The resurgence of an ancient beauty treatment, gua sha, has been trending in the celebs world, with many endorsing its youthful effect. Advocates of the treatment include Hollywood’s Emilia Clarke, Jennifer Anniston, Miranda Kerr and Zendaya. Bollywood’s Malaika Arora also recently posted Instagram Reel, which has her talking about how a gua sha message is the simple secret to her flawless youthful skin. Previously, even Miranda had taken to her Instagram about it and wrote, “Gua Sha is one of my favourite techniques to lift and sculpt my face (sic).”
We spoke to a couple of skin experts in the country to understand a little more about this treatment.
What’s all the fuss about?
According to senior consultant dermatologist Dr TN Rekha Singh, gua sha involves press-stroke treatment of the skin. “It is an effective folk therapy for various symptoms, which is widely accepted in East Asia,” begins the dermatologist who also urges caution. “However, the mechanisms underlying its therapeutic effects have not been clarified.”
Dr Rekha does point out that articles and studies from the Chinese language database cover an array of conditions responsive to gua sha, which include headache and migraine and neck, shoulder, back, and knee pain, as well as acute diseases such as fever, flu, earaches, asthma and bronchitis in children and adults.
“Very few studies show the anti-inflammatory effects gua sha has a therapeutic impact in inflammatory conditions, such as active chronic hepatitis involving liver inflammation,” explains the skin doctor. “There are limited evidence-based studies to prove the efficacy of Gua Sha and although one study even claimed showed benefits of the treatment method in relieving breast engorgement and two studies that reported pain reduction.”
Another dermatologist, Dr Preeti Kothari, MD, further describes gua sha as a treatment method that uses a smooth-edged tool to stroke the skin. “The use of this tool has gained a lot of traction and has become a new trend, leading to many skincare brands providing it with their products or as part of homecare tools for skin,” says Dr Preeti. “It essentially helps in improving blood circulation, which can increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the skin in turn improving skin health. It may even help in relieving tension in the facial muscles.”
Dr Rekha tells us that ‘gua’ refers to the scratching of the skin, while ‘sha’ refers to the petechiae (cherry red spots caused by the breakage of skin capillaries) and texture appearing after scratching.
The doctor goes on to define gua sha as a repeated, unidirectional, press-stroke of the lubricated skin area with a smooth-edged instrument until sha—or blemishes—appear due to blood congestion. “While the symptoms alleviate immediately or in a few hours, the blemishes fade and completely resolve within two to five days,” says Dr Rekha.
She further states it as hypothesised that gua sha-induced extravasation of blood and controllable skin tissue damage leads to the wound-healing process. “Gua sha is assumed to improve the immunological functions of the skin and body by acting as a physical adjuvant, as shown by the increased immune responsive cells in the skin,” she adds.
A fair share of warning
Like every other beauty treatment, however, gua sha also comes with a set of warnings.
Dr Preeti cautions for practitioners of this treatment to be mindful about not applying too much pressure. “Always move in upward directions while working with it. Too much pressure can cause petechiae or bruising,” explains the doctor. “Hence, it is important to use gua sha in the right way.”
She further points out that users must not expect miracles with this tool. “Some fans of the tool claim that this may help reduce wrinkles or sagging or even help in contouring and building a sharper jawline, which is not true. Such results should be left to in clinic procedures like botox, fillers, ultherapy, etc., which need to be performed by experts,” adds Dr Preeti.
Dr Rekha also cautions that gua sha treatments can aggravate pre-existing dermatological conditions such as atopic eczema and acne and spread the existing infections to the surrounding skin while transferring the infections if the tools used are not disinfected properly.
“It can even cause hives or other issues such as wheals in those who have a tendency for pressure urticarial,” elaborates Dr Rekha matter-of-factly. “Those on blood thinners may have bruises and red spots, which can last for longer. Hence, it is recommended to stay away from such treatments.”
The dermatologist also spells out that the treatment can cause redness, itching, irritation, dryness, burns and contact dermatitis as well as resultant blemishes secondary to scratches or pressure caused by the gua sha tools. “The clinical picture may mimic physical abuse especially when seen in youngsters or children and if one is unaware of this practice,” points out Dr Rekha. “The treatment many not be suitable especially for people with medical conditions affecting the skin or blood vessels, active infections or wounds, conditions such as deep vein thrombosis or pacemakers and for people on blood thinners.”
Reiterating that there is very little scientific evidence backing up this therapy for both facial skin and body Dr Rekha emphasises that more evidence is needed to prove the efficacy of this therapy despite it being used to treat a range of medical illnesses. “One has to weigh the pros and cons and take expert opinion or guidance before resorting to any therapy as every skin is unique in itself. Also, one therapy doesn’t work for all,” she warns.
The supposed next big thing
Facial gua sha is currently trending on social media with many blogs on Instagram speaking about this treatment. It is claimed to be an easy and effective way to make the skin look and feel good, is assumed to be similar to any other facial massage.
According to senior consultant dermatologist Dr TN Rekha Singh facial Gua sha uses the same method used in treating body ailments that uses jade stone rollers or rose quartz. She adds, “Unlike other dermatological procedures which need an expertise and trained and certified professional, facial gua sha is very inexpensive and an easy DIY tool that can be used at home. This may be one of the reasons it is so popular these days. It might improve the micro-circulation of the skin to some extent as well as the appearance of the ski for a transient period while providing a feel good factor. However, it cannot be considered on par with the medical treatments such as chemical peels, micro-dermabrasion or dermarollers or laser treatments to improve or enhance the skin condition and health.”
Benefits of gua sha
According to the personal experience of bridal make-up artist Gazal Surana, gua sha message instantly puts one in a relaxed mood. “It promotes lymphatic drainage, which means it helps move lymph fluid out of the body and increase circulation and thereby detoxing your skin. The end result is a natural face lift and glowing skin,” says Gazal. “However, while it’s very easy to buy a jade stone and start practice, I’d recommend that people do their research and understand the massage techniques and the face oils you need to use with the gua sha. If used wrongly, it can do more harm than good.”