Gua Sha: Is it worth the effort?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

What is Gua Sha?

Gua Sha is an ancient healing technique used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The practice was written into the official record during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) but was widely used long before that. In modern medical practice it is used by healers for its anti-inflammation and immune protective effects. You may have also heard it called scraping, or spooning. The technique leaves it's mark on the skin for several days after treatment. This is an important part of the process, and the the color that appears on the skin even helps a TCM practitioner to diagnose a patient.

Gua Sha for the face is much more gentle and will not leave a mark. It's like a lovely massage for your face and neck. It helps to relieve tense muscles and relax those places where we repeatedly scrunch the face which is great since repeated facial movements are one of the major causes of deep wrinkles. With regular practice it's said that the skin's tone and elasticity will improve. I've even seen claims that it can sculpt the face.

I am a big believer in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I am also a big believer in toning my jowels. So this is all right up my alley, and I thought since I'm giving it a try I would share my experience with you. In any case stimulating blood flow to the skin absolutely helps any skin care product penetrate just a bit deeper so I figure that even if this doesn't lift and tone my skin that, as Martha says, is a good thing.

Learning How to Gua Sha

There are about a billion infographics floating around Pinterest with lots of arrows on a graphic of a face telling you where to use the tool and what direction to go in. I wanted to be sure I was getting the real deal benefits and not a reinterpreted version of this ancient healing ritual so I went digging. I finally landed on this very informative (and soothing) tutorial put together by licensed acupuncturist and herbalist Sandra Lanshin Chiu. This is the technique I used. I found myself needing to watch it a few times to really get it down.

How Often and How Long?

I am one of those people who only knows how to go all the way in on things. I'm working on it. Just know this when I tell you that my plan is to perform Gua Sha twice a day for a month. It is an investment in self care, and because I'm also working on doing more of that, this fits nicely for me, especially when using Sandra's technique since you are meant to work slowly and engage your senses. I'll do it right after my morning, and evening skin routine. I'll also take photos each morning. Since that is a lot of photos I'm just including a few here. Allons y!

Week 1

Why yes I did over-sun myself last weekend, thank you for noticing. I also have a tendency to get blemishes in the area under my face mask. The Covid19 kind of mask, not the nice kind. I picked a particularly annoying one and it is still healing. I feel like it is nearly impossible to see any change in before and after. Maaaaaaybe my brow looks slightly lifted? Maybe. Can we all take a moment to appreciate the PNW morning summer light though. I mean. Not gonna lie by Day 4 I was pretty over the time this was taking. I highly doubt I will continue this twice a day every day regime after this experiment. Twice a week seems do-able!

Week 1

Honestly, I think it's kind of working? I can definitely see a difference in puffiness immediately after. I'm less convinced that it's doing much long term. The biggest difference I think is in my brow and eye area. I do feel like there is some lift. My left eye tends to fall when I'm tired (and hey, it's 2020 is anyone NOT tired right now?). I've been giving that area extra attention and I am seeing a difference. Exciting! I definitely recommend a wide collar shirt while completing this exercise. It's hard not to get oil on a crew neck and also difficult to get the tool under your collar bone.

Week 2

Okay, not gonna lie I skipped a couple of evening treatments this week, but I never skipped an entire day. I've found myself using 10 strokes instead of 5 each time which feels like it takes forever but once I got into a rhythm I found myself just keeping on. Looking back at the picture on Day 1, I do notice a difference. I continue to see a most noticeable difference immediately after each treatment. My jaw line and neck area are where it's most notable this week, I think. Halfway there y'all!

Week 3

This was my kid's first week of what I'm calling "Pandemic School." They both had big milestones as one started Middle School and the other started High School. It was sad and weird and exciting and good, and honestly my focus was there rather than thinking or writing about my face. As a result I do not remember what my Gua Sha feelings were other than being too tired at the end of the day to see straight much less give myself a facial treatment. I didn't skip mornings though. The routine gave me something to focus on so I wouldn't hover over my kids to make sure everything was going smoothly. 10/10 would recommend this as a means of distraction.

Looking back at these pictures I can see a difference in the tone and perkiness of my face in the after photos. I look more awake and lifted, and symmetrical. But I'm honestly not sure how much of that is lighting and angles.

Week 4

I am officially tired of looking at my own face. Do I look stressed? I am stressed. Horrifying wild fires are ravaging the West Coast of the United States and we haven't breathed fresh air in a week. I didn't even pretend to try for the evening round this week. It's too stuffy, too warm and too humid in my house (we can't open windows due to air quality) and it's making me puffy. The Gua Sha tool has proven really effective for de-puffing and helping me drain all of the smoke-gunk accumulating in my lymph nodes, which has honestly helped alleviate my smoke worsened post nasal drip. I'm also finding myself very grateful for the increased blood flow to the skin. It's helping all the anti-oxidants I'm throwing at my face to combat this gross air to really penetrate and alleviate the intense environmental damage.

Final Thoughts

Firstly, I committed myself to way too much Gua Sha. Once a day is more than enough. I didn't notice any change when I was too tired to follow through in the evenings. I do think I'll continue to use it each morning, but don't hold me to that.

I can definitely recommend this massage as a tool for centering and grounding yourself. I tend to live in my head so anything that can bring me back to the physical is a plus. I have a tendency to clench the heck out of my jaw and I really benefitted from working out those knots with my tool. It was also really great for bringing awareness to where I hold tension in my face, and reducing any puffiness.

I have a slightly asymmetrical face resulting from a rather botched nose piercing a decade ago. One side of my mouth, nose, and eye/eyebrow sags just a bit, in a diagonal across my face. In those areas I used double the strokes of the perkier sides. I am very excited to say that it's having a lifting effect over time. While I still see the most benefit directly after the massage, I am also beginning to see some long term evening out of my features. I really thought it would continue to worsen as I age, so this a big relief for me.

It's really not Botox. I've seen some claims that Gua Sha can replace Botox and fillers. That's just not happening folks. Most outward effects are so subtle that it's hard to tell from the pictures if it's a trick of the light or truly a difference. It could be that 31 days is still too short of a time span to see a huge difference. I've only just begun to see the saggier parts of my face perk up permanently so it's possible that in 6 months the difference will be much more noticeable. If you're looking for a big, immediate impact, this isn't the treatment for you.

For my part, I am very into natural and non invasive skin care solutions so this fits right into that ethos. It's is a fantastic thing to throw into your routine, especially when you aren't feeling particularly great or are stressed. I'm excited to see what differences (if any) I see in my face a few months down the line. I'll let you know!


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