If you’re into holistic health, you’ve probably heard the buzz about gua sha. Everyone from online influencers to New York dermatologists are on the cutting edge of this new trend. In most news, it’s being touted as a facial massage, but its benefits extend far beyond skincare.

I examined the latest research and emerging studies on this trendy practice. In the process, I found some surprisingly great results and unexpected advantages.


What is gua sha?

Gua sha is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that is believed to stimulate one’s chi, or stagnant energy. Practitioners believe that, when unaddressed, this stagnant energy promotes inflammation. Gua sha was created to disperse this energy and inflammation.

You may have only heard of gua sha as part of a facial, but you will be happy to hear that it extends far beyond facial skin and can be used on all areas of the body, especially areas of tension.

The rubbing motion of gua sha is thought to aid healing by breaking up the stagnant energy. The aim is to reduce the inflammation chi causes. Originally, a soup spoon was used, but modern facial tools are more sophisticated, often weighted with rounded edges. These tools are applied along with massage or facial oil.

Don’t take this for an outdated healing technique, though. Research shows that inflammation is a contributor to many medical conditions. Improved circulation and reduced inflammation from gua sha can have positive health effects.

In particular, there’s promising evidence that gua sha massage has proven helpful in treating chronic pain. (1) Alongside pain relief, gua sha may boost several of your body’s essential systems.

In gua sha treatment, long and short strokes are performed on the skin, depending on your needs. A gua massage tool is used to execute the strokes after applying oil. These strokes aren’t gentle relaxation techniques — the pressure is intense enough to often create minor bruising.

Don’t be surprised if you leave a session with some purple or red spots, otherwise known as “sha.” This more concentrated pressure has other benefits as well, like breaking down scar and connective tissue.

scar tissue

Traditional East Asian medicine also believes that blood stagnation contributes to pain or illness. The massage motions in gua sha therapy promote blood flow and can be helpful in lymphatic drainage. Improving this drainage can be beneficial to your immune system.

Are you considering this trend yet? Let’s take a look at the science behind this ancient tradition.


6 Major Gua Sha Benefits

Far beyond reducing fine lines, there are varied and promising benefits to gua sha. These 6 advantages provide promising results as new science emerges.

1. Pain Relief

If you’re like most of us, your job may involve a lot of time staring at a screen. Gua sha has benefited computer users’ aches and pains while also increasing their range of motion. A group of people with chronic neck pain were treated just once with gua sha, and a week later still reported a better overall quality of life. (2, 3) That’s an amazing result for just one session!

Further studies continue to show that gua sha technique can help neck pain. Treating chronic pain in the lower back also seems effective with gua sha massage. (4)

2. Increased Circulation

During gua sha, microcirculation can increase as much as fourfold in healthy patients. The pain relief that subjects experienced during the procedure even continued until a follow-up visit in most cases. (5)

This is exciting data, as it implies that gua sha can continue to provide benefits even after a session.

3. Boosts Muscle Recovery and Immune System

Weightlifters noticed that lifting felt significantly less difficult after gua sha treatments. (6) Another study found that there was an increased presence of active immune cells after gua sha was administered. (7) According to these studies, gua sha helps your muscles bounce back faster. It might even be part of supporting a healthy skin microbiome.

4. Improves Symptoms of Menopause

A study in China found that gua sha therapy can reduce fatigue, melancholia, hot flashes, and insomnia in women experiencing menopause. (8) Furthermore, it may help to balance fluctuating hormones.

Women treated with both traditional western medicine and gua sha had more stable hormone levels. Subjects treated with only western medicine did not experience the same results. (9) Adding gua sha into a traditional treatment plan for menopause can improve the patient’s comfort and health.

5. Migraine Treatment

Early research shows that gua sha can help with chronic pain for migraine sufferers, even over the course of two weeks. These effects can even help in headaches caused by withdrawal and medication overuse. (10) For those looking to find holistic solutions for recurring headaches, gua sha may work wonders.

6. Facial Relaxation

Most mainstream mentions of this technique refer to a gua sha facial. Facial massage can boost sleep, provide benefits similar to deep relaxation, and keep the skin more supple while delaying the onset of wrinkles. (11, 12, 13)

So far, there is unfortunately very little conclusive evidence about facial gua sha. Most of the results are subjective at this time.

However, many of the benefits listed above can certainly extend to the face. If you suffer from tense facial muscles or puffiness, you may want to try a rose quartz or jade roller gua sha tool. After a few days of use, see if the resulting lymphatic drainage leaves you looking and feeling refreshed.


Possible Side Effects and Cautions

As a form of natural Chinese medicine, gua sha is a safe and effective treatment for many forms of pain. Gua sha is great for pain relief, relaxation, and boosting important functions.

