator light oil serum, while Peck loves Laurel Whole Plant Organics’ elixir (hydration) and serum (moisture) used together. With a polished, flat jade tool in hand, Chiu explains that gua sha means “scraping sand.” But far from scraping, we gently glide the stone over our skin in a specific pattern, starting at the neck, “which in Chinese medicine,” she says Chiu, “is the gateway to our head.” 

Starting at the shoulder, we glide the stone — flat to the surface of the skin (important) — up the back of the neck to the base of the skull, and up the front of the neck to the jaw bone, holding the skin taut at the start of the stroke with the opposite hand to maximize a smooth glide. Then we go from the center of the chin across our jawline to the ear, from the side of the mouth across the cheek, and from the nose across the cheek bone up to the temple. “Always stroke out and up from the center on each side, like a facelift,” Chiu says, as we glide the stone from the top of the nose to the hairline and finish across the forehead, eyes closed in an almost meditative trance. 

Flowing and Glowing

“There,” she says. “Now isn’t that like a glass of soothing, calming glass of whiskey with benefits?” I open my eyes sleepily (gua sha is that calming) and a radiant me beams back from the mirror — glowing, wrinkle lines all-but flowed free. Yes, make that a double. I’m sold. 

Photos: Gua sha tools, courtesy of Elizabeth Thomas, Pure Skincare by Elizabeth; demo, courtesy of the author

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