But Y Tho explores a plethora of funny, strange, and peculiar trends to provide long sought-after answers to questions that have been swimming in all our heads.
The unassuming tool is making big waves in beauty spaces. Using a flat stone to gently scrape your face will supposedly help reduce acne and sculpt puffiness away while offering an ASMR-worthy tactile experience.
Google search numbers reveal that interest in gua sha increased about five times in April compared to February; it’s now also tagged in over 300,000 posts on Instagram.
Gua sha has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and has existed for thousands of years as a way to alleviate symptoms of various ailments. But it got renewed attention in recent years from beauty influencers raving about its supposed facial benefits. What was once a relatively low-profile treatment is now a cult beauty trend.
Growing up in Singapore with family members who regularly underwent TCM treatments, I knew gua sha as an intense procedure that left red marks all over your body. Some studies have found that traditional body gua sha may help with muscle recovery. However, little research has been done on the effectiveness of facial gua sha. Still, the flat pieces of stone are in medicine cabinets and vanities around the world, vibing with the wellness aesthetic splashed all over Instagram.
“Growing up in Singapore with family members who regularly underwent TCM treatments, I knew gua sha as an intense procedure that left red marks all over your body.”
Naturally, its newfound fame got me wondering: Why are so many people suddenly obsessed with gua sha? Does it actually work?
What is gua sha?
I wanted to know more about gua sha before following in the footsteps of beauty influencers, so I turned to a practitioner. According to Yeo Wei Ling Tricia, a physician at Kin Teck Tong, a traditional Chinese medicine clinic in Singapore, there are two main types of gua sha: one for the body and one for the face. While traditional body gua sha often leaves “bruise-like markings” along its trail, facial gua sha involves a “much gentler technique,” she said.
“The point of facial gua sha is to stimulate the dermis layer of the skin to improve elasticity and release the tension to relax your facial muscles,” said Yeo, adding that it’s typically done by scraping a flat piece of jade or rose quartz on your face in upward strokes. This is supposed to relax stiff muscles and promote tissue drainage.
But a word of caution: gua sha is not for everyone.
“You should not be doing any form of gua sha if you are taking anticoagulants (medicine that prevents or reduces blood clotting ability). It is best to consult with a TCM physician if you are dealing with any kind of skin problems such as acne or rosacea,” Yeo said.
Aileen Teng, the founder of Probeau Wellness, a Singapore-based clinic that specializes in gua sha facials among other skincare treatments, cautioned against practicing gua sha on wounds, sunburnt spots, and sensitive skin. She also recommended applying lotion to your face before gua sha to avoid leaving marks on the skin.
What tools do you use for gua sha?
Traditionally, gua sha was done with ceramic spoons and blunt coins. These days, gua sha tools are more popularly recognized as flat pieces of stone that come in a range of shapes, sizes, and materials, all boasting slightly different benefits from one another.
My gua sha tool. Photo: Koh Ewe
Some believe that certain types of stone are more suited to certain people. For example, the cooling properties of jade are claimed to be good for balancing the skin, while rose quartz is more suitable for spiritual healing and acne-prone skin.
But in reality, these minerals may be more for the ‘gram.
Teng said that the type of stone doesn’t really matter when it comes to gua sha.
“You can use anything as long as it’s not sharp [and] the technique and direction are correct,” she said. For facial gua sha, for example, you should scrape outwards from the center of the face and scrape in one direction instead of going back and forth.
What are the benefits of gua sha?
Most of gua sha’s supposed benefits are based on beliefs in traditional Chinese medicine.
“In TCM, gua sha is believed to move blood and qi,” said Yeo. The scraping motion is believed to stimulate facial meridians (energy channels found throughout the body), dispelling excess fluid from the face and helping to detox. According to Yeo, facial gua sha can give you a “natural radiant glow” by increasing blood circulation and aiding lymphatic flow.
Meanwhile, Teng provided a more spiritual perspective. According to traditional Chinese medicine wisdom, people with too much yang energy in their bodies are prone to getting “heaty,” which leads to reddish faces, while people with more yin energy tend to have pale and dull skin. It's believed that gua sha can help balance yin and yang.
