What is gua sha? The trendy skin care tool dominating Instagram, explained

Banu Ibrahim, CNN Underscored
Thu January 16, 2020

Move aside, jade rollers, there's another new beauty tool that's being credited with major skin benefits and is all over Instagram. It's called gua sha (pronounced gwa sha), a traditional Chinese medicine practice where one takes a tool, typically made from jade or rose quartz, and scrapes it across the skin in an effort to reduce inflammation, smooth skin, boost collagen levels, tone your face, get more radiant skin — the list goes on.

Traditional full-body gua sha, which is more like a sports massage, can produce cringe-worthy results (imagine the aftereffects of cupping, where there is an abundance of bruising and redness). But more manageable versions of the tool, made specifically for the face, have recently boomed in popularity online. These offer a gentler version of gua sha that still has the benefits of the full-body practice, but on a smaller and more skin-friendly scale.

How does a gua sha facial tool work?

It's a similar concept to the jade roller in that it focuses on moving the tool in upward strokes on the face to promote lymphatic drainage. According to Britta Plug, a holistic wellness expert based in New York, "the jade gua sha massage breaks down internal tissue and deep muscular tension." But as with jade rolling, the right technique is crucial.

Plug explains that it is important to ensure that you keep the tool almost flat, at about a 15-degree angle to the skin; you should feel light tension as you stroke upward. For most of the facial area, you'll use light to medium force when you tug the tool across. In the eye area and other parts of the face where the skin is more delicate, your strokes should be, too.

Before you use the tool, you'll prep the skin, with a generous spray of a facial mist and a few drops of face oil to help glide the tool along. When you begin to use your gua sha, you'll stroke sideways and slightly upward (so if you're starting at the cheek, move toward the ear) and ensure you're anchoring the skin with the opposite hand. You'll repeat each stroke about three times and continue along the rest of your face. If you want to see this in action, you can see a detailed tutorial of a gua sha sequence from Plug. We've got some recommendations for face mists and oils, below.

  • Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs & Rosewater (starting at $7; nordstrom.com)

This highly popular mist uses the power of aloe and rosewater to both hydrate and refresh the skin. Fans have been known to use this on bare skin, as well as over makeup as a setting spray.

  • Herbivore Botanicals Rose Hibiscus Hydrating Face Mist (starting at $16; nordstrom.com)

Hyaluronic acid is what takes this mist to the next level. It's also got an extremely lovely smell of rosewater and hibiscus that we promise isn't too overwhelming.

  • Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Antioxidant Face Oil ($72; sephora.com)

This oil is all about targeting dehydrated skin, with an extra kick of nourishing pure marula oil.

  • Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate ($49; sephora.com)

A cocktail of lavender, squalane and primrose means this oil not only smells lovely, but can hydrate and target fine lines in the skin overnight.

Does gua sha work?

There's some preliminary evidence that backs gua sha as a microcirculation healing tool, but there isn't enough research on the process, especially as it relates to facial use, for a conclusive decision.

During my testing, which lasted three weeks, I used the tool of my choice — Herbivore's teardrop-shaped Rose Quartz Gua Sha Tool — about two to three times every week for roughly two-minute sequences. I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

As someone who is very prone to puffy, dull skin, I felt like my neck and cheeks looked more lifted and thinner, and over the course of the few weeks, I noticed a change in my skin's texture. All around, I noticed a positive change in my skin's elasticity, especially when it came to suppleness. And on top of that, it felt like a mini massage, and helped me release tension where I tend to hold it the most, in my face, particularly my jaw area. Once or twice I noticed my skin getting rosy, especially when I applied more pressure, but that quickly went away and my skin never remained red.

Personally speaking, I found it to be a far more effective tool than a jade roller. (Although I love the feel of a jade roller, I haven't noticed an immediate difference in the look of my skin.)

  • Herbivore Botanicals Rose Quartz Gua Sha Tool - Teardrop ($18; herbivore.com)

The teardrop shape of this tool makes it extremely easy to use, with devotees using the longer side to target the cheek and neck areas.

What gua sha tools should I buy?

I found the teardrop tool (like the aforementioned Herbivore one) an easy entry point into gua sha. Other products out there with top ratings from customers include Skin Gym's Rose Quartz Crystal Gua Sha Sculpty Facial Tool and Mount Lai's Gua Sha Facial Lifting Tool.

  • Skin Gym Rose Quartz Crystal Gua Sha Sculpty Facial Tool ($32; nordstrom.com)

  • Mount Lai's Gua Sha Facial Lifting Tool ($28; sephora.com)

In addition, other popular gua sha tool shapes include heart-shaped iterations (Kora Organic's Rose Quartz Heart Facial Gua Sha Tool) as well as square ones, like the square version of the Rose Quartz Gua Sha tool.

  • Kora Organics Rose Quartz Heart Facial Gua Sha ($58; sephora.com)

  • Herbivore Botanicals Rose Quartz Gua Sha - Square ($18; herbivore.com)

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.