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Jade Rollers and Gua sha: Unveiling the Truth Behind Facial Gua sha and Dermatological Tools in Traditional Chinese Beauty Practices

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Gua sha Journal - A Blog About Everything Gua sha by Clive Witham/Jade Rollers and Gua sha: Unveiling the Truth Behind Facial Gua sha and Dermatological Tools in Traditional Chinese Beauty Practices

Exploring the Connection between Jade Rollers and Facial Gua sha

Jade rollers, known in China as 玉石滚轮 (yù shí gǔn lún), are often presented as having a connection to Facial Gua sha. Superficially this would make sense as they clearly are designed to gently roll over the skin as one might do with a Facial Gua sha tool. In fact they sometimes even look similar, both being made from the same color jade or quartz stone, and sold as a set. You would think that they were always together in some cosmetological tool pack used by women throughout Chinese history. Well, that's what you're supposed to think anyway. The reality is that Facial Gua sha and derma rollers (aka jade rollers) come from completely separate developments in Chinese history and hold no close relationship at all.

Myth-Busting the Origins: Gua sha and Jade Rollers in Chinese History

When I first studied Chinese medicine 25 years ago, I had a Jade roller along with a set of derma rollers which have small metallic spikes or jagged surfaces so that when they roll over the skin, they indent it slightly. I actually still have them. These tools are part of established dermatological treatments within Chinese medicine to improve skin conditions.

Difference between jade rollers and gua sha

If you check online to see where and when people think Jade rollers appeared, it's the same as Gua sha, lots of unverified and unsourced claims about people using them in Chinese history as early as the 7th century or others say the 17th century. In fact, one poorly-written article in a widely read magazine actually claimed both Gua sha and jade rolling were tools of the Imperial Chinese court. The trouble is, in terms of Gua sha, nothing could be further from the truth. The last place you would find Gua sha would be in the Imperial court as at that time it was fighting cholera and febrile disease in the dirt of the villages and towns. Gua sha was not making your complexion look pleasant, it was a life-saving treatment fighting severe disease. This is where Gua sha comes from and where it remains even in the realm of Facial Gua sha and beauty. Despite what you have been told, Facial Gua sha is not a skin treatment. It has no connection with dermatology. It is a tissue treatment and all of the effects it may have on the face are due to changes in the tissue and not in the dermis of the skin.

jade rollers and gua sha are different

Jade Rollers in Chinese Cosmetology: Empress Cixi’s Beauty Practices

While Jade has a long history in Chinese cosmetology and was used in creams, powders, amulets and so on, actual jade tools like a jade roller are more difficult to pin down. An obvious reference of a jade tool on the face comes from a text called 'Yu Xiang Piao Miao Lu: The Private Life of the Empress Dowager Cixi'. This was written by Li Lianying, a eunuch who served in the imperial palace during the last years of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) and gives us an intimate look into the daily life of Empress Cixi, one of the most powerful women in Chinese history:

"In addition to applying chicken essence every night to prevent the wrinkles on her face from growing or expanding, Her Majesty also has many methods specifically designed to deal with those wrinkles. There is a very unique one. It turns out that there are two jade sticks about two or three inches long on Yi's dressing table, with handles inlaid with gold at both ends. Every morning, Yi must use them to rub on her face or hair. Or rolling down. This thing is very smooth and cold, and there is no powder on it. I don't know what it does. But the Queen Mother always sits patiently in front of the dressing table and rolls it on her face." (De Ling, 1933)

Empress Cixi was using two jade sticks to roll over her face and hair and her intention was to treat wrinkles. The 'Gua sha' Jade roller is gliding over the surface of the skin in the same way with the desire to make changes in the top layer of skin. In this way it appears much like a superficial beauty treatment. Or perhaps you could argue along the lines of lymphatic drainage techniques to drag fluids or to depuff your face. Just so you know - Gua sha has no relationship with lymphatic drainage techniques - you can use a Gua sha tool in order to do them but it isn't Gua sha. Gua sha has no concept of dragging fluids. Gua sha is not gliding over the skin but reaching a specific tissue level, the Luomai, with friction and motion to make changes in the capillary circulation system.

The origin of gua sha and jade rollers

Empress Cixi was using two jade sticks to roll over her face and hair and her intention was to treat wrinkles. The 'Gua sha' Jade roller is gliding over the surface of the skin in the same way with the desire to make changes in the top layer of skin. In this way it appears much like a superficial beauty treatment. Or perhaps you could argue along the lines of lymphatic drainage techniques to drag fluids or to depuff your face. Just so you know - Gua sha has no relationship with lymphatic drainage techniques - you can use a Gua sha tool in order to do them but it isn't Gua sha. Gua sha has no concept of dragging fluids. Gua sha is not gliding over the skin but reaching a specific tissue level, the Luomai, with friction and motion to make changes in the capillary circulation system.

Drawing the Line: Jade Rollers Have No Connection to Facial Gua sha

So while Jade rollers have a distinct therapeutic and cosmetic place in treating the face, they aren't part of Gua sha. They can be used with Gua sha in order to achieve a certain goal as can many beauty treatments but a clear line must be drawn about what constitutes a Facial Gua sha treatment and what doesn't. Jade rollers just don't.

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Hi, It's Clive

Director of Komorebi Institute

Hi, It's Clive

From researching underfunded healthcare in Uganda, to running a thriving chronic illness clinic in North Africa, to collaborating with hospitals in Sri Lanka to train staff and empower communities - My journey has been dedicated to democratizing access to beauty and health.

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