Gua sha is a special massage practice taken from traditional Chinese medicine that is seeing a rise in popularity as a face treatment these days. Gua sha is occasionally also referred to as coining or kerokan. The practice consists of scraping the skin with a flat tool in order to stimulate it, drain the lymph nodes, and promote healing. Whether it actually works in this way is hotly contested, so we’re going to dive in and find out if gua sha actually does offer any benefits to the skin or body as a whole.
Gua sha tools are often made of semi-precious stones like jade and rose quartz, which makes them very attractive to look at. We suspect that is part of the reason for their recent rise in popularity. Influencers are always looking for a new way to impress, and gua sha tools were the next thing once jade rollers had become a common appearance in everyone’s Instagram feed.
To start, we’ve selected the best gua sha tools that you can obtain easily anywhere in the world. We then explain what traditional gua sha is, as well as the newer phenomenon of facial gua sha. We cover its effectiveness and potential benefits and even compare it to jade rolling. We also cover the potential pitfalls of this practice and finish off with an explanation of how to use gua sha tools safely.
Gua Sha Facial Guide: Contents
- 7 Best Gua Sha Tools to Massage the Face
- What Is Gua Sha?
- What Is Gua Sha for the Face?
- Gua Sha Benefits for the Face
- Gua Sha vs. Jade Rollers: Which Is Better?
- Kerokan Side Effects
- How to Use Gua Sha Tools on the Face
You don’t have to travel to China to find excellent gua sha tools. We’ve selected the very best ones so that you can give skin coining a try. Be aware that since they are all made of natural stones, the colors and patterns naturally differ so they rarely look exactly like in the photos.
1. Mount Lai Gua Sha Facial Lifting Tool
This simple little gua sha tool is an ideal starter. You can choose one made from a traditional jade, as well as rose quartz or amethyst stones. It’s great for facial skin coining since it is on the smaller side of things, size-wise. The boomerang-style shape allows you to go over all of the contours of the face, with a wide side that can even work for the shoulders and back of the neck. It is available at Sephora.
2. Odacité Crystal Contour Gua Sha Beauty Tool
These gorgeous gua sha tools also have a subtle boomerang shape for use over the face, neck, and even shoulders. Each one has a comfortable, streamlined shape that glides nicely over the face. There are three options available, made of hearty rose quartz, aventurine (green quartz), or blue sodalite. It comes with a set of instructions that will make getting started easy for you. Buy one from Nordstrom!
3. Skin Gym Jade Gua Sha Crystal Beauty Tool
If you’re good about going to the gym regularly, then you’ll probably like the workout minded approach of Skin Gym towards gua sha. The instructions for using this tool sound just like the instructions for getting set in at the gym. Made of cool jade, this gua sha tool has a boomerang shape with three curves rather than two, so it is easier to glide over smaller facial contours. You can get it at Ulta.
4. Herbivore Rose Quartz Gua Sha
Wanna get tickled pink? This gorgeous gua sha tool is made of feminine rose quartz in a tri-curve shape. This gorgeous tool is super lightweight so it is less likely to irritate the skin, though this also means that it is a little more delicate. Treat it with care and make sure not to drop it! Purchase it from Sephora!
5. Dr. Brandt Needles No More Neck Sculpting Cream
If you don’t want to have to hunt for the right facial oil to use with your gua sha, then consider this great two-in-one deal from Dr. Brandt. This set includes a light rose quartz gua sha tool for the most relaxing facial massage ever, as well as a face and neck cream made with firming caffeine as well as a variety of moisturizing and antioxidant ingredients to target loss of tone. Use the two together for the perfect treat. Order it online from Dermstore!
6. Kora Organics Rose Quartz Heart Facial Gua Sha
This is probably one of the cutest gua sha tools on this list, even if it’s just anything but standard. Made of rose quartz, it is shaped like a heart so it will surely put a smile on your face every time you pull it out for a massage. The heart divot is great for following the contours of the jawline, although you might find the shape awkward if you want to use it on the neck and back as well. It is sold at Sephora.
