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The History of Gua Sha

The History of Gua Sha

What we know to be a calming beauty ritual is far from where gua sha started. Gua Sha originated during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and is even speculated to date back as far as to the Palaeolithic Age. This practice was used as a type of family folk medicine by many in Eastern Asia to help prevent and treat illness. 

The Hongwu Emperor- 1st Emperor of the Ming dynasty (1)
“Gua sha was originally used for two main conditions: the abrupt, immediate, sudden collapse of the body from heatstroke and seasonal diseases, like a cold virus,” explains Ping Zhang (DOM, L.Ac), an internationally renowned acupuncturist with a Ph.D. in traditional Chinese medicine. The name “Gua Sha” is often translated as “to scrape sand” or “to scrape illness”. “Gua” translates to scrape and “Sha” translates to sand, disease, or the pink colour of the skin post-treatment. 

What Is Traditional Gua Sha?

Traditional gua sha is performed with pressure from the use of spoons, animal bones, coins, and even hard knuckles, to help the body heal itself. Stagnant “Qi” is broken up and blood circulation is increased. Petechiae then occurs (small red patches on the surface due to hemorrhaging of the skin) from the muscle fibres and connective tissue underneath being pressed with the skin remaining unbroken. It should be noted, gua sha is not bruising or traumatizing the skin. It is said you should feel “deqi” or else the treatment may not be as effective- generally this feeling is considered to be a dull ache. Depending on the person performing, pressure and sensation may vary. 
Petechiae forming from Gua Sha (2)


What Is “Qi” ?

Chinese medicine works with the concept that qi (or “chi”) flows around the body as water does in a stream. Best-selling author and advanced acupuncturist Clive Witham (LAc MSc OMBAcC) expresses this as an “Energetic phenomenon in the body- qi is not energy but it is energetic”. Qi works in combination with blood and other functions to nourish the muscles, tendons and lubricate joints & ligaments.

Three Gorges of Yangtze River By, Huang Jin (3)

“In English, qi is usually translated as ‘vital life force,’ but qi goes beyond that simple translation. According to Classical Chinese Philosophy, qi is the force that makes up and binds together all things in the universe. It is paradoxically, both everything and nothing.” Acupuncture & Massage College further explains.

Gua Sha will release pain & stagnation by improving blood flow and qi. Overall this will also help decrease discomfort throughout the body. Gua sha can also be performed in indirect areas of the body to treat other targeted areas/ health concerns. For example, lower back pain may be treated in the back of the neck although this is not the direct point of pain. Understanding that qi is like a river helps when thinking of why a blockage at the top of a river creates a poor stream at the bottom.

Text From “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic” or Huang Di Nei Jing (4)


Facial Gua Sha In Western Culture

No one exactly knows who discovered facial gua sha as it is commonly used today but without question, we do know where it is rooted from. With that being said, there are many notable influencers like Dr. Ping Zhang previously mentioned, who is a pioneer in Gua Sha Facial Rejuvenation. Also, Cecily Braden, a Holistic esthetician and spa educator who can be thanked for bringing Eastern beauty and wellness treatments and translating them for a Western audience. As well as Clive Witham, acupuncturist and creator of Ecology in Motion™ (EIM) Gua sha. All these people have had a great influence and the list doesn't stop there.

Facial Gua Sha (5)

This gentler approach to gua sha is now being used to help stimulate blood flow and qi in the delicate face and décolleté. This helps to relieve tension, encourage the flow of our lymphatic system, and even help with ageing/ dull skin. This new take on gua sha has allowed many to avoid cosmetic injectables and has helped enhance professional facial treatments. At home self-care is just as important as professional treatments. They work best when done together. Facial gua sha is a wonderful ritual to add to your beauty & wellness routine.

Gua Sha As A Self-Care Ritual

This new take has introduced many to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and a deeper understanding of themselves. Many people have found a deep love for this new take on Gua Sha and have implemented it in their self-care routines. A time to relax and be at peace while giving our face/ body some TLC. While deeper researching about the origins of facial Gua Sha, I found a meaningful quote by Clave Witham.


Gua Sha resonates deeply with a simple back-to-basics approach to healing. It is not, and never has been reserved for experts or healers. It is part of a body of knowledge so profound and enduring that it is inconceivable that it does not belong to everyone. It was after all passed down from generation to generation and has always been more of a folk treatment to be used at home than a procedure performed in a medical centre.

Indeed, in some areas, it was quite literally seen as the ‘people’s medicine.’ Essentially, Gua Sha is not the realm of expert specialists with gleaming new scrapers and painful prices. It is the realm of you and your family. Your friends. Your partners. Your neighbours. We collectively own it. And we owe it to ourselves to ensure that we know how to use it safely and securely. 

As in most things, it is much better to learn by doing and have someone correct you than learn from the pages of a book. After all, this is the way Gua Sha was handed down through the generations.


-Clive Witham

We believe everyone should have the opportunity to practice gua sha and have the resources to learn more. We have curated videos and tutorials to help you learn more about facial gua sha from home. 


Facial Gua Sha With TCM Talk | Follow Along Tutorial

With Aesthetician Alexandra Fox & Acupuncturist Ariel Wai-Loong 

Shop Facial Gua Sha Tools

Works Cited

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