Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Gua Sha and Your Skin September 22, 2014

Filed under: Skincare Treatments — askanesthetician @ 7:00 am
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A few months ago I took a wonderful course that was called “Japanese Facial Massage and Acupuncture”.  I had a blast in the course – learning new massage techniques, finding out about new acupressure points on the face, and discovering how to use gua sha and a jade roller to help my clients’ skin.  Some of my readers may have heard of gua sha and/or have seen pictures of red, bruised backs (or other body parts) that were treated with this Traditional Chinese Medicine healing technique and are already wondering just how this relates to the skin and to facials.  It turns out that gua sha is wonderful for stimulating blood flow and lymph drainage in the face.  But before I get into all those details let me first explain what gua sha actually is.

In the article Scrape Away the Pain (found on Dr. Oz’s website) Jamie Starkey explains the principles of gua sha:

Gua sha is an ancient healing technique used by many clinicians of TCM. In this procedure, a lubricating medium, such as massage oil, is applied to the skin of the area to be treated. A smooth-edged instrument is used by the acupuncturist to apply short or long strokes on the skin, typically in the area of pain or on the back parallel to the spine. This stroking motion creates raised redness (petechiae) or bruising (ecchymosis).

Pain, both acute and chronic, is the most common indication for gua sha. In the TCM tradition, pain is oftentimes caused by the stagnation of blood in the local area of discomfort. The guiding principle behind gua sha is that this technique has the ability to break up stagnation, to promote the smooth flow of blood in the area, thereby relieving pain.

While gua sha is most commonly used to treat pain, it can also be utilized by TCM clinicians to address conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, colds, flu, fever, heatstroke, fibromyalgia, strains, sprains, and muscle spasms.

There are several theories that may explain why this ancient technique works: gua sha increases blood flow (microcirculation) in the soft tissue, potentially stimulates the body’s natural pain-relieving opioid systems, and it may block the pain response pathways so you feel pain relief.

But how does this work with facials and skincare since you definitely don’t want to bruise the skin or cause long- lasting redness?  When it comes to facials and treating the skin gua sha is modified and the esthetician is much less aggressive when rubbing the skin.  While you still want the skin to get red you don’t want to leave marks that can last for days.  During a facial gua sha actually feels nice as the tools gently glide across your face after the esthetician applies a cream or oil.   Gua sha is used during a facial to increase blood flow to the face and to move lymph. In order to do both of these things there is no need to be aggressive.  I was even taught in the course I took to gently rub wrinkles and lines with the gua sha tools in order to stimulate collagen synthesis in those areas.  Following the gua sha treatment the esthetician can gently roll a jade roller all over the face in order to calm the skin.  Jade helps to soothe the skin.

You don’t need to wait to have a facial in order to benefit from gua sha.  If you have the tools you can do gua sha on your face for about 10 minutes a day if you want in order to enjoy the benefits of this traditional treatment.

Resources and Further Reading:

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Book Review: “Nourish Your Skin and Body with Traditional Chinese Medicine” January 13, 2010


For some time I have been very interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  About six years ago I had a very positive experience with acupuncture which made me even more curious about Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Once I started learning to be an esthetician I wondered if there were any books available that would discuss Traditional Chinese Medicine and skincare.  I found  Michelle O’Shaughnessy’s book Nourish Your Skin & Body with Traditional Chinese Medicine to be a comprehensive introduction to the subject of Traditional Chinese Medicine as it relates to skincare. 

My first comment about the book would be – I want more!  I wish the book was twice as long and went into greater detail.  Having said that it is a great introduction to how Traditional Chinese Medicine principles and philosophies can be applied to taking care of your skin.  The information in this book is certainly not limited to use by the trained professional.  Anyone interested in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and skincare will find useful information this book.

What made the purchase of this book extremely worthwhile for me was the pressure point massage or the facial acupressure massage as it is called in the book.  Each step of the massage is clearly outlined and explained.  Each step also has an accompanying photo.  I tried the massage both on myself and on a client who suffers from acne.  As estheticians know a “regular’ facial massage might be too stimulating for a client suffering from acne.  Estheticians usually do some sort of pressure point massage on clients who have acne.  The client that I tried this facial acupressure massage on really enjoyed it and found it very relaxing.  I plan on incorporating some of the pressure points from the facial acupressure massage into my “normal” facial massage that I do on most clients.

Though the book is only 162 pages it manages to cover a wealth of topics including (but not limited to) the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese herbs (with photos – very helpful), tongue diagnosis, an introduction to acupuncture and facial acupuncture, and recipes for soups that nourish and help the skin.  I found the chapter about the meridians of the body very interesting.  As it will become very clear from reading this blog I am personally very interested in acne so I found it fascinating to read about the ren meridian.  This meridian is in charge of most female issues.  Women who suffer from monthly breakouts on their chins can “blame” this on an imbalance in the ren meridian.

Bottom Line:  A great introduction to how Traditional Chinese Medicine relates to skincare.  The facial acupressure massage is wonderful!  You don’t need to be an esthetician to take advantage of this massage.  Anyone can practice on themselves.

Links and Extras:

I purchased my copy of Nourish Your Skin and Body with Traditional Chinese Medicine through at a reasonable price.  I was surprised to see the price for the book when I looked for it today on  A little research lead me to Michelle O’Shaughnessy’s clinic’s website.  Through her website you can purchase her book Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Esthetician’s Guide.  So what is the difference between that book and the one I have reviewed above?  The book I own was published in 2009 and is 162 pages long.  The book that can be purchased through Michelle O’Shaughnessy’s website was published in 2008 and is 132 pages long.  Without having seen the second book I cannot really comment about how different they are.

I found it very interesting to look at the blog section of Michelle O’Shaughnessy’s website.  The case study presented in the blog is fascinating.  I just wish the blog had been updated.  The last entry is from almost two years ago!

One final note.  Michelle O’Shaughnessy will be speaking at the Face & Body Conference in Chicago in March, 2010.

If anyone has had any experiences with Traditional Chinese Medicine as it pertains to skincare I would love to hear from you.


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