7. Shiffa FaSha Crystal Clear Quartz Tool
This is probably the most unique gua sha shape on our list. This square-ish tool is super versatile thanks to the different texture on each one of its sides. There is a concave side for wider areas, a concave side for the lines of the jaw and neck, and even a wavey side that gives more stimulation. Since this gua sha tool is a bit more complex, you’ll be happy to know it comes with very clear directions. Pick it up from Nordstrom!
Gua sha is a traditional Chinese practice with a very old history. It was first described in the Shang Han Lun, a treatise of traditional Chinese medicine published in 220 CE that outlines the stages of colds and fevers as well as their treatments. Since China has had robust influence over the countries in proximity to it, gua sha’s popularity had spread to other countries in East Asia. Kerokan, for example, is the name of the practice in Indonesia.
Gua sha literally means ‘scraping sand’ in Chinese, which makes sense since the practice consists of scraping the skin with a coin, spoon, or a dedicated gua sha tool until specks of redness (i.e. the ‘sha’ or sand) show up. A practitioner drags the gua sha tool over the skin while applying some pressure, usually following specific paths over the body. The ‘sha’ or redness is microtrauma to the skin that looks like red bruising. It is not especially painful but it looks very severe.
The traditional purpose of gua sha is to move ‘qi’ energy around the body to prevent its blockage. When modern therapists discuss it, however, the benefits of gua sha are usually related to helping with joint and muscle pain and inflammation, with some physiotherapists adopting the ritual as part of their massage and manipulation practice. Some sources suggest that the microtrauma itself is able to stimulate the skin into healing itself, which is also the logic behind skincare practices like derma rolling.
As with other traditional Chinese medicine practices, gua sha is seen by the scientific community as pseudoscience, and most of its benefits are attributed to placebo. This isn’t helped by the fact that there hasn’t been much proper scientific research done to prove or falsify the benefits of gua sha, and that many of the practitioners claim that it has some over-the-top benefits. The little bit of research that has been done shows that gua sha may help with circulation and mild muscle pain relief.
The way traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and other professionals utilize gua sha tools is very different from how gua sha is recommended for the face. Gua sha for the face is a much gentler practice that is more akin to a facial massage. The pressure of the dragging motion is much lighter when compared to gua sha done on the back.
For facial gua sha, the skin coining tool is held so that it is almost parallel to the skin and then dragged over it gently. Facial oil, serum, or moisturizer must first be applied to the skin to avoid having the tool tug on the skin and irritate it. Facial gua sha can be done at home, in a salon, or at a traditional Chinese medicine studio.
There are a few reported benefits of gua sha for the face, but it’s important to remember that they are mostly anecdotal and could potentially be a result of the placebo effect.
Healing Properties of the Stone
Some of the benefits are attributed to the specific stone a gua sha tool is made of, with jade supposedly having healing properties and rose quartz ostensibly promoting calm and self-love.
Unfortunately, there is really no science to back this up so it only furthers the idea the gua sha is pseudoscience. That’s not to say there are no benefits to the stones. Stones are great because they tend to stay cool for longer than other materials, so they do help soothe the skin in that way.
Another benefit that is often touted is that gua sha promotes lymphatic drainage, which ostensibly helps the body clear from toxins more quickly. Lymphatic drainage massages, in themselves, are not particularly backed up by science, so I think this benefit can be mostly disregarded.
Another benefit that is often reported (sometimes as a result of “lymphatic drainage”) is a depuffing effect. Many, though not all, who try gua sha tools notice that after doing it once or after a few treatments their skin looks firmer and slimmer, with a reduction in puffiness.
Whether the result is due to the gua sha tools being cool to the touch or because of the friction increasing blood circulation under the skin is not clear, but either way, if facial puffiness is a regular concern for you then you can definitely consider picking up a gua sha tool.
Another potential benefit of gua sha is muscle relaxation. By massaging the skin any tension in the muscles can be released. This might help with forehead wrinkles or a clenched jaw, and as a result, the face might look more youthful.
The final benefit of gua sha is also the one I happen to find most convincing. Gua sha, like other gentle massages, is very relaxing. Taking 10-20 minutes to yourself every once in a while to perform self-care can have wonderful mental health benefits. It can help you relax so it is especially nice before bed.
