Why Gua Sha Is the Original Form of At-Home Self-Care

If you discover the heavily trafficked gua sha hashtag on Instagram, you’ll be lost in a feed featuring smooth, pore-less faces, not only unmarked but supposedly de-puffed and contoured. In place are elegant facial rollers and flat, grooved tools made of jade, rose quartz, and other divinely polished stones—the practice associated with pain now rebranded as a soothing, meditative, and even luxurious experience.

Why was I 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 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, 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.

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. 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.

At the Paris-based atelier of acupuncturist Elaine Huntzinger, gua sha facials were one of the most sought-after appointments during the spring collections. “My whole face feels different, like, all of the tension is gone in my jaw,” Eva Chen, the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram and a vocal Huntzinger supporter, posted pre-Balenciaga. Canada-born with family roots in Hong Kong, Huntzinger was raised on TCM. After her mother’s death, she found herself drawn back to the home remedies she grew up with, driven partially by a desire to find a solution for her own eczema, which had not responded to cortisone or antibiotics. Her skin finally cleared up when she started to address her diet and lifestyle, but also her grief. “In Chinese medicine, you learn the root of what’s causing your imbalance with emotional issues,” she says. She brings these lessons to her treatments, which begin with a 20-minute consultation to determine physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

This emphasis on a top-to-toe approach is a nod to a somewhat obvious philosophy that is only beginning to gain traction in the beauty industry: “The skin is a map for what’s going on in the body,” explains Katie Woods, a Bay Area–based esthetician and the owner of Ritual SF, a San Francisco face-massage studio offering bespoke facials that incorporate gua sha tools and techniques. Before even entering the treatment room, one has to fill out two pages of paperwork covering everything from a menstrual cycle to bowel movements, a line of questioning that is more comprehensive than many conversations to be had with a primary-care physician. The customized experience begins with an edible honey-and-berry mask that Woods prepares on the spot—“Your skin loved that,” she says as she wipes it off—and includes a deeply relaxing gua sha interlude administered with cooling spoons and stone tools of all shapes and sizes.

When one catches a glimpse of oneself post-treatment, the face is bright and clean, its natural lines defined as if the angle of the jaw and the plane of the cheek have been sculpted anew. And one feels oddly drained—in a good way. “You can do it once a week,” says Portland, Oregon–based licensed acupuncturist Beth Griffing Russell, speaking to a big part of #guasha’s 21st-century viral appeal: Unlike with Botox, these results can be replicated at home. Griffing Russell emphasizes that home gua sha enthusiasts should not neglect the neck. “Flick up,” she instructs, moving her gua sha tool from one ear to another and around the base of the skull to stimulate the muscle that connects the back of your head “to the wrinkles in your forehead.”

Then there is Oakland Foot Health Center, a walk-in storefront not dissimilar to the medical-massage clinics in China serving working-class men on their lunch breaks, aunties, grandmas, and others. “Gua sha has saved many peasants’ lives,” a masseuse tells an interviewer in Mandarin as she scrapes their back during an hour of body acupressure with gua sha, which goes for a modest $60. When asked what her tool is made of, she chuckles. “It’s supposed to be ox horn, but it looks like plastic to me.”

So why would someone pay $285 to visit Crystal Cave LA, a “healing hut” in Santa Monica where Julie Civiello Polier performs her much-blogged about “shamanic” gua sha facials three days a week? Described as “a meditative journey and intuitive reading,” the whole concept makes one laugh before arrival. “I love how gua sha gives us a tool that is charged by the person using it and the person receiving it,” Civiello Polier—a petite blonde former actor—tells people of her popular treatment’s purported energy exchange.

But when Civiello Polier places crystals on one’s various chakras—including an amethyst at the feet that she claims “wants to go home” with one—you do feel something, a deep radiating warmth that allows your overthinking mind to let go. As she performs the facial gua sha, at one point even sticking her fingers inside one’s mouth for a deep, tension-relieving buccal massage, she takes long audible breaths that lull you into an ASMR-like trance. Afterward, the skin does not look totally transformed. “There’s a limitation to the results you can get with gua sha,” confirms Julia Tzu, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, who recommends fillers, such as Restylane Lyft, for longer-lasting tightening.

These days, the craving for a more holistic conception of beauty is very real. I remember reading something Huntzinger wrote when describing her work. “These days, society is so yang, so active. With the advent of social media, the yang has been overstimulated to such a degree, and the yin has not been nourished,” she explains. Maybe, in a paradoxical twist, #guasha has risen precisely from our innate desire to restore focus on the yin—the darker, interior, reflective parts of ourselves.

