Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/12/2021
If you’ve spent any time on Instagram — and who hasn’t, really? — you’ve probably seen an influencer touting the benefits of using a little, ear-shaped stone tool on their face.
It’s called Gua Sha and it’s actually an ancient Chinese practice that essentially involves scraping a smooth rock over your skin. Yup, really.
But why would you do this and how could it benefit your complexion? Let’s dive in.
As we mentioned, Gua Sha is a practice in traditional Chinese medicine. In this type of medicine, it’s believed that when your qi (or energy) becomes stagnant, it can cause health issues.
A Gua Sha stone is a stone with a smooth edge, often in a crescent shape, that is used to scrape inflamed areas of the body to allegedly move your qi and improve circulation.
Like other popular facial tools, it’s purported to reduce puffiness and inflammation, help treat dark circles under your eyes, remove dark spots, tighten skin, etc.
The scraping probably sounds a little scary, but it generally is done gently and doesn’t hurt.
Gua Sha can be performed anywhere on the body and there’s even a little bit of research supporting its benefits.
One small study of 11 people found that in areas Gua Sha was performed, microcirculation was increased fourfold in the area of treatment.
Interestingly, females in the study showed a higher response than men.
Study participants also found a decrease in myalgia — a fancy word for “aches and pains” — in the treated area.
Another small study involving 48 people looked at Gua Sha as a treatment for neck pain. It found that study participants who had neck pain reported significant improvement in the short-term after using a Gua Sha stone.
Then there was a 2010 review of clinical trials that looked at Gua Sha for pain management and found insufficient evidence to support Gua Sha as a viable option.
As you’d expect, when it comes to more holistic treatments like these the scientific research is often pretty scant. In both studies above, the sample sizes were small. And in the third, the evidence to support this alternative therapy just wasn’t there.
That’s not to say Gua Sha doesn’t offer any beauty benefits — just that more research needs to be done before we can say anything definitively.
Beyond your body, there may be some benefits of using a Gua Sha stone on your face. Some say that it can reduce tension and puffiness, and give your face a more sculpted look.
It’s thought that the way it reduces puffiness is by improving lymphatic flow and drainage.
The lymphatic system helps move nutrients and white blood cells through your body. It also acts as a filtering system for bacteria and other waste products.
The lymphatic system relies on gravity and muscle movement to help move fluid. If those things don’t happen, you may get puffy.
So, the logic is that a facial massage with a Gua Sha stone can help move the fluid out of the area and reduce puffiness.
However, it must be said that there is some skepticism around this concept of lymphatic drainage.
In an article published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a dermatologist questioned whether lymphatic drainage was even an issue in the face.
The gentle massage may also increase blood flow to the face, giving you a glowy, bright look.
A 2017 study looked at the benefits of facial massage, which is essentially what Gua Sha is.
Participants used a stimulating facial massage device with cream for eight weeks and found the effects of the cream were enhanced and improvements were seen in wrinkles and sagging.
It is important to note, however, that this study wasn’t done with a Gua Sha stone — and it was small.
Another study from 2002 found that 59 percent of women who had a facial massage reported feeling rejuvenated. Fifty-four percent reported supple skin afterwards and 50 percent reported skin tightening.
Interested in using a Gua Sha stone on your face? You can find them at many beauty stores and online. They’re relatively affordable and are often made of rose quartz or jade.
Since facial skin can be more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body, you’ll want to use a gentler pressure than you would for, say, a leg or shoulder massage.
You should use the curved side of the stone and drag outward (rather than towards the center of your face) over your facial muscles.
Here are some motions you can try:
Start on one side of your nose, and glide the tool flat down and out towards the bottom of your ear. You can use the natural curves of your face as your guide.
Begin underneath your chin, dragging the stone along your jawline towards your ear.
Glide the stone down either side of your nose.
Place the Gua Sha stone above your brow bone and move it up towards your scalp.
For an even smoother glide, you can apply moisturizer or serum before using the Gua Sha stone.
Gua Sha is an ancient Chinese practice that involves gliding a stone over parts of your body to assist with stagnant qi (or energy).
It can be used anywhere. Some research has found that it can help with neck pain. Another study found that it can boost circulation.
When it comes to Gua Sha for your face, research is limited. But anecdotally, using a Gua Sha stone and a skincare tool is said to reduce puffiness, increase blood circulation and give you a brighter complexion.
At the very least, so long as you’re not using it wrong, it doesn’t appear that you can hurt your skin by adding a Gua Sha stone to your beauty routine.
So, if you’ve been thinking about giving it a shot, feel free.
If you’re interested in trying it on your face, you’ll want to use gentle pressure and glide from the inner parts of your face outward.
You can also use moisturizer or serum to help the stone glide more easily.
Another opinion would be to visit a Chinese medicine practitioner to have them perform it on you.
If you’re looking into Gua Sha to tighten your skin, you can also consider using an anti-aging cream that is scientifically proven to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.