Friday, 16 February 2024 15:46

Scraping By: Gua Sha 

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Sometimes what’s old is new again. This can certainly be applied to gua sha. Gua sha (Chinese: 刮痧; pinyin: guā shā; pronounced gwahshah) began its rise to internet prominence in 2021 and has remained a topic of interest ever since. A search for #guasha results in over 2.9 billion views on TikTok, and over 728,000 posts on Instagram. Articles on gua sha can be found in magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Allure, and Harper’s Bazaar, and on news sites such as Newsweek, ABC News, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and more.


It’s believed that the practice of gua sha can be traced back to the Paleolithic Age where hands or stones were rubbed on various parts of the body to alleviate pain or sickness, and it was documented as a form of treatment in medical journals during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) by the ancient Chinese.  

The name gua sha breaks down to mean: gua for scraping, and sha for redness. This longstanding Traditional Chinese Medicine healing method was adopted into other Asian cultures and goes by kashin in Japan, kerokan in Indonesia, gual sa in Korea, and cao gió in Vietnam, while practitioners in France know it as tribo-effleurage. Thanks to the virality of social media, as well as copious amounts of news coverage, gua sha is now universally known as a treatment modality. 


 In gua sha, practitioners use a smooth-edged tool to stroke skin, gliding along the lymphatic system to improve blood circulation and aid in drainage function, resulting in the rapid rush of blood circulation to the treatment area. A 2021 study found that scraping marks (petechiae and ecchymoses) are formed when capillaries break open and blood leaks into the subcutis, and that cell debris is concurrently removed by microglia and macrophages. Hypothesizing that the nervous system and immune system interact with one another to generate a cascade of physiological responses to the scraping, through which scraping may result in therapeutic benefits. 

An earlier study conducted in 2007 aimed to study the microcirculatory effects of gua sha on skin and the subcutis in humans to elucidate physiological mechanisms responsible for the clinically observed pain-relieving effect of this treatment. Laser doppler imaging (LDI) was used to make sequential measurements of the microcirculation of surface tissue before and after gua sha treatment in 11 healthy subjects. The effect of gua sha treatment on the microcirculation of surface tissue was expressed as changes from baseline in arbitrary perfusion units (PU). It showed that gua sha caused a fourfold increase in microcirculation perfusion units at the treated area for the first 7.5 minutes following treatment and a significant increase in surface microcirculation during the entire 25 minutes of the study period following treatment (P .001). Interestingly, females showed significantly higher rates of response than males. 


As practitioners, we can appreciate that studies have shown that this daily ritual improves microcirculation up to 400%, however, most clients are looking for the reported aesthetic benefits often associated with a gua sha facial. The often-noted results include the reduction of puffiness, the sculpting of the jawline and cheekbones, the relaxation of facial muscles, the improvement of skin elasticity, and the minimization of fine lines and wrinkles. It’s also reported that gua sha promotes the production of collagen, which can help even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of discoloration, such as hyperpigmentation. While there is some anecdotal evidence to support these claims, there is little empirical research to-date to offer concrete data for reference.  

This lack of research has not affected the interest and demand in gua sha facial treatments, so it may be something worth considering if you haven’t already adopted this modality. There are a number of certification programs available to ensure proper training and methodology, and all gua sha practitioners will want to familiarize themselves with the contraindications, such as injury to skin, like sunburn, rashes, abrasions, bruising, ulceration, and lesions. Also, any clients with bleeding disorders such as leukemia, anemia, and thrombocytopenia, or those taking blood thinners should avoid this treatment. 


Lastly, there are a number of gua sha tools including wing-type tools, s-shaped tools, rollers and more. The gua sha tools market in North America and Europe is expanding at a significant rate and is estimated to grow during the forecast period due to its popularity, the presence of a number of beauty salons, e-commerce websites offering discounts on gua sha tools, adherence to strict quality controls, and existing product development processes. The numbers show remarkable market growth, which points to future opportunities on the treatment provider end, as well as retail sales. 


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