People are not just getting a skin-deep treatment,” Zhang confirms of what she sees as the technique’s actual rejuvenating benefits. She slips into Chinese for a moment for emphasis, and you notice that in place of “antiaging” she uses the words yang sheng—a phrase that is heard often from older aunts and grandmothers when telling one to take care. After all, yang sheng as simply utilitarian: It translates more directly to “nourishing life.”

VOGUE

11 Things To Know About Audrey Hepburn’s Beauty Regime

One of my favourite people in the world, dead or alive, has always been the ICONIC Audrey. Beautiful inside and out, here are some things to know about her beauty regime.

Welcome to Artist Spotlight #51 series on my blog.

As one of the most enduring beauty icons of all time, it should come as no surprise to learn that Audrey Hepburn took a considered approach to her regime. From the hair mask that was made especially for her (and remains cult today), to her religious use of a good SPF, British Vogue takes a look at some of the things that helped to make Audrey a timeless beauty – inside and out.

Her signature eye make-up

As well as the feline flick she used to define her almond-shaped eyes, Hepburn also used another trick to help create her signature doe-eyed look. She and her makeup artist, Alberto De Rossi, would use tweezers before and after applying mascara to painstakingly separate every one of her individual eyelashes. If that isn’t dedication to the clump-free life, what is? 

She knew the power of a strong brow

Way before Cara Delevingne wowed the fashion world with her fulsome brows, there was Hepburn, whose thick arches were immaculately groomed using a dark brown eyebrow pencil. Her look continues to spawn countless how-to videos even today, because who doesn’t want brows like Audrey’s? 

Staying hydrated was key

In his book Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen, Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti revealed the importance she placed on drinking water and staying hydrated. “She was really about drinking a lot of water and eating a lot of vegetables,” he wrote. “It was a matter of how she was brought up.” Evian at the ready.

Her secret to combatting dry skin

As well as ensuring she was well hydrated from the inside, Hepburn said that she used “a lot of moisturisers and oils, because I have rather a dry skin”. As well as these two skin saviours, she also applied yoghurt to her face, leaving it for half an hour, before washing it off. Fresh, Greek yoghurt contains lactic acid which helps to gently exfoliate while hydrating the skin.

She had the same dermatologist as Marilyn

Alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner, Hepburn used to see Hungarian dermatologist Erno Laszlo, whose skincare line still exists to this day. “I owe 50 per cent of my beauty to my mother, and the other 50 per cent to Erno Laszlo,” she once said.  

She always removed her makeup – thoroughly

“Working in the theatre, I’ve seen what not removing makeup well can really do to the skin, so I’m very careful about that,” said Hepburn, who referred to herself as a “soap-and-water girl” (with some of Laszlo’s skincare products thrown in). While nowadays soap is very much not recommended, using a good cleanser every morning and evening is.

The cult hair mask she swore by

Heard of Philip Kingsley’s now-cult Elasticiser? A repairing hair mask that delivers moisture directly into the hair cuticle, leaving it shiny, soft and bouncy, it was originally created for Hepburn after the pair met in 1974. She loved it so much that she is said to have had large tubs of it couriered to her regularly – and it’s just as good today as it was then.

£34, available at Lookfantastic.com.

She enjoyed a balanced diet

As well as lots of fruit and vegetables, which she bought in local markets, surprisingly potatoes were “her bread and butter”, said her son. Hepburn also ate minimal amounts of meat.

She took a holistic approach to her skin

Having proclaimed that “good health is the key to good skin; if your skin isn’t good, it’s a signal that something is wrong” – a very modern ethos – Hepburn ensured she got lots of fresh air and sleep, while keeping her exposure to the sun to a minimum.

SPF was a beauty essential

You know it, I know it – and Audrey did, too. Sunscreen is essential for healthy skin, and while she stayed out of the sun as much as possible, she was religious about wearing SPF.

Her signature scent

Still a classic scent to this day (although it had a revamp in 2018), Givenchy’s L’Interdit was created especially for Hepburn in 1957. Hubert de Givenchy commissioned perfumer Francis Fabron to create the scent, which has notes of orange blossom, tuberose, vetiver and patchouli. It is called L’Interdit, which translates from French as “forbidden”, after Hepburn’s jocular response to Givenchy’s request to make it widely available to the public – not just for her. 

£42.31, available at Feelunique.com.

VOGUE article

5 Realistic Beauty Resolutions That You Can Definitely Keep

When it comes to New Year’s beauty resolutions, the ones that are really going to carry on past January are the ones that feel the least restrictive and come with a serious side order of evident benefits to push us into brand new beauty territory. Maybe it’s time you gave up the habits that are impacting both your skin and the environment? Or, perhaps it’s time that you shake up the way you approach makeup and take your eyeliner skill to expert level?

