Learn about the impressive benefits of Gua Sha, an ancient massage technique experiencing a surge in popularity, plus find out how to try it yourself.
Suddenly, it seems like tools to roll and scrape your body are popping up everywhere. But the technique these unique beauty tools are drawing on, Gua Sha, has actually been around for a long time.
Gua Sha, or muscle scraping, is a centuries-old technique used to relieve pain, fight aging, and improve chi. Read on to learn more, including:
What is Gua Sha?
Gua Sha is an ancient Chinese natural therapy (it’s over 2,000 years old!) similar to massage. But instead of using their hands, practitioners use special tools to scrape the skin of the back, buttocks, arms, legs, and sometimes the face.
During the treatment, practitioners use many of the same long downward strokes as a regular massage to stimulate circulation and increase blood flow—a process that manipulates natural energy, or chi, to improve your body’s overall health.
The Benefits of Gua Sha
Though formal scientific research on the subject is rather limited, there are a handful of studies that show promising results.
Decreases liver inflammation
Studies suggest Gua Sha reduces chronic inflammation, particularly in the liver in just 48 hours. Researchers speculate that this type of treatment could benefit anyone who suffers from chronic pain, including arthritis.
If you suffer from headaches during pregnancy, one study suggests just 14 days of treatment reduced headache symptoms. Though additional research needs to be done—the study was limited to just one individual—the findings are promising.
Reduces engorgement while breastfeeding
When coupled with proper breastfeeding techniques, studies suggest Gua Sha is more effective at reducing engorgement and discomfort in the immediate postpartum period than massage and hot packs.
Alleviates neck pain
In one study, half of participants used Gua Sha techniques, while the other half used hot packs. The group who received Gua Sha treatments reported significantly less neck pain after just one week.
Reduces symptoms of menopause
Insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, hot flashes—many women suffer from these symptoms during menopause. But in one study, women who received only 15 minutes of Gua Sha treatment a week for eight weeks reported fewer symptoms than women who used conventional therapies.
Gua Sha Treatments
If Gua Sha sounds like it’s worth a shot, here are some treatment options available to you:
Gua Sha Massage
More and more salons and spas now offer Gua Sha. Sometimes, scraping is an extension of another more common treatment, like a facial; other times, it’s available as a standalone 15-minute session. Here’s what you can expect during a standard Gua Sha treatment:
- You’ll take off your clothes and lay face down on a table under a blanket or sheet. At some spas, you may remain seated with a towel wrapped around your torso if treatment is limited to your upper back.
- Before beginning, your therapist may ask you questions about areas of pain or palpitate different muscles or parts of your body to get a feel for where you might be storing tension.
- During the session, the therapist will apply oil to your skin and move the scraping tool around your body using long downward strokes. Note: The pressure your therapist exerts is generally medium to firm—it may feel slightly uncomfortable until you get used to it.
Gua Sha Facial
Though not as common, some facialists are trained in the technique. Here’s what to expect during a Gua Sha facial.
- Like a Gua Sha massage, your therapist will apply oil to the face and use a scraping tool in light to medium downward strokes all around your face. (Note: A Gua Sha facial uses much less pressure than a gua sha massage—it won’t leave bruises.)
- Your therapist will start with your neck and move upwards. After working on your neck, they’ll stroke the tools around your jawline, ending with broad strokes across the forehead.
At-Home Gua Sha
If you want to try Gua Sha at home, here’s a step-by-step for your neck and face. Always use clean tools and wash your hands before starting.
- Cleanse your face as normal.
- Spray your face with facial mist or smooth on facial oil—using a Gua Sha tool on dry skin could tug and pull uncomfortably.
- Beginning at the neck, stroke your roller or tool in an upwards motion slowly. Move around your neck and down your shoulders.
- At the jawline, turn your tool to scrape both upwards and downwards.
- Once you get to the cheekbone, turn your tool so that the side with the indentation fits over your cheekbone. Massage from the center of your face outwards.
- Using either a smaller rounded edge on a flat tool or the smaller roller on a rolling tool, gently work around your eye area.
- Finish with your forehead, stroking from the middle outwards.
Note: Always use the tool’s flat side, not the edge, and don’t press too hard. Because many Gua Sha tools vary slightly, follow the instructions in the booklet that comes with your tool.
Though metal is preferred by practitioners in a clinical setting (they’re easier to sterilize), Gua Sha tools are made from a variety of materials, including brass, copper, wood, and stones like jade.
Here are a few tools I recommend:
- Heart Can Feel Jade Tool Heart Can Feel Jade Tool – Gua Sha The Amazing Benefits of This Trending Technique I love the smooth, round edges on this tool. It easily fits in your hand, and the different curves and notches allow you to use it on larger areas, like your cheeks, or smaller areas, like your under-eye.
- Leosense Premium Copper Gua Sha Scraping Massage Tool Leosense Premium Copper Gua Sha Scraping Massage Tool – Gua Sha The Amazing Benefits of This Trending Technique If you want to try scraping on a large surface area such as your back or buttocks, this tool’s wider and squarer shape is great. It has two smaller curved edges on one end to get into smaller areas, too.
- Decinee Jade Roller Decinee Jade Roller – Gua Sha The Amazing Benefits of This Trending Technique The name of this Gua Sha tool isn’t quite right, because you get both a roller and a stone scraper in the set. I love that the roller has two different sizes, one on each end. The larger end works perfectly on the cheeks, neck, and shoulders, while the smaller end is ideal for the orbital eye area.
Are There Any Side Effects of Gua Sha?
Gua Sha is safe and natural, but can cause tiny blood vessels to break during scraping, resulting in minor bleeding or bruising. The bruising often looks like little red dots, which doctors call petechiae. Sometimes the dots are blue or black, particularly if the treatment is used on an area of chronic pain. This acupuncturist has some great pictures of the bruising sometimes caused by Gua Sha if you want to know what to expect.
Avoid muscle scraping if you’ve had recent surgery, are taking blood thinners, or have clotting disorders. And if you’re pregnant, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider first.
How About You?
Have you tried muscle scraping? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.