How do you gua sha at home?
While gua sha for ailments like fever or muscle pain is best left to professionals, facial gua sha is super accessible as a beauty routine.
“The good news is, there is really no right or wrong way to facial gua sha. Do what feels good to you,” Yeo said.
She recommended placing the gua sha tool in the fridge overnight, so it’s nice and cool in the morning—ready for depuffing. You can also incorporate gua sha into your nightly routine after cleansing your face but before putting on any night creams.
“The improved circulation will help increase your products’ absorption,” Yeo said.
If you’re all set with a gua sha tool in hand, Yeo recommends the following steps for a simple everyday routine:
- Start in the middle of your forehead and work your way out toward the temples, all the way to the hairline. Repeat three times on each side.
- Gently press and hold the tool under each eye, then over each eye, with the eyelid shut. Sweep the gua sha tool over the under eye area gently and out to the temple, all the way to the hairline. Repeat three times on each side.
- Angle the tool at 45 degrees in an upward lifting motion, working it from your smile line and over your entire cheek. Do about eight sweeps in each direction.
- Gently guide the tool from the middle of your chin along your jawline toward the ear. Move the tool behind the earlobe, and then down the neck to drain excess fluid into the lymph glands. Repeat three times on each side.
Did gua sha work for me?
Of course, I had to try gua sha out myself.
As a perennial victim of serious morning puffiness, I usually just ride the bloat out as the day wears on. With its promise of instant depuffing, I knew I had to put the cult beauty tool to the test. Gua sha was the first thing I did upon waking up.
Trying gua sha on different days. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe
I applied a dollop of moisturizer on my face and started scraping with a jade gua sha tool. But I was not used to moisturizing daily, so this left me feeling oily for the better part of the day. When I first started clumsily scraping with the flat device, navigating the unevenness of my face was something I had to get used to.
This minor inconvenience aside, however, I found that gua sha was an effective method to depuff my face in the morning. On certain spots, the pressure from the gua sha tool served as a deeply satisfying massage.
Before and after gua sha one morning. My eyes felt less heavy and more awake. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe
Besides my scheduled gua sha morning routine, having the inconspicuous tool right at my fingertips meant that I was using it to massage my face periodically throughout the day, sometimes during work or when I’m winding down before bedtime. If nothing else, I found that gently scraping my face is a seriously underrated form of therapy to scrub my furrowed brows into a meditative state of relaxation.
These days, gua sha devices often come with facial rollers, a handy invention that is rooted in the same logic and boasts similar beauty claims. After my week with the flat gua sha, I switched to a jade facial roller for another week.
Trying the jade roller. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe
The facial roller is definitely more beginner friendly. After watching a couple of online tutorials, I was basically an expert. And since it’s designed to glide smoothly on the skin, I did not have to apply any lotion before rolling my face.
The facial roller also has two roller ends that differ in size. I used the smaller end under my eyes, sweeping from the inner corners to my temples, while the larger end I used for the rest of my face and jawline.
As part of my morning routine, the facial roller was an eye-opener—literally. It helped to open my swollen morning eyes. I’m not sure if the photos appear significantly different, but I found it effective enough for depuffing. And the dull throbbing of my face afterward definitely made me feel awake and ready for the day ahead.
Before and after using the jade roller on my face one morning. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe
Two weeks ago I would have scoffed at the idea of scraping my face with a stone and calling it a beauty routine, but this TCM technique has actually helped reduce daily puffiness and dark eye circles. If these changes are not obvious, I also just liked the ritual of it all, and that’s enough for me. Self-care!
“If these changes are not obvious, I also just liked the ritual of it all, and that’s enough for me.”
(Left) My profile on the first day of my gua sha journey. (Center) One week into gua sha. (Right) On the last day of the two-week experiment. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe
The gua sha is simple enough to use, but the absolute ease of picking up a facial roller and cruising with it every morning has made me a convert. I may reserve the flat gua sha for special self-care nights at home, but its two-wheeled cousin is what I’m going to be rolling with every morning.
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