Most people are familiar with the practice of gua sha as it pertains to the face. Or, at the very least, they’re familiar with gua sha tools — geometrically shaped instruments with rounded edges that are commonly crafted out of semi-precious stones like jade or quartz. The gua sha tool is meant to be massaged along the skin on the face. Practitioners say it offers a long list of beautifying benefits, including but not limited to sculpting the facial contours, reducing puffiness, and minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
What many people may not know is that the practice of gua sha originated in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and it was used on the body for healing and detoxification. In fact, the widespread use of gua sha for beauty is relatively new — so new that you won’t even find it in TCM texts.
The History Of Gua Sha
According to Shelly Marshall, aesthetician and founder of Beauty Shamans, “Gua sha is an ancient health remedy born from traditional Chinese medicine more than 700 years ago.” The term is often translated to mean scraping and to indicate the presence of petechiae that can appear after a treatment. They’re “small red dots that show up on the skin after deep and vigorous short strokes are applied to areas of the body being treated,” says Marshall. “Traditionally, gua sha was used as a therapeutic practice to release stagnation and trapped energy while encouraging a proliferation of blood and oxygen to areas of pain or injury.”
The co-founders of Wildling — intuitive acupuncturist and Chinese medicine scholar Gianna de la Torre, herbalist and beauty maven Jill Munson, and holistic aesthetician Britta Plug — say that, for thousands of years, people in China and other Asian cultures have used gua sha to reduce fever, muscle tension, and inflammation; boost immunity; and increase circulation. “Gua sha for beauty on the face as well as the body is a relatively new thing,” says the Wildling team. “No one knows the exact roots of facial gua sha. One believable theory, albeit conjecture, posits that it was discovered by acupuncturists who noticed the lifting qualities of acupuncture, acupressure, and gentle gua sha on the face by chance. Because the benefit to these modalities has more to do with beauty and less to do with a specific health concern, it is left out of traditional Chinese medical texts.”
Marshall stresses that even though body gua sha can improve the physical appearance of the skin, it’s first and foremost a healing method. “Out of respect for acupuncturists and TCM as a whole, I think it's important to note that performing body gua sha for cellulite and smoother skin is not really traditional gua sha at all,” she says. “Instead, it is a fast-growing health and beauty trend that simply adopts using a gua sha tool. That being said, there are many anti-aging and health benefits to using a gua sha tool on the body, such as attaining better skin elasticity, smoothing skin texture, and reducing toxin accumulation.”
The Different Types Of Gua Sha Tools
Qihui Jin, MSAc, L.Ac, CSW, is a healer at WTHN. He says that there are three main materials from which gua sha tools are traditionally made. They are jade, buffalo horn, and bian stones. The former is said to help moisturize the skin, regenerate muscles, clear heat, detoxify, calm nerves, and dispel turbidity. “This is the most popular and familiar gua sha material,” he says. “Its comfortable touch is especially good for facial gua sha.”
Buffalo horn, on the other hand, is “pungent, salty, and cold.” All three of these qualities give it unique benefits. “Its pungent nature can disperse qi, promote blood circulation, and reduce swelling,” says Jin. “Its salty nature can soften firmness, and its cold nature can clear heat, detoxify, cool blood, and calm panic attacks.”
Finally, there are bian stones, which are made of pumice. “This kind of stone contains a variety of trace elements, and the infrared radiation frequency spectrum is extremely broad. It can unblock the meridians, clear heat, detoxify, soften and dissipate knots, and warm the local skin of the body,” says Jin.
He notes that other materials that were traditionally used for gua sha include copper coins, silver dollars, porcelain spoons, tender bamboo boards, cotton yarns, and mussel shells. “Using your hands with a pinch of salt is another option if gua sha is done on the belly or soft muscles,” he says.
How To Prep For A Gua Sha Body Massage
The first thing to consider before giving yourself a gua sha body massage is the environment. “During treatment, attention should be paid to keeping the room warm, especially in winter,” says Jin. “The cold (and cold air vents) should be avoided. In addition, when practicing in summer, fans or air conditioners blowing directly on the target area should be avoided.” In the same vein, he cautions against taking cold baths or showers within a half-hour of doing a gua sha massage.
You also want to have your materials ready: a tool and oil. The latter is important for reducing friction and helping the tool glide across the skin. “You can use body oil, a household oil (such as tea seed oil, grapeseed oil, soybean oil, olive oil), medicated oil (such as safflower oil), or even just cold water,” Jin says. “If you don’t have a traditional tool, you can use a spoon or a lid.”
How To Give Yourself A Gua Sha Body Massage
“When you begin to use the gua sha tool, keep it fairly flat — most people automatically want to put it at 90 degrees, but it works best around 15 degrees so that a lot of the stone’s surface area is flush with the skin,” the Wildling co-founders instruct. They also say to start with the extremities — the feet and hands — and work in toward the torso. “Use firm pressure. Your body gua sha should feel like a deep tissue massage. Of course, the ritual should always feel good on the body, so we recommend listening to what your body needs. If anything feels uncomfortable, use less pressure or move on to a different area” they say. They also advise avoiding using a gua sha tool on moles, scars, cysts, cuts, rashes, or any other kind of lesion. Simply gua sha around that area instead of going over it.
Stroke inward toward the heart. “Do three to five strokes. If you’re trying to get into the fascia and address pain, do up to 30 strokes (although the more strokes you do, the more likely you are to leave a mark or bruise),” says the Wildling team. “This isn't a bad thing — it's an indication of stagnation leaving the body. If you do experience a bruise, wait until it has faded to work on that area of the body again. You'll notice less bruising on the body over time, and you can avoid it altogether by using less pressure.”
Once you’ve completed your gua sha massage, head to the kitchen. “After practicing, drinking a cup of warm water and resting for 15 to 20 minutes can not only replenish the fluids but also promote metabolism and accelerate the discharge of metabolites, thereby replenishing qi and yin,” says Jin.
How Often You Should Gua Sha Your Body
Avoid performing gua sha over skin that’s still showing redness or bruising from a previous massage (referred to as sha). “The interval between practices should be three to six days, and it should be based on the receding of the sha on the skin,” Jin says.
“We recommend rotating around the body and picking one section to work on daily,” says the Wildling team. “For example, one day you’d focus on the thighs, on another day you’d focus on the upper arms. We find this is a manageable way to stay consistent with the practice and give love to your whole being.”
However, if you’re only using light pressure, and your intention is to gua sha your body for beautifying benefits such as reducing puffiness, Marshall says you can do this daily. “Our bodies are constantly metabolizing and detoxifying, so getting into a regular practice has cumulative benefits,” she says.
We only include products that have been independently selected by The Zoe Report's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.