Dana Heads To Beauty Bungalow For Gua Sha, To See What All The Fuss Is About
It's pronounced gwah shah, and right now, it's the grooviest new treatment in skincare. Except it isn't new. In fact, it's old. Seriously old. As in Traditional Chinese Medicine old.
If you're a skin-obsessive like me, you've probably already read this piece on gua sha facials on Vogue.com. From what I can glean, gua sha started out primarily as a body treatment, and has drifted slowly - and trendily - north, to the face. Basically, it involves "scraping" the skin with a special type of flat tool crafted from hard materials like jade and crystal. And the big idea is to get the lymph and blood moving, improving the oxygen supply.
More oxygen = a glowier you.
Recently, I popped by Beauty Bungalow in St. Pete for a Gua Sha Rejuvenation. I'd already met my facialist, Jess Arnaudin, through our mutual gal pal Maryellen Gordon. (Maryellen, if you're reading this, merci beaucoup for connecting those dots.) The three of us parked ourselves at a table at Cassis on Beach Drive for hours, talking life, work...and skin.
Jess knows an insane amount about skin, so after my treatment, I pestered her with a ton of Qs about gua sha, the "modality" du jour. Not surprisingly, Jess had a ton of answers.
FBP: You trained for two full days on this, correct? Was it gua sha on the entire body or just the face?
ARNAUDIN: Yes, the Beauty Bungalow team have all trained with Cecily Braden, the Nefeli educator who travels globally and is also assigned to the east coast. Angela Peck is the educator on the west coast.
The training was focused only on the face, neck and shoulders with some Traditional Chinese Medicine theory as well as hands-on guidance and practice. Denise (Oglesby, founder of Beauty Bungalow) had the honor of training personally with the Nefeli founder Dr. Ping Zhang, too. She got the intel straight from the source! Dr. Zhang also trained Britta Plug, the talented SoHo facialist quote in that Vogue.com article.
FBP: Was learning the correct pressure on the face one of the trickier parts of training? With the body, the pressure is much firmer, right? To the extent that it leaves actual bruising or "sha"?
ARNAUDIN: It definitely takes some getting used to. When you're massaging the face with your hands, you get feedback on what muscles are tense and how much pressure you're using. A tool like gua sha doesn't give you that feedback and I think in untrained hands it would be easy to use too much pressure or drag and tug on the skin in ways that are not beneficial. After you use the gua sha stone for a while though, it becomes pretty intuitive.
Anyway, it's not so much about the pressure and more about the angle of the stone on the skin. We often use a 15-degree angle, which means the stone is nearly parallel with the contour of the face. This is what really "sweeps" the fluids and helps to drain lymph to de-puff skin. There are times, however, that call for a more aggressive angle, like for deep line-release, for example. For that we could use a 90-degree angle, which would feel like the most pressure.
In regard to face vs. body...I've never trained on the body methods, but do know gua sha face massage should never leave behind bruising or marks like the TCM therapy for body. It does however still produce the "sha" immediately afterwards. Think: post-workout plump glowy flush where blood is flowing up to the surface of the skin, not rash-like or bruising.
Angela Peck always says, "No flow, no glow" and I love that because it's so true!
FBP: Why do you think facial gua sha is "having a moment" right now? Hasn't it been around forever?
ARNAUDIN: Everything old becomes new again, right? I think gua sha is much more than a momentary "here today, gone tomorrow" beauty trend because it really produces results. More people are becoming empowered about taking health and wellness into their own hands, and living a more holistic lifestyle. From local, non-GMO foods to the clean beauty revolution, we are expecting more from our wellness rituals. We want what what's good for us, and we also want real results. And the two are very much intertwined.
Eastern therapies in particular are just so fascinating. I love learning about Ayurveda, Thai medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and how the ancient wisdoms overlap. Plus, the beauty / wellness sector has gone much more "woo woo" these days. More people have warmed-up to the idea of crystals, adaptogens and sage smudges.
So the market was primed for people to give this jade stone facial massage tool a chance. And I'm so glad they did! Still, when I'm explaining the massage to a newbie, they're often like "gwha what?" But by the end of the facial, they are snoring and in total Zen mode. I love it when that happens!
FBP: I've been reading a lot about the alleged benefits of facial gua sha. One was "lightening age spots" and "clearing up acne or rosacea." A, do you believe either of this is possible with facial gua sha? And B, and if so, how?
