If you’re someone who stays on top of beauty trends, you’ve probably heard of gua sha. If not, open up your favorite social media app—you’ll almost certainly stumble across the popular practice within your first two minutes of scrolling. Gua sha, for the unacquainted, is an ultra-popular massage technique with roots in ancient Chinese tradition. While it can be done anywhere on the body, facial gua sha is particularly hot right now, thanks in large part to social media (the #guasha hashtag has accumulated more than 490 million views on TikTok alone). In short: It’s clear that gua sha is trending in a major way. Less clear is whether or not it’s worth practicing.
To find out, we chatted with aesthetician Natalie Aguilar of N4 skincare in Los Angeles. Ahead, Aguilar dishes on the benefits of gua sha. She also explains how to use gua sha skincare tools and provides tips on incorporating this popular self-care practice into your regular skincare routine. Read on for a crash course on gua sha.
What Is a Gua Sha Facial?
Gua sha, which translates loosely to “sand scraping,” refers to both the tool and the technique. According to Aguilar, a gua sha facial involves using a specialized tool—usually a thin, smooth jade or rose quartz gua sha stone—to methodically scrape the skin. While the practice is often likened to facial massage, it’s more similar to using a jade roller. The primary difference between gua sha and facial rolling is in how much pressure is used, Aguilar says. Jade rollers tend to require very light pressure, while gua sha uses medium to firm pressure in long, even strokes.
What Is Gua Sha Used For?
Proponents of gua sha claim the practice can help decrease tension, reduce puffiness, and give the skin a more rosy, radiant appearance. Research on whether or not gua sha can actually help address these concerns is limited. That being said, gua sha does have its benefits—especially when it comes to stress relief.
“Usually, life is ‘go, go, go; I have to do this, I have to do that,’” Aguilar says. “When I think of facial gua sha, the first thing that comes to mind is [the] opportunity for one to slow down and connect with their skin.” Because gua sha facial massage “isn’t something that you can rush through,” she adds, it forces the practitioner to focus on breathing and relaxing, which can decrease stress.
Are There Any Risks To Practicing Gua Sha?
The traditional gua sha facial technique uses relatively firm pressure, which Aguilar notes can leave the skin with minor petechiae (small red spots) or bruising. This discoloration, she says, “usually disappears within one to five days,” although it can be avoided altogether by using light pressure when doing your facial massage.
Other than that, the risks of gua sha are minimal, so long as you follow the proper technique. This includes prepping your skin adequately (more on that shortly) and using your gua sha stone properly. It’s also a good idea to skip gua sha if you’re sunburned, Aguilar says, since “rubbing over sunburned skin can cause more irritation and damage.”
How To Use a Gua Sha Stone: 5 Steps
One of the biggest benefits of gua sha, according to Aguilar, is that anyone can learn how to do it at home. “There are so many videos and tutorials online, you can just follow along with a screen and a mirror,” she says. Keep reading to learn how we recommend incorporating gua sha into your regular self-care routine.
Start With a Thorough Cleanse
Before breaking out your gua sha stone, Aguilar says you’ll want to cleanse and tone your face. We recommend reaching for a mild facial cleanser, like Ultra Facial Cleanser. The pH-balanced formula, which contains olive-derived squalane and glycerin, helps remove dirt and debris without stripping the skin’s natural moisture barrier. It’s dermatologist-tested for safety and gentleness and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
After cleansing, use a gentle toner, like Ultra Facial Toner, to remove any lingering impurities or cleanser residue. We recommend using a clean cotton pad to swipe this hydrating, alcohol-free toner over your face—just be sure to avoid your eye area.
Layer On Your Targeted Treatments
Next, prime your skin for moisture using Ferulic Brew Antioxidant Facial Treatment With Lactic Acid. This lightweight, fast-absorbing facial essence provides antioxidant protection to help support your skin’s natural recovery processes. It also defends against damaging free radicals and helps improve skin tone and texture. The mild formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night to promote glowing, healthy-looking skin.*
*Results based on expert grading in a four-week consumer test on 60 subjects.
Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum
Then, while your skin is still damp, smooth on a thin layer of Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum to help lock in moisture. This gel-like serum helps encourage the skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid to improve the appearance of dehydrated skin. When used regularly, it also helps boost elasticity, giving the skin a plumper, smoother appearance.
While you wait for your serum to absorb, wash your gua sha facial tool with warm water and lay it flat to dry. Aguilar also recommends disinfecting the stone after each use and making sure to store it in a clean, dry place, like your bathroom cabinet.
Apply a Lightweight Facial Oil
Facial oil is a must-have when you’re doing a gua sha facial massage, Aguilar says. Oil lubricates the skin, which helps the tool glide more easily.
We have several face oils you can use in your gua sha facial routine—we recommend choosing whichever one suits your needs best. For dull-looking skin, reach for Daily Reviving Concentrate. It’s made with sunflower oil and ginger root essential oil and provides antioxidant protection to help defend the skin against damaging free radicals. It’s non-comedogenic and absorbs quickly, leaving the skin looking fresh and energized.
Those with drier skin types may prefer Midnight Recovery Concentrate, which contains evening primrose oil and fragrant lavender essential oil. This moisturizing face oil boosts essential moisture to help replenish the skin overnight. It has a lightweight formula that can be applied nightly for softer, more supple skin.
Finally, if you’re prone to sensitivity, try Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil (“my favorite oil,” Aguilar notes). The non-comedogenic formula with hemp-derived Cannabis sativa seed oil helps strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier and provides relief from discomfort. Regular use also helps visibly diminish redness to reveal a calmer, more balanced appearance over time.
Apply two to three drops of your chosen oil to your face, focusing on areas you’ll be using the gua sha stone. If, while doing your gua sha massage, you find that your skin isn’t slick enough, you can always add another drop or two.
Pop On a Tutorial and Follow Along
Now we’re at the moment you’ve been waiting for: using your gua sha tool. Start by lightly pressing the stone onto your jawline and gently “gliding [it] up and out” toward your hairline. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a minute to get the hang of the movements. “At the beginning, you’re not going to know how to use the tool properly,” Aguilar says. “It takes time to practice.”
Once you’ve got a feel for how much pressure to use with your gua sha stone, Aguilar recommends simply searching YouTube for tutorials (there are many to choose from) and following along. Lastly, “take your time,” she says. You should try to set aside about 30 minutes for your full facial massage and aim to reach for your gua sha “at least once or twice [per] week.”
Kiehl’s Tip: Avoid using your gua sha stone around your delicate eye area until you’re comfortable with the practice and know how much pressure to use. Instead, reach for an eye cream, like Avocado Eye Cream. This Kiehl’s classic with shea butter and avocado oil provides long-lasting hydration to help brighten and de-puff tired-looking eyes.
Moisturize To Lock In Hydration
Finally, reach for a moisturizer to complete your routine. We recommend the cult-classic Ultra Facial Cream, our #1 best-selling facial moisturizer. The lightweight formula with olive-derived squalane and glycerin absorbs quickly, providing the skin with both instant and long-lasting hydration. It’s clinically-demonstrated to leave the skin smoother and softer within just one week and can be used morning and night for visibly healthier skin.*
*Results based on a four-week clinical test.
Next: Gua sha isn’t the only facial treatment you can do at home. Learn How To Apply a Face Mask The Right Way for a luxurious (and relaxing) at-home facial.
Source I. Bin Saif, Ghada A et al. “Association of psychological stress with skin symptoms among medical students.” Saudi medical journal vol. 39,1 (2018): 59-66. doi:10.15537/smj.2018.1.21231