So, what is Gua Sha and where did it come from?
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the term but you still might be wondering, “What is Gua Sha?” Let’s dive in!
Gua Sha is a traditional body massage method developed in Southeast Asia and China that utilizes a stone to heal the body by encouraging the movement of the body’s lymph and circulation of blood. The practice involves vigorous rubbing of the skin with the intention of increasing blood flow and the body’s life force, or “qi,” in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“Sha really refers to the raised reddish skin rash as a result of scraping (Gua) more so than color red, sha can be red, brown or bruised,” Nikki explains. “The translation is more of a reference to creating sha in the skin.. so that the connective tissue can be aggressively massaged and the color is a result of the scraping.”
Oftentimes, it can be an uncomfortable or painful practice, and the healing process can involve bruising. Not to worry, facial Gua Sha is the traditional form’s gentler offspring that utilizes soft, gentle strokes with a plethora of benefits (and no bruising!). What you may experience is just slight redness which is easily resolved and possible tenderness when working around tight or tense areas, but it should NEVER be painful or hurt.
Traditional Gua Sha has quickly gained popularity in the western world since it was adapted for the face. Suddenly, jade and pink quartz Gua Sha stones and facial rollers of all types were seemingly available on every beauty site.
“I think the beauty industry is always looking for innovation and trends. Gua Sha has every beauty enthusiast's interest piqued because of the beautiful gemstones, the low cost (as compared to pricey procedures), and ability to practice at home,” explains, Nikki. “My clients mainly want to know, does it really work? What are the results? Is it worth it?”
And to that last question, we say YES - but don’t just take our word for it. Read on to get the full scoop!
How does it work and what are the benefits of Gua Sha?
At Apoterra, we like to think of Gua Sha as somewhat of a miracle worker, not to mention a completely safe and natural one. A technique that promotes skin health, helps with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and encourages a radiant glow? Yes please. Before we get to all of the impressive benefits of Gua Sha below, and maybe even some surprising benefits, it’s important to understand how facial Gua Sha works.
SKIN DEEP | A Gua Sha facial massage utilizes a smaller stone than the type normally used in the traditional gua sha body practice (we use Mookaite Jasper for the Apoterra Gua Sha tool) that’s suited for the curves of your face to gently improve lymph flow. Oftentimes, unhealthy modern habits lead to stagnation of fluids beneath the skin’s surface.
“The biggest modern habit that I see with my clients with stagnating lymphatic fluid is the result of looking down. That’s right. From looking down at our screens. Tech neck. We tend to hunch our shoulders and tense our jaws creating no movement or space for fluid to drain thus resulting in sluggish, sagging and puffy skin,” explains Nikki.
When done correctly (more on that below!), the lymphatic fluid, which can often pool and cause puffiness, will be gently flushed downward along the neck to enter your body’s lymphatic system where it will be removed. This leads to overall improved skin health by increasing flow to improve the delivery of nutrients to the cells and also encourages the removal of waste.
More advanced techniques target muscles and the fascia, which is the connective tissue (primarily collagen) beneath the skin’s surface that attaches muscles and other internal organs. These advanced techniques “exercise” muscle and help smooth the fascia, which can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and create an overall more lifted appearance. Simply put, it’s like exercise for your face!
“As an esthetician, I use Gua Sha fusion massage in my treatments to help with lymphatic drainage and to visibly lift and firm my client’s skin. My clients love the three dimensional effect and the relaxed state it puts them in. I also love the ritual for myself and the new Apoterra Gua Sha stone is the perfect size for a self care ritual. I love Gua Sha because of the visible results and the state of relaxation it puts me in.”
Below we’ve broken down the main benefits of the unique Apoterra protocols developed by Cecily Braden. It’s important to note that a regular and consistent Gua Sha practice is recommended to maintain noticeable results like these listed below.
- reduces puffiness
- improves overall skin health and glow
- can help reduce the appearance of dark eye circles
- can improve our relationship with aging
- creates a more lifted appearance
- reduces dark under eye circles
- alleviates tech neck
- reduces puffiness
Best practices to reap the benefits Gua Sha
Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of Gua Sha, let’s talk technique! Along with the launch of the Apoterra Gua Sha Tool we worked with Cecily Braden, the tool’s designer, to give you the supportive materials you need for every step of your Gua Sha journey. Cecily created unique step-by-step protocols, one for lymphatic drainage, and the others for all of the more advanced techniques that yield Gua Sha’s much loved benefits we covered above.
With the purchase of each Apoterra Gua Sha Tool or Gua Sha Kit you’ll have access to a password-protected educational content library. Included in the library you’ll find resources like how to create the proper glide on skin (essential before you practice!) and a guide to correct pressure.
