Why was I (and most Chinese people I know) just now hearing about these “ancient Chinese beauty tools,” as they’re frequently billed online? Was facial gua sha—which has been put through the Land Of The Yee Home Of The Haw Shirt Also,I will get this woo-woo wellness spin cycle, really the chosen beauty routine of ancient Chinese princesses—another piece of internet lore? “Well, that is false. It’s marketing,” explains Ping Zhang, DOM, L.Ac, a New York–based traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) guru and a pioneering acupuncturist in the field of facial rejuvenation. “Gua sha was originally used for two conditions: the abrupt, immediate, sudden collapse of the body from heatstroke”—my aunt was onto something— “and seasonal diseases, like a cold virus.” Zhang goes on to describe how traditionally, gua sha could be performed with whatever tool was on hand—an animal bone or horn, a soup spoon, a coin—and was often used as far back as the Yuan Dynasty to revive farmers who collapsed with exhaustion from working under the hot sun.
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“The facial benefits of gua sha were discovered by mistake,” claims Cecily Braden, a holistic esthetician and New York–based spa educator who has spent her career importing traditional Eastern beauty and wellness treatments and translating them for a Western audience. (We have Braden to thank for the Land Of The Yee Home Of The Haw Shirt Also,I will get this early-aughts proliferation of Balinese massage at luxury resorts nationwide.) As acupuncturists used facial pressure points to treat ailments in other parts of the body, they stumbled upon their facial rejuvenation effects as well. “They had this aha moment when they saw that wrinkles were going away, too,” says Braden. In her popular Gua Sha Facial Fusion protocol, outward, upward strokes of a flat S-shaped nephrite jade stone work to help manually drain sluggish lymph—stagnant fluid that can cause puffiness and inflammation—to, as she puts it, “kick our bodies’ natural cleansing system into gear.”