Gua Sha: An Ancient Chinese Technique That Has Gone Viral on Instagram
It’s an interesting journey that Katie Brindle took to start Hayo’u, a brand dedicated to Chinese medicine self-care tools and rituals.
In 1992, Brindle was training to be an opera singer when a car accident left her unable to sing. After a year of dealing with pain, she realised that Western medicine was unable to heal her completely, so she moved on to the world of alternative therapy and eventually discovered Chinese medicine.
“It was a combination of qigong, gua sha and just the knowledge of how to balance my body. I was amazed by how, with the right kind of help and correct information, my body was able to heal itself. This was the turning point for me. I decided to leave my job and start a degree in Five Element acupuncture,” said Brindle, who also authored a book on the art of Chinese self-healing.
She attended The London College of Traditional Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (LCTA) and College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (CICM) and later joined the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) when she set up a clinic.
Brindle saw that when patients incorporated the self-care treatments prescribed adeptly (including the use of gua sha), their outcome was exponentially better than those who came in once a week to have acupuncture; and she quickly saw the importance of self-care tools.
“I’d talk about Chinese medicine to anybody who was interested—dinner party guests, supermarket checkout staff—absolutely nobody was immune! They’d invariably tell me about their health and I’d give them some basic tools to help," Brindle shared.
"Every time I saw their eyes light up as they understood how to take control of their own health, I’d just get more convinced that this really was the way forward. Chinese medicine can be very complex and a bit daunting, my idea was to start with something simple but enormously effective—and that was the jade gua sha tool.”
That was the seed that blossomed into Hayo’u.
"Gua sha is a therapeutic healing technique, that has been widely practised in China for thousands of years. It involves using a round-edged tool, traditionally made from materials such as jade or metal, to press-stroke the skin until redness appears," added Brindle.
Today, the gua sha tool has seeped into the mainstream beauty sector winning over fans such as Xiao Wen Ju, Karlie Kloss and Emilia Clarke as well as a densely populated #guasha hashtag on Instagram. Miranda Kerr carries a heart-shaped gua sha tool in her beauty line, Kora Organics, while Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness empire Goop discusses the benefits of gua sha frequently.
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“This trend was definitely driven by social media and the move towards clean beauty and the idea of being proactive with their beauty regime. This simple gua sha massage can be easily incorporated into your daily skin routine and can be used with your preferred facial oil to nourish your skin," explains Newby Hands, global beauty director at Net-a-porter.
"And it was perfect timing because the beauty industry was embracing all-natural remedies, ancient eastern medicine and rituals, and DIY at-home treatments."
Hands added: "Gua sha brings a variety of benefits, including relaxing stiff muscles and promoting tissue drainage. The increase in blood flow can help brighten and firm the skin and can temporarily make your face appear slimmer.”
Here are eight things you should know about gua sha, according to Brindle:
1/8 Gua sha can be used to treat both face and body
"Facial gua sha can transform skin, activates acupressure points along the 12 major meridian lines in your face. It triggers the healing mechanism of your skin to stimulate collagen and elastin to lift, plump and sculpt; leaving you with a radiant glow.
Body gua sha has been used to treat a whole range of conditions from fever to chronic cough and migraines. It has been shown in studies to increase micro-circulation by 400%, clear inflammation and increase immunity. It’s also renowned for maintaining and strengthening your body constitution and even improving your sleep.
Gua sha produces an anti-inflammatory effect that lasts for days after treatment. It has been shown to exponentially increase blood flow to the surface of the skin, which scientists believe works in a number of ways.
Firstly, it helps disperse toxins by increased circulation and aiding the lymphatic and immune systems. Then as the blood is reabsorbed by the body it promotes an enzyme with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties."
(Related: These Traditional Chinese Medicine Ingredients Can Help Boost Your Health)
2/8 Don’t overthink your technique
"The lovely thing about gua sha is that it is such a holistic treatment. There’s really no wrong way to do it.
I have suggested rituals which people often use when they are getting started—because it’s a new concept, it feels reassuring to have instructions to follow. But you can do as much or as little as feels good to you, or depending on how much time you have in the day.
You do need to use some kind of lubricant to create slip and avoiding dragging on your skin. You can gua sha in the shower just with water to invigorate and wake you up in the morning. And then you can do a longer, more luxurious treatment in the evening with a face oil to leave you deeply relaxed before bed."
