Gua Sha - East Asian Influences in Western Beauty

Gua Sha

Roots, History, And Origins Of Gua Sha

Despite popular belief, gua sha isn’t a tool itself but a massage technique. The “gua” in gua sha is Chinese for “to scrape” while “sha” means sand, referring to the sand-like red marks left on the skin after massaging. Gua sha is thought to have originated in Ancient China. Records from as early as the Ming dynasty, in the 1300s, show medical practitioners using the technique. Gua sha is a traditional medical method of massage meant to relieve the individual of illness, tension, and excess heat. It was also thought to move qi, or life energy, in the body. It was often used as a full-body massage, often on the neck, back, and shoulders. Tiny red welts were expected to appear afterward to represent ailments that had to be purged from the body. Traditional gua sha tools were made of ox horns but could be done using one’s hands, a spoon, or anything that could scrape against skin effectively. Jade was sometimes used by medical practitioners but not extensively.

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Gua Sha’s Rise to Fame

From lymphatic drainage, increased blood flow, de-puffing, to flushing out “toxins,” gua sha has made its way into the Western beauty space for its seemingly magical properties. How much truth is there to these claims? On social media, you’ll find countless individuals posting before and after videos or pictures from using gua sha massage over a few weeks or so. They all seem to have the same results: less puffy skin, a more prominent jawline, and a radiant glow. Criticism in their comments section includes accusations of using different lighting, angles, or staged “before” pictures. You’ll see a condemnation of the gua sha tool for being a marketing ploy for companies to gain more profit. However, there is evidence that gua sha massage relieves muscle tension, improves blood circulation, and stimulates the lymphatic system.

 

The truth of gua sha massage is much more complicated than how social media may portray it. Most people will divulge part truths and part false information on the matter. This may be due to the lack of education on gua sha and the claims made by influential names. Celebrities like Olivia Rodrigo, Kaia Gerber, and Phoebe Dynevor are only a few who further perpetuate this trend as an everyday staple in skincare routines. Gerber even mentioned that she treats her gua sha tool as a crystal that should be charged. She also indicated her initial skepticism toward face massaging and rolling. Dynevor admitted that she only started using a gua sha tool after seeing other celebrities using them. Misconceptions and bandwagoning of gua sha are present even for celebrities.

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Misconceptions of Gua Sha

Most individuals claiming to include gua sha in their routines aren’t engaging in the technique correctly. Though traditional gua sha is meant to produce red bruises, it is a given that most will want a gentler approach for the face. However, for the best results, individuals should educate themselves on properly stimulating the lymphatic system and what it does. When using the correct technique, muscle tension and puffiness are shown to decrease substantially. There is also no need for the gua sha tool to be made of jade or rose quartz. Contrary to what is commonly seen on the market, the look of jade or quartz is simply a marketing ploy. The material exudes opulence and luxury, even if the brand uses plastic to cut the manufacturing price. There’s also some confusion with face rollers, which may look similar to gua sha tools. Face rollers can’t scrape, as they are meant to roll across the skin. While brands usually lump gua sha tools with face rollers, there’s a clear difference between the two.

 

More benefits of gua sha can be found here: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/skin-care/a11234/gua-sha-treatment/

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The Issue Of Gua Sha’s Surging Demand In The Western Market

 

This isn’t the first time Western beauty companies appropriate a beauty item with Asian cultural significance (Read more about Sheet Masks - East Asian Influences in Western Beauty

here: https://tejo.ca/blog). Almost every skincare brand has some kind of tool that replicates the gua sha tool, but seldom mention of the history behind gua sha. Acupuncturist and healing center founder Sandra Lanshin Chiu echoes this: “it offends me when brands profit from ingredients or traditions like gua sha without deep reverence for the culture and respect for Asian people who have been carrying the traditions for generations and centuries.” In these modern times, it’s tiring and hurtful to see continuing injustice towards marginalized communities trying to share their culture with the Western world. It’s infuriating how bigger companies stay in the spotlight for an item they did not come up with or know the history behind. Instead, brands need to be more innovative. While taking advantage of a trend to profit is a common practice, it never pays to border on cultural appropriation.

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Read more about Chiu and other founders’ opinions on this matter here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2021/06/02/gua-sha-sheet-masks-and-why-its-important-celebrate-asian-beauty/7468114002/

 

Further reading:

https://www.byrdie.com/appropriation-of-asian-beauty-5120076

https://www.theskingames.com/gua-sha-the-history-benefits-and-side-effects/#:~:text=History%20of%20gua%20Sha,now%20as%20a%20folk%20therapy.&text=Although%2C%20the%20period%20of%20the,era%20of%20the%20Ming%20Dynasty.