ARNAUDIN: I absolutely believe those results can be achieved with facial gua sha along with other complementary lifestyle practices. Gua sha massage is very dynamic. We're working with the lymphatic system which helps with cell immunity and flushing out stagnation, the nervous system engaging the "rest and digest" parasympathetic anti-inflammatory healing response, acupressure meridian points which balance the organs, as well as the muscles and fascia which can be tight and locked, constricting vital blood flow. All of these factors add up to the goal of awakening your body's own natural healing systems.
I believe everything is connected: our hormones, our diet, our emotions, our level of physical activity, the amount of endocrine-disrupting ingredients we slather on each day, etc. There is no one magic bullet, in my opinion, when it comes to skin health, which is why gua sha fits into a big-picture holistic approach to clear, radiant skin.
FBP: Facial gua sha has been called the "Eastern Botox." Do you agree with that assessment? Can it - at least temporarily - make us look a little less scrunched-up and surface-wrinkly?
ARNAUDIN: Oh wow, the B word. We are opening a can of worms here! There are so many schools of thought when it comes to Botox injections, and how and when to introduce them. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, demand for Botox is on the rise year after year. And clients are asking about it at a younger and younger age. In my mind Botox is like turning OFF the light in the muscle, and gua sha is turning ON the light. Where Botox causes a degree of atrophy over time, gua sha nourishes the muscle with nutrients and oxygen.
My trainer Cecily gave a good analogy. She said, "If you were having some trouble with your knee, if it was causing you discomfort and wasn't performing like it did in your youth, you would likely go in for physical therapy before a major surgery. (Or, an elective paralysis!) The same holds true with our skin.
I love that you ask about "looking less scrunched up," because that's exactly what it is! When the muscles of the face are tense, it causes little "knots" of blockage. These are sometimes called adhesions or stagnation. I often can feel them around the eyes and around the jawline - a bumpy, crunchy sensation as the stone glides overtop. In some ways we're untangling and combing out the muscle fibers so that nutrient-dense blood can flow freely to the face and scalp. The before and after pictures speak for themselves; everything just looks lifted and refreshed!
With Botox, too, at some point there's a plateau in results. You can only go so far before looking overdone. Whereas with gua sha the results just keep getting better over time. So my advice is always to wait on invasive procedures for as long as possible. In the last few months The Beauty Bungalow hosted two separate (sold-out!) holistic facial rejuvenation workshops and the overarching consensus from the attendees was, "I want to look my best. I'm not necessarily against Botox, but I want to know all of my natural options and commit to trying those first."
FBP: How often would you recommend someone get facial gua sha?
ARNAUDIN: In a perfect world we would do one weekly treatment for six to eight weeks. After that, every four weeks maintenance session, and supportive home care in-between. Often we add in at least a few minutes of gua sha to other facials because it's just so good for everyone. But if you book a gua sha treatment specifically we spend nearly the whole hour focusing on the massage.
FBP: There are a few YouTube tutorials on facial gua sha. What do you think about DIY-ing it at home?
ARNAUDIN: DIY-ing it at home is a must! Again the analogies here, but you can't visit a personal trainer for an incredible workout one time per month and see lasting results. It's the day-in / day-out, cumulative habits that add up to real changes. The same holds true for gua sha. What we do in treatment is going to be much more targeted - the Nefeli jade boards are only available to licensed professionals, and the protocol created by Dr. Zhang is very specific. But you can move lymph and massage skin at home with a smaller stone that will still be very beneficial.
Plus, in all of this, have I even mentioned that facial gua sha just feels amazing? It's a great self-care ritual to add in, and feels so great for releasing rigidity in the jaw and brows where we hold a lot of stress-related tension.
I love and trust this in-depth YouTube tutorial from Sandra Lanshin Chiu, founder of Treatment by Lanshin in NYC. Watch this a time or two and you'll have the principals pinned-down. In general, I recommend steering clear of most online tutorials that are created by untrained vloggers who don't fully understand the skin. You can find some wacky videos out there..don't go down that rabbit hole.
By the way, we may be getting in some jade stones to carry in our spa shop for home care, so stay tuned!
FBP: Oooh, I want one! Thank you so, so much for all your insight, Jess. I loved my gua sha treatment, and I loved Beauty Bungalow even more!