3/8 Gua sha shouldn’t be painful
"Start very gently and work up to the pressure of scratching an itchy insect bite. We say eight strokes as a guide, which is enough to effectively bring up a red flush (“sha”). If in doubt, stop.
In the West, redness is associated with bruising and pain. But in this instance, it’s healing and satisfying. Most people feel a sense of weightlessness, pain relief, greater energy and many even report feeling ‘lighter’ after a treatment session. The position, colour and form of the redness (or sha) can vary according to the area, degree and nature of a health problem in the body. Gua sha can also be an indicator of what’s going on internally. Darker skin tones will show less sha than lighter skin tones; it will still be there, just harder to see.
The sha will also vary from light brown to almost black, depending on the level of toxicity in your body. For example:
- Red: A recent invasion of external disease
- Dark red: Heat, inflammation or acidity in the local area
- Purple or very dark red: Long-standing stagnation and damaged tissue
Also, wait for any sha to subside before you re-treat that area."
(Related: These Ancient Asian Healing Techniques are Making a Major Comeback)
4/8 Know when you should avoid gua sha
"I’m often also asked about Botox! The Hayo’u Beauty Restorer can be used on all untreated areas of your face, to even out the difference between the Botox and untreated skin. We recommend avoiding the treated area for 28 days after dermal filler treatment or Profhilo and 14 days after Botox.
Avoid practising body gua sha if you are pregnant, unless performed by a professional practitioner. This is because certain acupressure points on the face and on the body can trigger uterine contraction. To be safe, it would be also wise to avoid massages on the back and abdomen during pregnancy.
There are a few skin issues that render treatment unsuitable over the affected area, such as rosacea. But although you should not perform gua sha over the affected skin, you can work all the way around it which will help."
5/8 There’s a difference between a gua sha and face roller
"Using a gua sha tool delivers a deeper and more specific treatment to the face and neck. It allows you to work deeper into the muscles and fascia for deeper tension release.
In fact, the jade face roller was traditionally used after a gua sha facial to calm the skin, after the real work had been done. We don’t have a jade roller in our range, because they tend to squeak and fall apart after a while."
6/8 Use jade for a facial gua sha and metal for the body
"Jade is gentler and brings up less sha than a metal option, but if you are in good health then the metal Body Restorer is super effective. Metal has a stronger effect on the body than jade, which is why we use jade on the delicate skin of the face.
The Beauty Restorer Precision is our lightest and slimmest gua sha tool. It has a super slim rounded edge to really work into specific target areas. How to use it? Simply use the slim tip to make a series of mini-strokes over and around your lips and eyes to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. You can also expand the technique all over for a delicate facial. This is the ultimate tool to target crow’s feet."
(Related: The 5 Best Herbal Ingredients For Your Skin)
7/8 Know your jade
"Jade varies hugely in quality. The Beauty Restorer is made from 100% Xiuyan jade. It comes from a region of China renowned for the best quality jade in the world. Xiuyan jade is named after its place of origin in Liaoning Province, in northeast China, where the origins of jade-carving can be traced back to more than 5,000 years.
100% jade is much rarer than composite. You can tell it’s real because it is really smooth, it will differ slightly in colour as it is natural, cold to touch and doesn’t break easily."
8/8 Include tapping into your self-care ritual to build immunity
"Our lives are more sedentary than ever before. But there is one incredibly easy way to get your circulation moving (even when you’re sitting down) and this is tapping. It encourages lymphatic drainage, which clears toxic waste.
Tap regularly all over your body, every day. You can use a loosely clenched fist, or a bamboo tapper to help you reach all over your back and tap more efficiently. You can tap for one minute in the morning and evening, and throughout the day if you’re feeling sluggish.
- The thymus: The thymus is situated behind the breastbone, and it’s where T cells, which fight infection, are produced in the body.
- The abdomen: We have many lymph nodes in the abdomen, so it’s particularly good to focus around this area. In Chinese medicine, tapping the abdomen supports the spleen and other vital organs, which control the overall health of the body.
- The sides: The spleen is hugely important for immunity. From a Western perspective because of its relationship to white blood cells, and from an Eastern one because it has a close connection with the lymphatic system, which is key to the good functioning of your immunity. Tap your sides by the lower ribs with a loosely clenched fist or a tapper.
Gua sha, tapping and breathing properly (with this rescue breath ritual): These are the three techniques that I’d recommend you to include into your daily routine as a way of building immunity."