Gua sha has taken over TikTok and Western beauty industries in a frenzy of rose quartz and green jade, promising sculpted jawlines and glowing skin in a matter of days.
As Western corporations adopt practices from the Eastern health and wellness sphere, it’s important to note where they come from—because they didn’t start with TikTok.
Despite its recent rise to fame in the Western beauty sphere, gua sha isn’t something new. Its earliest recognizable form dates back to Paleolithic-age China. Commonplace gua sha tools have historically included smooth rocks and chinaware, while today’s gua sha tools are most often made of ox horns.
In traditional Chinese medicine, gua sha is a form of physical therapy used to treat everything from heat exhaustion to rheumatism. The tool stimulates blood flow and circulation, drawing out toxins from the body, and relieving tension in muscles and tendons.
The gua sha tool is lubricated with oils and used to scrape the skin, which bursts the capillaries beneath the surface and leaves trails of red and purple petechiae behind.
Gua sha was born as a medical practice with little aesthetic value, but over the past few months, it’s been repackaged to look like a beauty miracle. Gone are bruise-like petechiae across shoulders and backs, and in their place are TikToks and Instagram reels celebrating gua sha’s face-lifting and anti-aging effects.
Beauty brands, even indie, Asian-owned brands like Mount Lai and Pithy Apothecary, are capitalizing on the gua sha trend and selling the idea of affordable luxury through polished gemstone tools and matching essential oils. However, gua sha became a popular folk practice because of its accessibility.
While there are professional gua sha clinics present in China, home gua sha with the help of family members is popular as well. Even the purchase of tools is optional. Any non-abrasive item with smooth, rounded edges and a lubricating oil or lotion is a functional combination. For example, ceramic spoons and safflower oil, which are staple items in many Chinese homes, are a favoured option.
Many of us are familiar with the ’20-year rule,’ which describes the cyclical nature of fashion and beauty trends, but the rise of social media and e-commerce has significantly accelerated trend cycles.
With today’s ease and immediacy of consumption, brands and consumers are adopting new trends quicker than ever. Consequently, the trend floods social media all at once, driving consumers to fatigue, and rapidly ending the trend’s marketability as quickly as it began.
Gua sha’s oversaturation on TikTok, Instagram, and digital publications like Vice and Teen Vogue is part of a recognizable pattern, one that suggests the beauty industry and social media’s obsession with gua sha will fade as rapidly as it rose.
Despite its oversaturation, gua sha has been deeply embedded in Chinese culture for a millennia, and though the current gua sha craze is unlikely to last, the practice itself isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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