Caution: this healing technique is not for everyone. Patients should be aware that small blood vessels, known as capillaries, can burst during the scraping motions used. Bruising is also likely to occur, but should resolve within a few days.


Who should not try gua sha?

  • Anyone who’s received surgery within the last six weeks
  • Individuals taking blood thinners, those with clotting disorders, or people with deep vein thrombosis
  • Those with an implant or defibrillator
  • Anyone with a wound or infection that is still healing

After receiving gua sha, the bruising or mild discomfort can be alleviated. Try ice packs, anti-inflammatory medications, and using caution around the affected area. Even with this bruising, the potential pitfalls of gua sha are few. Compared to many medications and alternative therapies, the side effects of gua sha are relatively mild.


In Summary

  • Gua sha is a safe and storied practice that has been around for centuries with very few side effects or dangers.
  • The benefits of gua sha extend far beyond a facial. Your circulatory, immune, and lymphatic systems can all profit from a session of gua sha therapy. Plus, chronic pain sufferers are often able to find relief with this Asian medicine.
  • Menopausal women may see relief of a vast array of symptoms when they add gua sha treatment into their regular routine.
  • Even those simply looking for a relaxing experience may enjoy facial gua sha. Most recipients cite feeling tighter, fresher, and less wrinkled skin after treatment.

If you can get past mild bruising, you may be surprised at just how much your body will thank you for clearing out that energy and getting your blood flowing. Gua sha is a very real healing technique that can improve your total well-being.



  1. Saha, F. J., Brummer, G., Lauche, R., Ostermann, T., Choi, K. E., Rampp, T., … & Cramer, H. (2019). Gua Sha therapy for chronic low back pain: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 34, 64-69. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30712747
  2. Saenlee, K., Eungpinichpong, W., & Chatchawan, U. (2014). Immediate effects of Gua Sha therapy for reducing neck and shoulder pain associated with myofascial trigger point in computer users. Journal of Medical Technology and Physical Therapy, 26(2), 169-179. Abstract: https://www.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/ams/article/view/66337
  3. Braun, M., Schwickert, M., Nielsen, A., Brunnhuber, S., Dobos, G., Musial, F., … & Michalsen, A. (2011). Effectiveness of traditional Chinese “gua sha” therapy in patients with chronic neck pain: a randomized controlled trial. Pain Medicine, 12(3), 362-369. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21276190
  4. Lauche, R., Wübbeling, K., Lüdtke, R., Cramer, H., Choi, K. E., Rampp, T., … & Dobos, G. J. (2012). Randomized controlled pilot study: pain intensity and pressure pain thresholds in patients with neck and low back pain before and after traditional East Asian” gua sha” therapy. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 40(05), 905-917. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22928824
  5. Nielsen, A., Knoblauch, N. T., Dobos, G. J., Michalsen, A., & Kaptchuk, T. J. (2007). The effect of Gua Sha treatment on the microcirculation of surface tissue: a pilot study in healthy subjects. Explore, 3(5), 456-466. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17905355
  6. Xingze, W., Peijie, C., Xingyu, H., Yingying, W., Jinsheng, Y., Eungpinichpong, W., … & Chatchawan, U. (2017). Guasha improves the rating of perceived exertion scale score and reduces heart rate variability in male weightlifters: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 37(1), 49-56. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29956905
  7. Chen, T., Liu, N., Liu, J., Zhang, X., Huang, Z., Zang, Y., … & Ding, Z. (2016). Gua Sha, a press-stroke treatment of the skin, boosts the immune response to intradermal vaccination. PeerJ, 4, e2451. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27672506
  8. Meng, F., Duan, P. B., Zhu, J., Lou, Q. Q., Fang, Z. H., An, H. L., … & Hu, Q. (2017). Effect of Gua sha therapy on perimenopausal syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Menopause, 24(3), 299-307. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27760084
  9. Ren, Q., Yu, X., Liao, F., Chen, X., Yan, D., Nie, H., … & Zhou, X. (2018). Effects of Gua Sha therapy on perimenopausal syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 31, 268-277. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29705467
  10. Schwickert, M. E., Saha, F. J., Braun, M., & Dobos, G. J. (2007). Gua Sha for migraine in inpatient withdrawal therapy of headache due to medication overuse. Forschende Komplementarmedizin (2006), 14(5), 297-300. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17971671
  11. Ejindu, A. (2007). The effects of foot and facial massage on sleep induction, blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate: Crossover pilot study. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 13(4), 266-275. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17950182
  12. Jodo, E., Yamada, Y., Hatayama, T., & Abe, T. (1988). Effects of facial massage on the spontaneous EEG. Tohoku Psychologica Folia. Abstract: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1989-37229-001
  13. Khanna, N., & Datta Gupta, S. (2002). Rejuvenating facial massage–a bane or boon?. International journal of dermatology, 41(7), 407-410. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12121555