With roots in traditional Chinese medicine and western lymphatic drainage, this practice firms, lifts, sculpts, de-puffs, and detoxifies.

By Claire Sullivan
October 31, 2019

Here's the thing about trying new beauty treatments: You typically have to do a ton of research in order to know which one is best for you, per your skin type. There are, however, several options out there that are relatively universal—these treatments target and treat a myriad of complexion ailments all at once. Facial gua sha is one of them, says New York City- and Los Angeles-based holistic facialist Britta Plug, who specializes in the technique that uses a mineral-rich stone to sculpt, lift, and detoxify the skin.

Getty / Petrenkod

Whatever you do, don't confuse facial gua sha with jade rolling. The latter is best for those with inflamed skin types who can't tolerate gua sha (you'd fall into this category if you have active acne or severe rosacea, for instance), involves very little technique (meaning you can easily roll at home!), and is ultimately a "wonderful gateway into the world of facial tools," says Plug. The former, on the other hand, is much more involved—and produces more dramatic results. Ahead, Plug explains everything there is to know about gua sha, from the best tools to use to the complexion woes it alleviates.

Related: Give Yourself a Lymphatic Drainage Facial

Plug's technique combines both eastern and western practices.

"Facial gua sha has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, where vigorous body gua sha is used to treat everything from pain to a common cold," Plug explains. "Facial gua sha is much gentler and more refined—and the way I practice it, it is also informed by western lymphatic drainage and targeted muscle release work." The process involves using a small stone board to massage the face, using specific techniques and directions to create the desired effect. And while the method is obviously important, so is the tool: The stones come in a variety of crystals and shapes. Gliding one around the forehead, brows, cheeks, jaw, and neck releases tension and boosts circulation, says Plug, who spent over a year developing her own for Wilding Beauty, which she co-founded. "We chose to use ancient Bian stone, which has been used therapeutically in China for many centuries, and contains over 40 trace minerals," she explains.

Facial gua sha treats a myriad of skin concerns.

The beauty of facial gua sha, says Plug, is that it addresses all types of skin woes: "The technique will be slightly different if you want to de-puff and detoxify skin versus lift, tone, and contour, but all of these are possible, as well as reducing fine lines and wrinkles, releasing facial tension (hello TMJ!), and creating a glow that comes from within, as gua sha works with your body's innate intelligence to balance and rejuvenate the skin." Lymphatic drainage is also possible, she says, if your facialist works with "lighter pressure in the general direction of lymph drainage—from the mid-line out to the sides of the face and then downwards on the sides of the neck."

The benefits of gua sha are next level.

The long list of facial gua sha benefits include firming, sculpting, lifting, de-puffing, detoxifying (and, therefore, creating a clearer complexion with less blackheads), muscle release, relaxation, and an unrivaled glow, explains Plug. As for how the technique achieves all of this? "The process increases circulation, naturally bringing fresh oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your cells and stimulates lymph drainage for that de-puffing and detoxifying effect," she says. With deeper pressure in the appropriate areas, it's also possible to release the tension we hold in our faces from stress, like chronic jaw clenching or brow-furrowing.

You can try it at home.

Since skill is the name of the game with gua sha, Plug suggests visiting a trained professional for a treatment—but it is possible to master the technique on your own (in fact, Plug has a series of tutorials available on her Instagram to help you do just that). "Receiving a gua sha facial from a professionally trained practitioner is heavenly, and can create dramatic results, but this is also a tool you can add to your beauty care at home," she says. "With a small learning curve, you can have a sustainable, natural way of keeping your skin at its most vibrant for the rest of your life."

If you're game to learn, begin by patting a few drops of facial oil on clean skin so you feel "slip and a little grip," says Plug, who recommends Wildling Empress Oil ($79, wildling.com). Hold the stone nearly flat against your skin as you gently pull from the center of your face outward, switching to the scalloped side for your jaw and brow bones. Repeat—and relax.

As with any treatment, the practice isn't for everyone.

"The only folks who should avoid gua sha are those with acute skin inflammation (such as active acne or a sunburn) or those with fresh injections," explains Plug. "Other common-sense contraindications would be if you had had recent facial surgery or injury. If you have unique circumstances and are unsure if facial massage is right for you, simply ask your doctor."

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