I agree with the sentiment that beauty is only gua sha before and after, but I’ve never booked a well-paying modeling gig because of my winning personality or healthy spleen. Even science agrees that it pays to be pretty. Yes, age is just a number and laugh lines are beautiful, whatever, but as a thirty-*mumble* year old woman, I must admit that some days I look in the mirror (usually if I slept poorly or ate a particularly sodium-enriched meal the night before) and realize I understand the appeal of *looks around guiltily, leans in and whispers* having some work done.
But to be honest the potential side effects of Botox freak me out. Fillers like Juvederm sound great, but still involve a needle (blugh!) and start at around $500 per syringe – as a freelancing millennial, I have bigger financial-priority fish to fry.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that when a slew of TikTok videos promised me a natural, needle-free alternative to Botox, that would leave my jawline “snatched,” reduce wrinkles, and make me look younger, that I ate it up, hook line and sinker.
Gua Sha (pronounce it with me now, “gwahshah”) is a practice from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that involves scraping a flat-edged smoothing tool against the skin while pressing down – a type of assisted massage. The name itself comes from the Chinese word for scraping.
Practitioners use it to aid in alleviating pain and increasing circulation all over the body. But recently it has seen a major surge in popularity as a facial beauty treatment with jaw-dropping (and jaw-snatching) results. At the time of my writing this, #guasha has over 1.1Billion views on TikTok alone. It seems fairly simple: A flat stone is held against your face at a slight angle, and gently but firmly pulled across your skin in upward motions along the face, neck, and decolletage.
I was vaguely aware of Gua Sha prior to its recent internet explosion, but it wasn’t until I saw an abundance of tutorials with incredibly convincing Before and After shots that my interest was truly piqued. Tik after Tok of (mostly) women boasted reduced puffiness, lifted brows, less noticeable under-eye circles, and more visible cheekbones.
As hopeful as I strive to be, I’m a cynic at heart. In 2nd grade I was ruined by a toothbrush commercial that claimed toothbrush A was gentler on gums than its evil competitor, toothbrush B. The spokes-model in the commercial demonstrated by using both toothbrushes on a tomato. Even my 7 year-old self could see the whole production was rigged: with a feather-light touch, she barely grazed toothbrush A against the tomato’s skin, whereas the tension in her forearms as she brutally savaged the tomato with toothbrush B was obvious.
My point is, marketing is a sneaky enterprise, and I had a likewise sneaking suspicion that a lot of these beauty influencers used a different amount of makeup (not to mention better lighting) for their “After” photos. So, distrustful wench that I am, I decided to try it for myself.
First of all, you’ll need a gua sha scraper or stone. Stones made of jade or rose quartz are particularly in vogue at the moment, but that’s an aesthetic choice more than anything else – stainless steel or wood options are also out there. Back in the day, a spoon or a coin was used.
I stole mine from my best friend Janette, who had this sitting in her freezer, unused.
You’ll also need your favorite facial mist and oil or serum to help the stone glide smoothly over your face — without some kind of lubricant the stone will tug at your skin and damage it, and you don’t want that!
If you don’t already have a go-to favorite, Gua Sha expert Sandra Lanshin Chiu lists a couple of favorite oil-mist combinations on her Instagram — an excellent resource for Gua Sha practitioners of all experience levels. For a simple, budget-friendly combo, she suggests the Marie Veronique treatment mist and the Shea Terra Black Seed Oil. Personally, I just sort of rotated between different moisturizers and oil samples that I received in my Ipsy subscription. I tend to default to my SkinLab Daily moisturizer in a pinch. Whatever your product of choice, as long as it helps the stone slip along your face (and you like it on your skin) it’ll do the job.
Then, you need an instructional video to follow along with. Now, I could try to describe the technique to you, but I’m not a qualified practitioner of Chinese medicine. Heck, I can barely explain to my roommate where to find the pesto in the fridge, let alone instruct you on how to properly sweep a flat rock along your neck in a way that effectively breaks up fascia without bruising, and successfully promotes the flow of qi. There are literally thousands of TikToks, Instagram reels, and YouTube tutorials out there for you to consult, but, if I may make a suggestion? (Of course I can! That’s the whole point of this article! Mwahahaha, the power!)
Remember that Gua Sha is a Traditional Chinese Medicine — not some easy quick “Doctors hate her!” instant-beauty hack. It was written into medical records as far back as the Ming Dynasty, so maybe DON’T trust just ANY teenage girl with a social media profile that offers tips for perfect winged eyeliner?
I know, I know… I even admit it up top of this article: I was first attracted to Gua Sha because of pretty influencer types touting it as an “alternative to Botox,” so I sound like a big puffy-faced hypocrite. But just a little bit of research, and the awareness that it’s a slippery slope from cultural appreciation to cultural appropriation, has me strongly suggesting that you find a TCM practitioner to follow, and learn about the holistic practice of Gua Sha, not just the social-media-promised surface results.
This beginner tutorial by Sandra Lanshin Chiu is a great place to start. Dr Laurel Liu also has a TikTok full of helpful advice, like in this video.
Traditionally, Gua Sha is used to alleviate pain, and prevent fevers and other illnesses. Recent trends, however, tout it as a method for a surgery-free face lift, and often cite it as good for lymphatic drainage.
When used correctly, there are a lot of benefits, especially when it comes to improved circulation in the face. Gua Sha “stimulates and improves circulation of blood, lymph and energy, or qi in the skin and underlying tissue” according to Chiu. “In traditional Chinese medicine, a constant flow of circulation is what makes your body healthy and gives skin its glow.”
While Chiu is “overjoyed” by the increased interest in Gua Sha and other TCM practices, she is concerned that the social-media white-washing of gua sha is leading to a distortion of the practice, harming its credibility as a legitimate form of healing. Practicing Gua Sha is okay for everyone to do, but it is important to keep in mind the practice’s historical and cultural origins. Especially at a time when Anti-Asian hate crimes have surged, it’s vital that we be conscious consumers.
Buy from AAPI owned brands. Follow and take instruction from professionals like Dr. Laurel Liu, a TCM doctor and board-certified acupuncturist.