Before You Bandwagon: The Sudden "Discovery" of Gua Sha Therapy

By: Andie Horowitz 

In this week’s Before You Bandwagon, we’re once again revisiting a practice that's been suddenly popularized by TikTok: Gua Sha therapy. Stop by the wellness section of the app and you'll find thousands of videos showcasing the benefits, from boosting skin's appearance to reducing inflammation to general stress relief. Yet despite the hashtag’s trendy 500 million-plus count, the practice is not a trend — it’s an ancient Chinese medicinal practice that has existed for generations. 

When discussing the practice, we must recognize Gua Sha therapy’s roots and its importance within Chinese culture. Due to its recent rise in visibility, many companies have replicated the product for financial gain without recognizing its origins. As consumers, it’s imperative that we pay tribute to both the practice’s significance and longevity within the world of Eastern medicine. 

With this context and an extensive history of positive feedback in mind, we found ourselves pondering two questions: How does Gua Sha therapy work? And what are its health benefits?

The low-down

For centuries, Eastern medicine practitioners have promoted Gua Sha therapy’s benefits. In Chinese, Gua Sha, written as 刮痧, translates to “scratch sand,” with the sand representing the user’s skin. When the treatment was initially popularized, Gua Sha was used to treat acute illnesses or seasonal diseases. Now, the practice is more widely known within the world of skincare.

Gua Sha is used for various self-care benefits, but de-puffing and drainage are two of the mainstays. Some doctors also recommend the practice for immunocompromised individuals, believing that Gua Sha can lead to the disruption and eventual diminishment of toxins from the body.

Of course, if you've been on TikTok, you've seen Gua Sha used to sculpt the face. It's important to note that while some TikTok creators have boasted Gua Sha’s ability to create a tighter jaw-line, the practice does not traditionally include the effect of facial alteration. 

Once you're ready to give it a try, there are many ways to use a Gua Sha (based on the specific product purchased). Generally, practitioners advise applying oil to the skin as a base, then stroking the Gua Sha in a suggested motion based on the manufacturer's recommendation. It's also suggested that users engage in the activity for a minimum of once per week for at least 10 minutes to see results. 

Why people think it works

At its core, doctors recommend Gua Sha for its ability to regulate blood circulation and revamp the body’s energy, referred to as “qi” within traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Dr. Ervina Wu, a TCM doctor, explained the science behind Gua Sha for NY Magazine:

“The idea was to scrape the skin to invigorate blood flow, release heat toxins, stimulate lymphatic drainage, and activate various points of the body.”

There are multiple studies to back up Gua Sha therapy’s claims, with pain reduction and healing properties showcased throughout the explored research. With this in mind, it's essential to remember that consistent usage is critical in yielding results. Additionally, different materials may help with more specific user needs. For example, due to the stone’s natural properties, Rose Quartz Gua Sha are advertised to help with sensitive skin, while Black Obsidian is better for reducing inflammation. 

Our take?

Gua Sha therapy’s success has continued to remain relevant throughout history for a reason: multiple reliable sources tell us it works. The evidence for decreasing levels of pain and inflammation combined with its effects of lymphatic drainage and blood recirculation sell me immediately. To be completely honest, I have already succumbed to purchasing my own Gua Sha tool while researching information for this article. But despite its alluring draw, as consumers, we have a responsibility to purchase from creators who explicitly take into account Gua Sha therapy’s history when crafting and selling their products. 

With this in mind, here is a list of Gua Sha tools created by Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners: 

Hungry for more wellness trends? Check out the Before You Bandwagon series here.

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