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The potential benefits and uses of gua sha

Curious about this trending, centuries-old skincare technique? Here’s what you need to know.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 30, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Maria Borowiec, NB-BC
Woman Conducting Gua Sha on the Face
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 30, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Maria Borowiec, NB-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Gua sha is an ancient technique that’s making a comeback in today’s beauty landscape. Originating from traditional Chinese medicine, this technique involves scraping your skin with a special, smooth-edged tool to massage the face.

It’s certainly not just a TikTok fad; science is starting to back up this age-old practice for its possible benefits in pain relief, skin healing, and even a touch of facial contouring.

What is gua sha?

Gua sha is a traditional practice from East Asian medicine that involves gently scraping the skin. While it’s been around for centuries to help with pain and muscle tension, it has recently caught on in Western society. Some research hints that gua sha might help enhance your immune response to offer potential therapeutic benefits.¹ 

Though we don't have much hard evidence, gua sha shows promise as a complementary and alternative therapy option that can lead to several possible benefits.

The benefits of gua sha 

Gua sha is an ancient therapy that can have some potential effects, from skin healing to pain alleviation, and even subtle facial reshaping. Let’s take a look at each of these promising benefits, underpinned by scientific insights, to properly understand the holistic value of this age-old technique.

Skin healing

Ever scratched an itch and felt immediate relief? Gua sha may possibly simulate a similar mechanism at a therapeutic level. Like scratching, gua sha involves scraping or massaging the skin—but with a specialized, smooth-edged tool. This leads to multiple stimuli to the skin. Scratching isn’t merely about itch relief; it might actually prompt our skin to regulate its defensive mechanisms. Gua sha may achieve similar results, but in a more targeted and controlled fashion.²

Gua sha may tap into your skin’s immune response, giving it a little ‘boost,’ if you will.³ The full scope of how this works is still a bit of a mystery, but it’s an intriguing area of study nonetheless!

Pain relief

There are some intriguing theories based on research on how gua sha may offer pain relief. Gua sha may help reduce substances that cause pain in the first place, leading to less inflammation and discomfort.⁴

But there’s more: scraping your skin might release nitric oxide, which can ease swelling and pressure on nerves. The actual force of scraping also comes into play; it can activate nerves that sense touch, which can dial down those pesky pain signals.⁵

And let’s not overlook the power of the mind; if you expect gua sha to work, your brain might release natural painkillers. That’s the placebo effect for you!⁶ So, while more research is needed to fully understand how this works, there are theories to explain why gua sha may offer pain relief.

Face sculpting

A preliminary study using CT scans found that participants who gave themselves facial massages twice daily for two weeks saw small changes—like slightly thinner cheeks and a slight lift in their facial skin.⁷

Now, let’s keep it real: you shouldn’t expect to wake up looking like a whole new you. The changes are subtle. So, if you’re all about those beauty treatments, adding some facial gua sha to your routine might give you that extra confidence.

How should I do Gua Sha? 

A smooth-edged instrument made of jade or something similar is typically used for gua sha. While lubricant oil is optional, it can make the process smoother. Once you’ve got your tool, ensure the skin area you’re going to work on is both clean (hopefully you’re using a gentle cleanser) and dry.⁸

Now, let’s talk technique. Hold your tool gently, ensuring the flat edge is in contact with your skin. Apply a soft, gentle pressure to start. Unidirectional strokes are generally used, meaning you’ll move the tool in one direction away from the center of your face or body, not back and forth. Generally speaking, you can continue this for about 10 minutes.

Follow unidirectional strokes and avoid excessive pressure to prevent skin damage and pain. It also doesn’t hurt to consult a trained practitioner for guidance if you’re ever uncertain. 

And there you have it—your quick and easy guide to trying gua sha at home!

Is gua sha painful? 

Gua sha isn’t designed to be painful. You might feel some discomfort or a mild sensation of pressure on your skin, but the idea is to keep things gentle and controlled to avoid pain or damage. Expected outcomes can differ depending on your pain tolerance and which area of the body you focus on. If you find that you're experiencing more than a slight discomfort during the process, it's essential to adjust your technique or reduce the pressure you're applying. Remember, any discomfort should be minor and temporary. If you consistently experience pain, consider seeking advice or a demonstration from a skincare expert to ensure you're using the tool correctly.

Is gua sha for everyone?

The short answer: No, it’s not.

If you have skin problems such as cuts, infections, sunburn, or bruising, you should steer clear of gua sha. So, while gua sha has its fans and potential benefits, it’s essential to consider your health and skin conditions before diving in.⁹

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FAQs

What is a gua sha good for?

Gua sha is a traditional technique known for its potential in pain relief, skin healing, and cosmetic benefits like face sculpting. While gua sha holds promise, more research is required to understand its mechanisms and effectiveness for these benefits fully. 

Does gua sha actually work?

This technique offers various advantages, such as skin healing, pain relief, and subtle facial changes. While there are some scientific theories for these claims, comprehensive research is still needed to fully understand how this works.

What are the disadvantages of gua sha?

Gua sha certainly has its advocates, but it's not without potential risks. Applying too much pressure during the scraping process can lead to bruising or irritation of your skin. If the technique is not executed correctly, it could even result in skin damage.¹⁰ If you have specific skin or health conditions, you should always seek professional medical advice before attempting gua sha.

Should you cleanse your skin before using gua sha?

Yes, it's crucial to ensure the skin area you're working on is both clean and dry before using gua sha. Using a gentle cleanser can help remove any dirt or impurities, ensuring a smoother and more effective gua sha session, and reducing the risk of irritation or skin issues.

How long does a gua sha session typically last?

A gua sha session's duration can vary based on the specific area of focus. Ensuring unidirectional strokes and avoiding excessive pressure will help maintain your skin's health and maximize the potential benefits of gua sha.

• • •

P.S. We did the Homework so you don't have to:

  1. Chu, E.C.P., et al. Exploring scraping therapy: Contemporary views on an ancient healing - A review. J Family Med Prim Care. (August 2021).

  2. Chen, T., et al. Gua Sha, a press-stroke treatment of the skin, boosts the immune response to intradermal vaccination. PeerJ. (2016, September 14).

  3. Chen, T., et al. Gua Sha, a press-stroke treatment of the skin, boosts the immune response to intradermal vaccination. PeerJ. Ibid.

  4. Chu, E.C.P., et al. Exploring scraping therapy: Contemporary views on an ancient healing - A review. J Family Med Prim Care. Ibid.

  5. Chu, E.C.P., et al. Exploring scraping therapy: Contemporary views on an ancient healing - A review. J Family Med Prim Care. Ibid.

  6. Chu, E.C.P., et al. Exploring scraping therapy: Contemporary views on an ancient healing - A review. J Family Med Prim Care. Ibid.

  7. Okuda, I., et al. Objective analysis of the effectiveness of facial massage using breakthrough computed tomographic technology: A preliminary pilot study. Skin Res Technol. (May 2022).

  8. Chen, T., et al. Gua Sha, a press-stroke treatment of the skin, boosts the immune response to intradermal vaccination. PeerJ. Ibid.

  9. Nielsen, A., et al. Safety protocols for Gua sha (press-stroking) and Baguan (cupping). Complementary Therapies in Medicine. (October 2012).

  10. Chen, T., et al. Gua Sha, a press-stroke treatment of the skin, boosts the immune response to intradermal vaccination. PeerJ. Ibid.

Maria Borowiec is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from University of California, Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
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Curology Team

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Maria Borowiec, NB-BC

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