Does gua sha work? The massage technique TikTokers swear by for smooth, sculpted skin

Gua sha massage technique used during a facial
Gua sha is commonly used during facials to reduce puffiness and improve circulation. Kanawa_Studio/Getty Images
  • Gua sha is a traditional Chinese medicine technique where a smooth stone is scraped across the skin.
  • Gua sha may reduce puffiness, improve circulation, and smooth wrinkles, but more research is needed.
  • To use gua sha, apply serum to the skin and then lightly stroke the tool across your face.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Gua sha, a massage technique where a specialized tool applies pressure to the skin, is becoming increasingly popular thanks to social media. On Tiktok, for example, the gua sha hashtag has accumulated almost 660 million views so far.

Gua sha’s boost in popularity is thanks to its supposed ability to improve blood circulation and reduce puffiness in the face. Hence, the name gua sha where “gua” means to scrape, while “sha” means sand, referring to the red spots that occasionally appear on the skin afterward.

Here’s what you should know about gua sha and its purported benefits.

What is gua sha?

Gua sha is a traditional Chinese healing technique where a special jade or quartz tool with round, smooth edges is scraped across the skin. It is meant to expand or burst blood vessels, and, depending on how much pressure is applied, cause tiny, red spots called petechiae. These spots are only temporary, lasting between a few hours to a few days.

Gua sha was originally used on the body, such as the arms, legs, and back, but it is now commonly used to improve the facial appearance, says Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology.

Garshik says that according to Chinese medicine texts, gua sha is meant to:

  • Relieve chronic pain
  • Promote lymphatic drainage, which reduces swelling by encouraging the flow of lymph, a fluid that transports white blood cells and removes bacteria and viruses.
  • Stimulate blood circulation

Does gua sha work?

Today, people typically use gua sha to sculpt their face and minimize wrinkles. However, almost all these claims are anecdotal and there is little scientific evidence to back them up.

So far research indicates gua sha may:

  • Improve blood flow to the treated area: A small 2007 study found that gua sha may improve microcirculation, aka blood circulation in small blood vessels, for about 25 minutes after treatment.
  • Reduce puffiness: Applying light strokes or movements on the face can help keep the lymph fluid moving, says Marie Hayag, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at Fifth Avenue Aesthetics, which may reduce puffiness and inflammation.
  • Minimize wrinkles: A 2020 case study found that gua sha may improve wrinkles and fine lines, but more studies are needed to investigate this benefit further.

While gua sha may lead to improvements in the skin’s appearance, results are often temporary, says Garshick. For instance, your cheekbones may look more sculpted after a round of gua sha, but will usually puff up again the next morning. That’s because when you lie down to sleep, water can collect in the face and cause a mild swelling due to gravity.

Besides skincare, several small studies have found potential benefits of gua sha such as treating ailments like migraines, chronic neck pain, Tourette’s syndrome, and perimenopause.

How to use gua sha

To use gua sha, you simply glide one of the tools smooth edges across the skin for two strokes, applying gentle pressure as you go. You may apply a cream or serum to the area before using the tool to help it glide more smoothly.

However, “those with sensitive skin may prefer to avoid [gua sha] as applying too much pressure can lead to potential irritation of the skin. While the side effects are minimal, it can be uncomfortable and lead to bruising or soreness if too much pressure is applied,” says Garshick.

Insider’s takeaway

Gua sha is a traditional Chinese technique that involves stroking the face, or other areas of the body, with a smooth-edged tool to improve circulation and promote lymphatic flow.

The idea behind better circulation and lymphatic flow is that it reduces puffiness and minimizes wrinkles on the face, but larger studies are needed to confirm these benefits.

However, as long as you are not taking blood thinners, gua sha is safe to try at home. If you’re looking for maximum results, try gua sha on your face in the morning when you’re most puffy. Just remember, don’t apply too much pressure, otherwise, you may irritate your skin.

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