Meet the Apoterra Lymphatic Sequence and the Apoterra Gua Sha Protocols, available with the purchase of your tool.
1. The Apoterra Lymphatic Sequence
Using light outward and downward strokes, the lymphatic sequence works to reverse stagnation by increasing lymph circulation. This necessary first exercise opens the pathways of your face, neck and decollete, opening the door to allow for flow. Increased lymph flow also means increased blood flow. This allows for better nutrient delivery to cells leading to improved skin health and that coveted glow.
Nikki further explains the importance of encouraging lymph flow, especially before delving into advanced, targeted sequences. “When the lymph is stagnating, a couple of things are happening.”
Increased Flow | “Healthy skin is a benefit of lymphatic flow. The lymph system is your body's filtration system, only it doesn't have the pump to drain the lymph fluid." Nikki further adds, "It flows based on gravity and movement. Gua Sha is an excellent way to stimulate muscle contractions and move lymph. Regardless of the content of the lymph at any given time, it must flow freely to ensure that waste products do not build up in the tissues and that your cells and tissues receive oxygen and vital nutrients from lymph.”
Waste Removal | “You know when your lymph fluid is stagnating. You look puffy and can feel it in your face, around your eyes, cheeks, along the jawline and lymphatic pathways resulting in tired, sluggish, and congested skin. A regular Gua Sha ritual can help break up fascia, move lymphatic fluid and strengthen the muscles in the face thus resulting in a visibly lifted and less puffy appearance. With lymphatic fluid properly drained you’ll have happy healthy skin cells and skin function.”
2. The Apoterra Gua Sha Protocol
Designed to follow the lymphatic sequence for the best results, these protocols can be used directly after, although it’s not necessary. But hear us out - combining the two has some serious perks! Using firmer, upward strokes as compared to lymphatic drainage movements, these Gua Sha protocols are designed to target those uber-specific concerns you may want to address.
Make it a habit to practice the lymphatic sequence every day, day or night (we recommend in the morning but know how busy mornings can be!). Take your tool on the go so you can practice almost anywhere. Pick 1-2 techniques from the advanced Apoterra Gua Sha Protocols and incorporate those into your routine when you find the time.
Let’s talk about some common Gua Sha misconceptions
There’s a vast amount of information floating around on Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest and beyond. We understand - the overload of info can get overwhelming! So we’re here to help clear up some things.
“I’ve got a lot to say. There are definitely people capitalizing on a trend in the beauty industry and don’t fully understand why they are using Gua Sha and it’s apparent to me as someone who has been certified in multiple Gua Sha facial courses,” she says.
I think it’s important to respect the foundation of Gua Sha rooted in T.C.M. (Traditional Chinese Medicine),” says Nikki.
Are traditional Gua Sha and Facial Gua Sha the same thing?
“Gua means scrape and Sha is the raised reddish rash and results of scraping which could be red, brown or bruised, so in T.C.M., the practitioner is scraping to create sha which is believed to support immunity and drain toxicity in the body. The massage techniques we use in facial Gua Sha mimic traditional TCM, however the movements are slower and with more intention, in order to avoid Sha, while still benefiting and supporting lymphatic drainage."
What are common mistakes with Gua Sha?
“I see the stone being used incorrectly, whether it’s not the right angle or the right pressure. It’s so important to know what muscle you’re working with and what is the intention behind your movements. Are you working on lengthening the muscle which is a deeper pressure lifting up or are you working on moving stagnant lymphatic fluid which is a lighter pressure and downward movement. This matters.
Is Gua Sha the “natural botox”?
“I’ve heard it being called natural Botox. It’s not. It’s the opposite of Botox. The best metaphor I have is Botox is to liposuction as Gua Sha is to yoga. There is a practice and commitment to caring for your skin with Gua Sha which can result in less sagging skin and visible wrinkles but it is awakening your muscles not paralyzing them. If you were to compare it to a clinical treatment, microcurrent would be more appropriate.”
Not all Gua Sha Stones are created equal
“I can’t speak to the ethics of how cheaper stones are sourced (like those from Amazon and similar vendors) which is why I only recommend stones from trusted brands and partners, like Apoterra.”
When shopping for your Gua Sha stone, it’s important to do your research and make sure you’re purchasing your tool from a trustworthy supplier or manufacturer. More often than not, cheap stones aren’t authentic and can be dyed (like many cheap jade Gua Sha stones that seem too good to be true) or may break easily. The Mookaite Jasper used to create the Apoterra Gua Sha Tool is sourced from Mexico and Australia, and the leftover remnants from the hand-carving process are reused!