For the past few months, TikTok has been taken over by beauty and wellness accounts swearing by the effects of gua sha — the process of using carved stones to apply pressure to the face as a form of stress relief.
But gua sha isn't new, not even to the Western world. It dates back centuries to the Chinese Stone Age, where animal bones, stones, and other tools were used to alleviate heat and tension in the body.
"That's what we used it for: heatstrokes," said Dr. Ping Zhang, a licensed acupuncturist with more than 25 years of experience in traditional Chinese medicine, and one of the pioneers who introduced gua sha in New York as a means of facial rejuvination. "Our ancestors used them to clear the heat. They thought scraping certain body parts could release toxins."
Gua sha literally translates to "scraping sand." The "sand" is a reference to the "little red bumps that form on the skin" after scraping, according to Dr. Zhang.
So why the sudden resurgence in popularity in the US?
Skincare enthusiast and social media influencer Mairamkul Karagulova (@theodisseya) said she thinks the rise of TikTok in correlation with the pandemic gave a lot of people pause to reevaluate their self-care routines. "People have realized you can do facial wellness at home."
"Wellness" is the keyword in understanding gua sha's uses and effects. Mairamkul said one of the most common misconceptions for first-time users is that they're "expecting plastic surgery effects."
According to Dr. Zhang, much of traditional Chinese medicine practices are rooted in yin and yang — the natural balance within each of us. "If you follow Chinese medicine theory, yin and yang starts with energy in the face," she said. "The face is the place where a lot of energy is converging, so faces have a great healing power if you do it right. If you activate fluids in the face and neck, you're revitalizing the blood flow and activating people's natural healing energy."
Florida-based aesthetician, founder of Sunina Skin, and author of Face Fitness Patricia San Pedro said she uses gua sha as a form of spiritual healing. "Growing up in a Korean household, there [are] always different ancient practices that are passed down," she explained. "So I was always very interested in holistic practices of skincare, rather than just running to the cabinet for some sort of treatment."
Patricia frequently posts tutorials and tips on how to most effectively use gua sha stones, especially in tandem with other wellness practices. In one video, she demonstrates different "yoga for beauty" moves.
Gua sha can be used for targeted areas of the body as well, like postpartum healing, according to Patricia.
According to Dr. Rae Ritke, a licensed acupuncturist based in New York City, those who strictly practice gua sha differ from those who practice traditional Chinese medicine. "They're working more with the fascia [connective tissue between muscle and bone] and muscles under the face to relieve tension and increase blood flow," Ritke said. "But in strict Chinese medicine, we are working more along the meridian, which are just pathways of energy."
The overall consensus with gua sha: It can be an extremely effective tool in reducing facial puffiness, relieving stress, and rejuvenating one's skin, but it's most effective when used in tandem with other wellness practices, like a balanced diet, exercise, and meditation.
Ritke explained that the entire concept of gua sha, like other forms of traditional Chinese medicine, is to use it as a preventative measure. "There's an old proverb: 'You pay your doctor to keep you well, and then when you get sick, he will treat you for free," she said.
And there are tons of gua sha stones to choose from based on your needs. Patricia's personal favorite is rose quartz because it's a "self-love healing crystal."
But there's also bian stones like the one that she used here to demonstrate eyebrow shaping.
Or jade stones like the one that Mairamkul used in this video for her nighttime ritual.
Dr. Zhang also warns that gua sha is meant to be used in moderation. "It's a very powerful method to relieve the system, but people have to be careful to not do too much," she said.
To learn more about gua sha and other traditional Chinese medicine practices, you can check out these resources from Mount Sinai!
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