This Chinese Facial Treatment Cleared My Acne

Courtesy Sandra Lanshin Chiu.
Not so long ago, facial acupuncture seemed completely fringe. But Eastern medicine-based skin care, including cupping on the face, has been gaining traction and acceptance as an all-natural approach with the added oomph of thousands of years of practice behind it (i.e. it really works) — and the latest practice on the verge of going mainstream in the U.S. is facial gua sha.

Pronounced gwa sha, the treatment involves scraping or pulling a flat jade or rose quartz stone along the skin to relieve pain and stiffness and flush out tissues. Like acupuncture and cupping, gua sha is another body treatment interpreted for your visage to help fix dryness, breakouts, and even aging. (Before you Google Image search, know that while body gua sha leaves bruise-like, often startling marks, facial gua sha is done using a light hand and therapeutic oils, leaving zero marks.)

But why now, in 2017, is gua sha having its big moment? Likely because it combines the current beauty trends of all-natural remedies, Eastern medicine, at-home, DIY treatments, and the crystal and precious stone craze.

“Facial gua sha moves lymphatic fluids, releases the fascia so skin can function better, and breaks down adhesions and hardness in muscles, like in the jaw,” says acupuncturist Sandra Lanshin Chiu, owner of Treatment by Lanshin in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “The net effect is a significant boost of blood and qi to the skin, and an increase in the circulatory flow of blood and fluids.” Studies have shown an increase in circulation from the technique and, says Chiu, better flow improves natural hydration, gives a glowy skin tone, and aids skin’s ability to purge the dirt, sebum, and general buildup in the pores that leads to acne.

Part of the secret is starting with the neck and working up to the forehead. “It's like releasing a funnel at its lowest point for what's above it to drain downward,” says Chiu. “As you open circulation and free up the tissues of the neck and then the jaw, then when you get to the eyes, there is a place for the excess fluids to go and drain out to.” Not only does that translate into less puffy eyes and more prominent-looking cheekbones, but devotees have seen major improvements in chronic acne, in particular, after 8-10 weeks of weekly professional facial gua sha. Plus, relaxation of the facial muscles can help relieve headaches, neck pain, and even ward off wrinkles. “Think of a bunchy rug pad under a rug,” she explains. “If you smooth it out, the rug lays flatter and this helps circulation and the skin function more normally.”
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Courtesy Debora Francis.
Other gua sha gurus are equally evangelical. “Gua sha has quickly become my favorite facial tool,” says Laurel Shaffer, founder of cult favorite skin-care brand Laurel Whole Plant Organics based in Sausalito, California. “Muscle tension, inflexible fascia, and stagnant lymph are three primary causes for aging which clinical skin care products do not address.” Manhattan celebrity facialist Cecilia Wong, whose clients include Uma Thurman and Zac Posen, has used facial gua sha on her clients for years. “What I love most about gua sha is that results are immediate, and you can’t say that about everything,” says Wong, who started gua sha on herself at the age of 10. “After gua sha, my skin is lifted, tightened, and any puffiness is gone.”

The fact that gua sha, unlike facial acupuncture and cupping, can be easily done at home, is another reason it's poised to become one of the biggest beauty obsessions of the year. Personally, I've been doing gua sha on myself for about three months, not only because I find it ridiculously relaxing (what is more resplendent than spending 10 minutes every morning stroking pretty jade and rose quartz stones all over your face?), but because it makes my puffy eyes and cheeks go down instantly, my jaw less tight, and my breakouts clear much faster. In fact, since starting gua sha, I have fewer, less intense acne breakouts than ever before. While daily at-home practice gives the best results, Chiu says, even two to three times a week is helpful.

Clearly, I'm not the only one catching on: Gua sha tools are popping up on the Instagrams of holistic facialists from New York to L.A. and Shaffer has begun to train estheticians on the practice. She may even start selling the tools herself. My jade tool came included at one of Chiu's tutorial workshops (which fill up quickly), but she suggests this one on Amazon for those outside of New York City. Cecilia Wong also sells her own rose quartz gua sha tool. (Note that although a cheap one can cost less than $5, experts say those that start at $15 are usually of more reliable quality.)

Watch the video below for a quick lesson in the proper gua sha facial technique. This is one trick you're going to want to have in your bag the next time you wake up hungover next to an empty pizza box.
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