The Cultural History Behind Gua Sha

Gua sha has become an infamously popular part of skincare and beauty routines across the United States, but where did the practice originate?

If you’re into skincare (or on any social media platform) it’s likely that you’ve heard of gua sha as a beauty and skincare practice to enhance your daily routine. Gua sha has become increasingly popular throughout recent years, and for good reason––the gua sha’s benefits are multifaceted and unique. Not to mention, the tools used in gua sha are beautifully crafted editions to any skincare setup. This modern beauty practice has roots that can be traced centuries back as one of the oldest recorded forms of Chinese traditional medicine. The resurgence of gua sha as a popular part of our modern skincare regimens speaks to the longevity and steadfast benefits of the practice.

pink gua sha
Pink Gua Sha via @beige.digest on Instagram

The History Behind the Gua Sha

Gua sha is a traditional Chinese medicine practice in which a tool is used to scrape lubricated skin in order to stimulate new oxygenated blood to the muscle area to promote recovery, healing, and drainage of negative energy or toxins. Traditional Chinese Medicine demonstrates root values in the concept of balance: that between the naturally opposing forces of yin and yang, which may block a body’s qi (vital energy) as it passes through the body’s meridians to maintain harmony. A common misconception behind gua sha is that ‘gua sha’ (pronounced gwah-shah) refers to the tool itself, now commonly crafted of jade or rose quartz. Rather, ‘gua sha’ encompasses the practice in whole, and did not begin simply as a facial technique but as a full body healing technique.

great wall
Great Wall via @divinefarmerca on Instagram

The first computed records of gua sha can be traced as far back as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), while historical records discover the practice dated as far back as the Paleolithic age, in which more rudimentary objects such as stones, coins, and even household objects were used to perform gua sha on ailing bodies. In Chinese Traditional medicine, the practitioner of gua sha would commonly use a Chinese soup spoon or bare hand alongside a massage oil or balm. Gua sha was not used for beauty or complexion benefits, but rather as a form of medical technique, particularly for ailments like heatstroke or virus. Due to the practice’s longevity in Chinese culture, it is difficult to credit the origination of gua sha to a singular individual. Dating back thousands of years, gua sha is a generationally inherited practice that has remained culturally significant due to its proven benefits.

Singapore via @jonathan_steffanoni on Instagram

The turn to gua sha as a facial practice is largely interwoven with acupuncture practices, the jade and rose quartz tools we recognize in contemporary media today a gentle means by which to focus the practice and its benefits on the facial region. However, bodily gua sha massages are still of staggering popularity. In Singapore, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine are renowned for their gua sha. The practice remains a cultural hallmark of healing and reinvigoration.

gua sha jade roller
Gua Sha and Jade Roller via @lili.belaya on Instagram

Today, gua sha is a widespread and popularized part of skincare regiments in the United States. Gua sha facials are now one of the most highly sought out beauty practices to be performed by professionals, and tools ranging from triangular or square shaped facial massagers to jade rollers serving a similar purpose along the facial meridians are readily available at a number of retailers, from Target to Ulta to Amazon. The benefits of facial gua sha include lymphatic drainage, decreased inflammation, brightened complexion, and when performed consistently and properly, can help to sculpt and contour the muscles of the face. Gua sha’s rise into the mainstream skincare sphere is a wonderful opportunity to recognize its roots––to express appreciation for the beauty and intention of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the longevity of its influence.

Juliana Riedman

Contributing Editor

A South shore Long Island Native, Juliana is scarcely seen without a book in hand. Whether on a plane or at the beach, her passion for reading is rivaled only by her drive to explore. From museum-hopping, coastal hiking to curling up with her cat; she is always seeking her next adventure - and her next good read.

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