I Tried Gua Sha For 2 Weeks Straight — Here's What It Did To My Skin

Gua sha board in use

Image by Miachel Breton / mbg Creative

The best money I’ve ever spent on a skincare treatment was for a facial with New York City’s gua sha expert and mindbodygreen collective member, Britta Plug. Facial gua sha is a specific type of massage adapted from ancient Chinese bodywork that utilizes a scraping tool to move toxins out of the body. The old school methodology leaves the skin looking raw and bruised, but don’t worry—facial gua sha is far more gentle. It emerged on the new age skincare scene a few years ago as a trend and now it’s here to stay.

The thing is, while these facials are excellent, they are pricey, and long-term results from facial gua sha rely heavily on consistency and self-practice. I’d dabbled here and there with a gua sha stone in my routine, but wanted to give it a standing, consistent chance. I grabbed my favorite stone, this multi-faceted bian one from Wildling Beauty, and committed to two weeks practice. Here’s what I learned, and what happened, after doing gua sha every morning for a fortnight.

At first, I broke out a little bit.

I know! Not exactly what you’d expect from a skin-soothing treatment. “It’s like stirring up the muck from the bottom of a lake,” said Plug. If you’re starting any kind of facial massage regimen, whether it’s gua sha or another type of lymphatic drainage, breakouts can occur. “But don’t stop the regimen,” Plug said. If you, too, start to notice breakouts in your face after trying a few consecutive days of gua sha, she suggests focusing on downward strokes starting from the jawline and ending at the clavicle.

I became intimately acquainted with how my face holds stress.

I thought I’d come to know my facial tension through a daily practice of oil cleansing and massage, but it turns out that running a flat stone over the contours of your face gives you far more nuanced information. You can feel the peaks, valleys, divets, and—dare I say—knots in your face with a gua sha stone. I tend to hold tension under my cheekbones, forehead, and all along the side of my face, from the temple to the jawline. When I worked on my forehead lines, feeling the specific shape of the tissue underneath the skin told me volumes about how I express: Lots and lots of worry. Knowing this, I became more aware of when I’d worry, what I’d worry about, and whether it was actually necessary. Who knew this acute awareness would come from a gua sha practice?

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I started to pay more attention to my neck.

Plug advocates that anyone starting a self gua sha practice should start (and often finish) with neck work. “And not just the gentle lymphatic drainage strokes,” she said, “but you can work wit more pressure with tight muscles in the back of the neck too. They all act as roadblocks to lymphatic drainage.” After a few days of consecutive gua sha, I noticed a little swelling underneath my jawline and chin. I was on a course of steroids for an autoimmune issue, and Plug said that the lymph might be pooling in that area. “For you, neck work is even more important,” she said. “Start and finish with gentle strokes down the neck to keep the lymph moving.” Noted.

My face became more “sculpted” looking.

As gua sha is often touted as “natural botox,” I was hoping to focus on easing up of my forehead lines. I used the “eraser” technique, wherein you hold the skin around the forehead lines taut and, like a pencil eraser, take the stone at 90 degrees and shimmy it over the wrinkle. After a while, I didn’t really care about the aesthetic results—relieving that kind of tension felt so damn good!

I have deep fine lines in my forehead and always have. They look smoothed right after my self-practice, but so far they still return. “Because of the shape of your forehead, your lines go a little deeper,” Plug said. The eraser technique will help break through scar tissue that’s formed, but it’s a longer process. “Someone who has a different shape or surface lines might see results more quickly,” she said.

So the forehead lines didn’t go away immediately, but I have noticed that my skin looks more sculpted, lifted, and buoyant. It has a bounce that sticks around all day long, and that awake, pulled back look I didn’t realize I could give to myself. 

I felt more energized.

Doing gua sha first thing in the morning was the only way I could personally ensure it would happen. Otherwise, it felt like a chore at the end of the night, one I was unlikely to do if I was too tired, especially because I have a separate night time routine that’s a little. involved. Slowing down first thing in the morning didn’t come naturally. In fact, it took me by surprise how much I had to tell myself to slow down with each stroke, to tune into the sensations underneath my skin, and to breathe through it. Getting over that go-go-go mentality was, ironically, the very thing I needed to feel energized throughout the day. When self-care is one of the first things I do, I’m able to build off that momentum and serve everyone and everything else with my full attention.

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It taught me about my relationship to habit, procrastination, and self-care.

And if I didn’t do my gua sha first thing in the morning… I noticed that I’d become more and more resentful of the task throughout the day. In this way, gua sha was symbolic of everything I put off—I was able to observe my feelings around procrastination as it relates specifically to self-care, and let me tell you there’s a lot to unpack emotionally! (That’ll be another post for another time.)

If you’re starting your own gua sha practice, Plug happens to be hosting a 21-day challenge with free tutorials. These are Plug’s top three tips for making the most of your facial gua sha:

Support your lymphatic system in other ways.

Dry body brushing, infrared saunas, drinking hot lemon water in morning, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day are fantastic practices to complement the work of gua sha. Toxins are getting stirred up in the tissue, but doing more detoxifying practices can diminish the less desirable responses (like breakouts) that can arise.

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Build a structure around your practice.

Just like any practice, you’re more likely to stick with it if there’s a built-in routine. Start by picking a time of day that works for you (Plug’s advice: the best time of day for gua sha is the one you’ll stick with). Work in essential oils, burn some sage, or anything else that brings the energy you’re looking to cultivate.

Start slow.

Especially if you tend to have reactive skin, it can be tempting to “go hard” or fast, but listen to your skin and be gentle with yourself. If you notice breakouts or anything starting to come to the surface, don’t stop the gua sha—focus on the neck work until your face starts to calm down. Unblocking the neck is a huge and often overlooked part of the gua sha practice!

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