Give up face wipes

Literally, stop now. From here on in, commit to choosing a makeup removing alternative that strays far away from the toxic reality of facial wipes. They might be affordable and easy to use, but their negative impact on the environment has long been documented. Water UK has even stated that 93 per cent of the gunk blocking our sewers is made up of wet wipes, and Marine Conservation found 12 wet wipes on average per 100 metres on UK beaches. Alternatives are now readily available: whether you want to choose reusable Face Halos or opt for a double cleanse and a muslin cloth, there really should be no need for you to ever open a pack again. Plus, if the environmental stats on wipes aren’t enough to dissuade you, consider that they are also bad for your complexion as they don’t probe deep enough to remove makeup entirely, and the scrubbing movements can cause unwanted irritation.

Don’t pick your spots

A beauty mandate we know well and have heard a thousand times, and yet, we all struggle to resist the temptation every time a new blemish pops up to say “hello”. Put down the at-home tools, stay away from your mirror and don’t even think about just quickly scratching away that whitehead. Scarring, further contamination and long-term damage are just some of the reasons we should leave this practice to the professionals. If you simply must remove a blemish, make sure that you pop, and don’t pick at the area. Cleanliness is key from your hands to cleaning the area after the gentle extraction. Picking is a 2021 no.

Try a new trick

Beauty resolutions shouldn’t all be about restriction. The new year can also prove the perfect time to try something new. Why not start with perfecting a new beauty technique, say, each month? By this time next year, you’ll have 12 new tricks in your beauty arsenal and perhaps a whole new perspective on your own routine. Whether you want to perfect a facial massage technique or finally master that cat-eye flick, YouTube is the best place to start, naturally.

Wash your brushes

It’s all well and good stepping out in an expertly executed makeup look that then gets washed away with a precise skincare routine, but, if your tools are dirty then you will find yourself right back at square one. Make the commitment to cleanse your kabuki et al at regular intervals. A routine of washing your brushes and tools with specialist cleansers will not only help your skin by removing impurities but will also give your makeup brushes a greater lifespan.

Recycle! Recycle! Recycle!

As the beauty industry increases its commitment to sustainability, make a concerted effort to do your part too. Much of the packaging your products come in will be comprised of various components that will all have different recycling capabilities. What this means is that you’ll need to invest some time into sorting through the empties and cartons. Or, consider the environment from the point of purchase and opt for brands and products that create with a green agenda and refillable bottles.

VOGUE article

5 Beauty Tips That Make A Big Difference

1. Shave your face – removing peach fuzz allows for a smoother application of foundation and other products; it also gets rid of rough texture and dead skin cells, leaving the skin feeling renewed. Hold the skin with your fingers and genly, in short strokes, shave in the same direction as the hair grows. Follow up with a facial oil or a moisturizer for optimal results!

Get facial razors at Sephora or Amazon.

2. Apply concealer before foundation – it helps you avoid applying excessive amount of foundation because you’ve covered your major problem areas with a full coverage concealer; overall it gives a more lightweight result.

3. Moisturizer with foundation? – place some moisturizer on the back of your hand, stipple the brush in it, then apply your foundation with that brush; it sheers out the foundation for a lightweight finish and helps it blend in with your skin.

4. Matching blush tones – use the same product on your eyes, lips and cheeks to create a cohesive look. It’s quick and easy! Apply a cream blush color on your cheeks with a brush or fingers, then do the same on the eyes in the crease and lips. It provides a monotone look, both cream and powder products work for this trick.

Get multitasking plush products from MILK Makeup or Nudestix.

5. Cut your hair every 6 weeks – it provides the perfect timeframe to chop off the dead ends and leave the hair looking strong and healthy.

Do you have any tips and tricks you use regularly? Let me know in the comments below!

There’s Nothing Effortless About Being a Woman

I came across this hilarious (yet painfully true) article about the stereotype of female beauty routines. The author speaks very bluntly about subjects related to her actual beauty routine, the time and the costs of it, the way society views women, and what it expects from them.

She breaks down her beauty steps into a myriad of deeply discussed examples, and states that “smart women aren’t supposed to care, but I do”. Amy dives into the idea that even accepted “imperfections” have to be within a specific frame to be recognized by the general public. She also explores her journey of trying to “fit in” in a foreign country, having to hide so many aspects of her life and pretend to be someone she isn’t.

“Feminism Lite (my preferred brand of feminism as an adolescent) required keeping your damn mouth shut about the desire to be something as superficial as pretty, so I did. Being pretty had to be something you just were, not something that you tried to achieve, and if I wasn’t it, I had to be quiet about wanting it and what I did to get it.” (Amy S. Choi)

I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to jump to the next line, and the next paragraph, so here I share this article with you for some laughs and (potentially painful) self-recognition. Enjoy!

There’s Nothing Effortless About Being A Woman,

And I’m done pretending otherwise.

Amy S. Choi