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Top 9 Essential Safety Tips for Effective Gua sha Therapy

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

The Gua sha Journal - A Blog About Everything Gua sha by Clive Witham/Top 9 Essential Safety Tips for Effective Gua sha Therapy

It's important to think about safety when you do Gua sha, and in this episode of the Gua sha show, Clive gives you 9 tips on how you can incorporate safety into your Body or Facial Gua sha treatments. He draws on his 20 year-experience in Gua sha and talks about the use of tools, lubrication, disinfection, technique, misinterpretations, treatment limits and much more!

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Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome to Season 2 Episode 6 of the Gua sha Show. Today we’re looking at how you can use Gua sha safely on the face and body and we’ll go through nine tips which will help you along the way in achieving great results and being safe while doing it.

1. Choosing the Right Gua sha Tool

This is one of the first places we need to look for safety as its in direct contact with the skin. Tools gradually degrade over time so an important issue with safety is the integrity of the tool. And some materials degrade faster than others so check over the tool before using.

Buffalo horn tends to bend and crack with time and when in contact with moisture

Jade and some other minerals depend on quality - for example with jade, natural untreated jadeite jade with beeswax to fill in gaps will age differently from acid-bleached, polymer-impregnated jade or dyed jade.

But the problem sometimes with tools is not age but that they can also be scratched, dropped and chipped - and you might not notice it. Use your thumb and slide it over the edges to make sure there’s nothing sharp that can hurt the skin.

This is also one of the important things when you choose a tool. There’s a whole episode on tools.

2. Importance of Lubrication in Gua sha

Skin allergies affect many people. As many as 12.6% of children report skin allergies in any 12 month period in the US. And they might have symptoms like rash, itching, redness, swelling, raised bumps, or cracked or flaking skin. This is often after contact with something which triggers the reaction.

In the case of Gua sha, this could be caused by the lubrication oil you use. Oils like cinnamon bark, jasmine and lemongrass are known to cause reactions like coconut, jojoba, and grapeseed.

The composition of oil can change over time depending on how old they are and how you store them (cool dark place). If the seal is impaired they may oxidize, which may increase the likelihood of causing a reaction. So any oil which has changed how it looks - its colour or texture or how it smells, you need to replace it.

If you use gloves when applying Gua sha (I do every single time by the way), watch out for latex. Around 4.3 percent of the general population in the US is thought to have a latex allergy. Between 8 and 10 percent of all healthcare workers develop an allergy to latex at some point in their career.

3. Keeping Your Gua sha Tools Clean

How you clean tools safely has changed a lot. But one thing that’s important to grasp - you have to clean your tools. Really, it doesn’t matter that you only use it on yourself or not, the potential of residues of skin and blood cells mixed in with oil remaining on the tool is high. And then you might place your tool somewhere and contaminate another area. The isn’t evidence of cross-contamination of using tools however I always tell people to think of the tool as a toothbrush. You don’t share it and you don’t leave it lying around. It’s a simple safety precaution.

​For most people, cleaning the tool is a relatively simple thing to do. If you’ve done a light treatment over your face then it’s just a case of washing it with detergent and water. For more targeting cleaning of the tool, especially if sha appeared on the skin, it is best to then use a 70% alcohol-based wipe. These became much easier to find over the past few years with the pandemic. For normal use, you don’t need to go further than that, although the next stage of disinfection is to use household bleach soak (one part bleach and nine parts water).

4. Maintaining Proper Position During Gua sha

When you do Gua sha, you have to look at your position when you scrape. I have a video I made a long time ago about how you use your arm to scrape. If you get it wrong, you cause a lot of strain on your wrist. The safety issue here is for you. You’re going to get aches and pains.

5. Mastering the Gua sha Technique

I’m sure you’ve seen those images online of bright red backs after someone has Gua sha. They look horrific. One of the things you see time and again online in China and Taiwan is advice from medical experts telling people that the harder you perform Gua sha, it doesn’t necessarily mean the better the results. They are often referring to this belief that in order to do Gua sha properly, you have to scrape deeply and painfully. There is a place for strong, hard treatments when you’re fighting disease, but outside of this, most of the time, it would be inappropriate, and sometimes unsafe, as you can hurt someone.

You also have to factor in the landscape of the body. The big difference between what I do with Gua sha and what others do is the application of the ancient Chinese ideas of the natural world applied to the body and face, so landscape is something that is a major part of how I see the body. Very much as you might stand at a high place and survey the land around, or look out at the earth from a plane window. I quite literally am thinking of the same things in the body. But you don’t have to think about the same natural landscape. Think about bones and muscle and tissue. If you scrape over bones, it can hurt so you have to factor that in with your scraping. You need a technique which is aware of the area around where you treat. This both makes your results better and makes it a whole lot safer for the receiver.

6. Understanding Sha in Gua sha

You can easily recognise Gua sha from the marks left on the skin on some parts of the body, and whether or not it looks okay to you, it’s usually signifying that something positive is happening beneath the skin in the area affected. But there are some areas where you don’t want the red marks of sha to appear on the surface of your skin.

The face is an obvious example. This is why facial techniques are different from body techniques. And to anyone who believes Facial Gua sha isn’t Gua sha perhaps didn’t really understand Gua sha in the first place. There are many techniques involved in Gua sha but with all of them, exactly the same principle is involved. This is so important to understand but unfortunately so few people actually do.

It is possible to bring sha on your face, especially in some areas such as between your eyebrows. So you have to be aware of this and treat accordingly. And then there are other areas such as the neck and shoulders where it is very common for sha to appear and these may be visible to other people when not covered by clothing. If you were to treat someone in this area and they had a significant event to attend a few days later such as a wedding or they might want to go to beach, they might not be too happy with you.

So in order to play safe, informed consent is the key. Which basically means you tell them what you’re doing and the risks involved, before you do it, and they agree to it.

7. Areas to Avoid During Gua sha

For safety, there are some areas of your body where you don’t use Gua sha unless you really know what you’re doing. One of these is the front of your neck. This is the area of your Adam’s apple, the laryngeal prominence, which is the protrusion of the front of the thyroid cartilage that surrounds the larynx. It’s rare to come across reports of injuries caused by Gua sha but this is one area that has appeared several times.

Avoiding sensitive areas such as your eyeballs and be aware that any area which doesn’t have a bony structure to provide support, such as the abdomen, is unlike areas that do such as the back. You need to change your technique.

8. Interpreting Gua sha Marks Correctly

If you have Gua sha and your back and there are lots of areas of sha making it look like you’ve had a nasty accident, guess what your partner/parent/friend is going to say when they see it. Or guess what the teacher/students are going to say when they see the marks on your child changing for their gym class. I think it’s pretty obvious how they might react if they don’t understand what just happened.

How do you make it safe for you? You tell everyone what happened. Education is one of the important things about Gua sha. Most people who do Gua sha, don’t know what is going on under the skin so you don’t need to explain tin great detail. Just the basics of what you do and the result is sufficient.

9. Knowing the Limits of Gua sha

It’s just as important to know what Gua sha can do as what it can’t do. I come across all kinds of claims of Facial Gua sha which make promises about the results of treatment that I don’t think they can keep. It’s the same with the body, it’s easy to think that Gua sha is for every illness and disorder. But of course, like every treatment modality, while you can do so much, there are limits. But if you don’t know where the limits are or are not even aware that there were any, then this is where the safety line is.

And I think that perhaps an extension of this is know your limits. If you’re not trained to diagnose other people, then don’t do it. Stay within the boundaries which make you and the person you’re treating safe.

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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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