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Gua sha: The Chinese facial tool for healthy skin and pain relief

Traditional Chinese medicine includes more than just acupuncture. If you follow any health and wellness gurus on Instagram you have likely seen some of the other natural techniques gaining traction here in the U.S — cupping, Chinese herbal medicine and auricular therapy to name a few.

But one technique that has gained recent popularity is gua sha. Gua sha is a quick and repetitive scraping of a flat jade, metal or natural horn instrument across the skin to relieve pain and tension and stimulate lymphatic drainage and is used on both the face and body.

As an acupuncturist, the goal of gua sha for acute and chronic pain, tension, stiffness, and even fever and chills is to repeat the scraping motion until a light petechiae (red spot or sha) is created on the skin. The redness is significant because it indicates the extravasation or “release” of blood in the superficial fascia. The sha that is created can last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on the severity and chronicity of the condition being treated.

Don’t let the description fool you — scraping and petechiae seem like serious business and they do have some serious benefit for your body. However, the process is actually very relaxing and pleasant. So, think of “scraping” more like “gliding” and helping heal your body.

Health benefits of facial gua sha

While the same general motion is used in facial gua sha, this technique is gentler and involves lightly pulling along the skin instead of scraping. For the face, instruments typically made of jade, rose quartz or porcelain are used and leaves a cooling sensation on the skin. The idea here is not to create petechiae at all, but instead to facilitate lymph drainage and release facial tension.

Our lymph system relies on movement, usually from exercise or massage, to move lymph through the body. So, if you are not engaging in regular exercise, the lymphatic system could become sluggish and operate less than optimally.

The solution? Get in your movement every day and supplement by moving lymph with gua sha.

When lymph is circulating and draining like it should, gua sha users will see a reduction in inflammation and an increase in the body’s ability to remove dirt and other toxins that have built up in that area.

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So what does this mean for your face? Typically, less facial swelling, less puffiness, a reduction in acne and clearer sinuses.

Facial gua sha can also reduce tension held in the face and neck which may lead to a reduction of headaches, jaw tightness or neck pain. This technique can be a game-changer for someone who is a nighttime “teeth clencher”.

Though gua sha can be beneficial to incorporate into your lifestyle, there are some risks to lymphatic drainage. Those who may not be candidates for this technique and are advised to speak with their doctor before beginning treatment include:

• Patients with malignant tumors, thrombosis or major heart problems
• Women who are pregnant
• Patients undergoing chemotherapy
• Patients with kidney or thyroid conditions

Before posting your gua sha technique to your Instagram story, I suggest making an appointment with an acupuncturist to help you understand how the treatment can benefit your unique body.

Looking for an acupuncturist? Find one at Baylor Scott & White Health.

About the author

Ashley Oved, MSOM, L.Ac
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Ashley “DeeDee” Oved, MSOM, L.Ac, is an acupuncturist and herbalist on staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Round Rock 300 University.

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Gua sha: The Chinese facial tool for healthy skin and pain relief