If you think gua sha benefits sound similar to jade rolling benefits… you wouldn’t be wrong. Both are tools used for facial massage, so obviously they will both have the relaxing and stimulating benefits of a facial massage.
Gua sha is a little more intense than jade rolling, as it is easier to cover more space and apply more pressure with gua sha tools. This means that they give a deeper massage but they also have a higher risk of irritation.
If you have sensitive skin, definitely opt for a facial roller instead of gua sha. If you have a lot of facial tension and your skin is fairly hearty, you might prefer a gua sha tool to a roller.
Kerokan, as done by a professional, has red, shallow bruising as an intended side effect. This bruising can last for a few days and may hurt or sting a little bit.
Both professional gua sha and at-home facial gua sha can irritate sensitive skin, and should not be done over broken or already irritated skin. In fact, you should avoid gua sha altogether if you are dealing with any inflammatory skin conditions like active acne or rosacea.
The skin on our face is thinner than the skin on our back, so any bruising on the face will take longer to heal and may lead to permanent redness and visible veins. When you do gua sha at home on yourself, it is up to you to control your angles and pressure to avoid damaging the skin.
It is also very important to invest in a high-quality gua sha tool that is smooth and durable. Any cracks in your tool can cause it to drag on your skin, and there may also be places where it can harbor bacteria, while should your tool break it can scratch the skin. With a durable scraper, you won’t have to worry about these issues cropping up.
• Before starting, it’s important that your gua sha tool is prepared. It is important to keep it clean, so give it a thorough wash with water and soap. You can also put it in the fridge for a few hours to make sure it will be cool and soothing for your treatment. Alternatively, you can soak it in an ice-water bath for a few minutes if you are short on time.
• You can incorporate gua sha into any post-cleansing step in your skincare routine. You can cleanse your skin and then immediately apply serum, facial oil, or moisturizer for gua sha, or you can do your steps of toners or essences first. What’s important is that your skin is slippery and slick with some sort of product before you start, to prevent having the gua sha tool irritate your skin.
• If you are coining your shoulders and neck as well, make sure to cleanse and apply moisturizer or oil to them as well.
• For your first time, practice holding the tool against your arm in the correct way. Fit the curved part of it so that it hugs the curves of your skin and then adjust your hold so that you have it in a steep angle. Make sure that as much of its flat part as possible comes in contact with your skin. Also, practice varying your pressure to make sure that you don’t overdo it and bruise your face.
• For a facial gua sha, begin at the base of one of the sides of your neck, and pull the tool upwards to your jaw bone. Repeat this a few more times, and then do the same on the other side of your neck. With even less pressure as to avoid coughing or choking, do it over the front of your neck.
• Next, with one of the smaller divots in your tool, fit the gua sha over the center of your chin, and scrape it over your jawline outwards towards the bottom of your ears. Repeat this a few more times, and then flip the tool over to do the same thing on the other side.
• Then, once again with the flatter curve of your tool, scrape from the center of your face outwards to massage the cheeks. You will probably have to do this in a few horizontal lines to cover the entire space.
• For under the eyes it is best to use the small, rounded end of your tool. Hold it just below the inner corner of the eye, directly against the skin, and gently pull it outwards towards your temple. You can do the same thing above the eye, first placing the tool over the skin just below the brow and then pulling it outwards towards the temple again. Repeat this with both eyes.
• For the forehead, start by placing your gua sha tool against your forehead in such a way so that its large curve is just above. Gently pull it upwards towards your hair line. Repeat this on both sides. For the area between the brows, do the same but with the smaller rounded edge.
• Once you’re done, apply any additional skincare that might be part of your routine if necessary.
• If you’d like to see how this is done in practice, as well as to get some expert tips, we recommend watching acupuncturist Sandra Lanshin Chiu’s instructional gua sha video.
Photos via @korayafay, @houseofglitterdk, @lilli.todd, @aimeesong, @beauty.amateur, @tresglowwy, @taylranne, @wish_with_itar