GTPulse: Feel Good, Look Good with Gua Sha

Traverse City acupuncturist Kara Schaub talks about how moving a stone over your skin can relieve tension, and even give you a youthful glow.

Anytime I fall down a skincare rabbit hole online I eventually come across a gua sha stone. The glossy slabs of rose quartz and jade supposedly provide more than just a piece of abstract beauty on your bathroom vanity. The smooth stones are revered for their anti-aging benefits. Some even go as far as to say that performing gua sha facial massages regularly can boast results competitive with botox.

The last time I got acupuncture I also got cupping on my back. Remember the tennis ball size bruises on Michael Phelps during the 2016 Olympics? Those red dots on the athlete brought worldwide attention to the ancient Chinese practice. Where massage focuses on putting pressure inwards toward the muscle, cupping works by stretching muscles outward through pressurized glass orbs. A lot of Traditional Chinese Medicine uses increased blood flow as a means of healing. Our vital energy, called qi in TCM, is said to move through similar channels throughout our body as blood flow. Where cupping restores qi by breaking up adhesions through suctioning heat or pressure, gua sha restores qi by gliding over the skin with a tool and applied pressure.

Kara Schaub is an Acupuncturist working out of Imagine Health in Traverse City. She’s been practicing TCM since graduating with a master’s in traditional oriental medicine and has felt it positively affect her own health and clients.

“So it’s kind of like a workout for your face and the results are really cumulative. You’re going to see like, over time, your skin just feels different when you do it. And if you don’t do it, you’re kind of like, ‘Oh I miss it, my skin doesn’t feel like as fresh.’ It’s really it’s just helping your skin cells turnover. After 30 your skin starts to decline and lose elasticity, nobody wants to hear it,” she said.

In its early forms, gua sha was used to relieve pain in the body. The scraping motions make the skin appear rosy when tiny capillaries burst. The distinct redness is called ‘sha’ and in TCM is indicative of physical or emotional pain being released.

In the body, the pain relief benefits can in part be attributed to a strong increase in blood circulation and its connection to releasing an anti-inflammatory enzyme that helps to protect the body’s cells. Facial gua sha isn’t as much for pain relief as it is for beauty purposes. Properly massaging the face with a gua sha stone has a lifting and depuffing effect that keep people coming back for more.

“You’re increasing the lymph, drainage, blood circulation. So you’re really working the muscle and the fascia connected to the bone. You can break up adhesions, what I kind of call like crunchies sometimes when you’re working a stressed area like above the forehead, there’s a lot of tension there.”

Like most self-care practices, it’s not something to be rushed through. It’s a slow, methodical process that should be done with mindfulness and intention. It’s a step by step process that begins with putting some kind of moisturizer or oil on the face. From there, a facial gua sha massage with start at the back of the neck and work it’s way up.

“I do some work on the neck because it’s all connected. You want to work in an upward motion.”

The pressure should be firm but not painful. Kara said that pressure preference will vary from person to person, and that lighter care should be taken around the front of the neck. 

Despite all of the pretty gua sha tools that are offered, there is no perfect gua sha tool. You don’t have to use semi-precious stones to perform gua sha.

“I think anything that’s smooth and feels good is going to work. You can put a tool in the fridge or the freezer so it’s cool to the touch.”

Flat gua sha stones are many times photographed next to jade rollers for beauty editorials and packaged together to sell. Although the roller feels good, it won’t achieve the same results that gua sha will.

“The roller is really about increasing circulation. With facial gua sha and cupping techniques, your skin is going to get a little red, it’s going to get warm. So at the end, it’s nice to use the roller.”

During quarantine, Kara was instructing gua sha classes via Zoom. Now that Imagine Health has opened back up for business, she is considering hosting small, socially distant in-person courses where she will teach people how to use gua sha. However, classes won’t be considered until after the business moves next month from its South Garfield location.

Whether you’re always on the lookout for new beauty practices to add to your anti-aging routine, or you’re just looking to alleviate a little tension in your face, take a moment out of your day to relax and look after yourself.

Categories: GTPulse