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Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Gua sha Tool - Clive Witham

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Gua sha Journal - A Blog About Everything Gua sha by Clive Witham/Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Gua sha Tool - Clive Witham

If you want to buy a Gua sha tool there are so many tools to choose from and it's difficult to know which one is best for you. So in this episode Clive gives you the benefits of his 20-year experience with Gua sha tools and give you tips about what you need to look for and think about if you're going to get a tool.


Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 9 of season 1 of the Gua sha show and I figured it was about time to talk a little about Gua sha tools and to give you my insights into the shapes, sizes, materials, weight and general feeling of the tool. And I’m going to be referring to the gentle movements of facial Gua sha and strong scraping you might need on the body. So if you’ve ever wondered about which tool to buy, keep listening!

This is one of the most common questions I’m asked and rightly so because the market for Gua sha tools is saturated and it’s difficult to understand what the strange shapes and materials mean and how they’re used. We’ve come a long way from the copper coins which were traditionally used and there’s considerable choice in terms of what the tool is made from.

Choosing the Right Material for Your Gua sha Tool

If you listen to me more or you read my books or if you study with me, you’ll soon see my opinion on tools. It’s no secret and my message has been consistent over 20 years. While lots of people fixate about tools, for me it’s actually one of the least important parts of Gua sha. So while it’s important to find a tool that you’re comfortable with and feels good to hold, which has the right weight and size for what you’re doing, and also which glides smoothly on the skin, it’s not the tool but what you do with the tool which is Gua sha! If you’ve got a fancy tool but you don’t know what to do with it, you’re not going to do much. And I mean more than just dragging it around the surface of the skin.

"At the moment jade and quartz are popular but there’s also materials like obsidian, bian stone, water buffalo horn, steel or copper, plastic, porcelain and sea shells."

The Importance of Tool Fragility in Gua sha

So let’s look at some basic criteria which you can use to judge whether one particular tool is the one for you. So we’ll start with the obvious. Is the tool breakable? It doesn’t matter how marvellous the tool is when you drop it on the floor and cracks and splits neatly into 2 or smashes into little pieces. My clinic now is very similar to the one I had in Melilla, in North Africa. Both are in the classic modernist buildings that are the signature of Barcelona - tall with high ceilings and the kind of architectural detail that you don’t find in buildings any more. The floor tiles in Melilla were museum quality and were original throughout the whole floor space of the clinic, which was fairly big. So I have lost so many Gua sha tools to that floor.

Sure, you can keep the tool in a special place, perhaps it has a box to keep it safe. But there’ll be one moment when it’s on the table or on the sink and you get distracted and smash! So there are huge choices of fragile tools especially aimed at facial Gua sha and as long as you resign yourself to one day losing your precious facial friend in a domestic accident, then they’re fine tools. If you’re looking for a less fragile Gua sha tool, then materials like metal, plastic and resin would fit the bill. In fact, if I’m travelling and I want to take a tool with me, I take my Japanese Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) Gua sha tool which is made of a plastic resin which is pretty much indestructible.

Maintaining Cleanliness of Your Gua sha Tool

So let’s continue with another question you should ask yourself before you buy a Gua sha tool. Is the tool cleanable? You might be thinking - well aren’t they all? And yes, they are but if you’re ever going to use your Gua sha tool on someone else, then it’s got to be cleaned properly. And by cleaned properly, I mean disinfected. If it’s just you, you can wash it with dish-washing liquid and it’s not an issue. But if it’s not just you, you need to explore the ways to clean the tool.

"After use, microscopic traces of skin and blood cells remain on the Gua sha tool."

So there’s a certain procedure which I put together a few years ago to comply with professional disinfection standards and you can find that on my YouTube channel if you want to see it - I’ll put a link in the show notes - but it’s using bleach so environmentally it’s not ideal. There are hospital grade disinfection wipes which are also very useful but anyway the more you clean the tool, the more it will degrade and some materials degrade faster than others. Water buffalo horn, for example, is a great natural material for a Gua sha tool and is incredibly common throughout Asia, but you try to clean it and after a while it cracks or bends. Metal tools are perhaps the material which can be disinfected the best and they are often used professionally especially in the world of physiotherapy where they use Gua sha but call it something different.

Size & Shape: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Gua sha Tool

The next question to ask is - is the tool the right size for you? Most commercially available gua sha plates range in thickness between 0.30 and 1.00 cm but how comfortable this will be depends on your hand size. In general, the thinner the tool, the greater the mechanical load on your hand and arm. However, thickness also implies weight and although the tool should have a certain balanced weight so that as you use it there is a certain momentum in the movement, if it’s too heavy, then it will cause hand fatigue. As far as shapes go, you can take your pick between things like fish shaped, angel wings, or a butterfly and it could be square, rectangular, triangular, round or any variation of these. Some metal tools look like torture instruments.

"In the end, the shapes are just that. They’re shapes. You could probably use any one of them to do Gua sha and they would do the same thing. "

Sure, it may look convenient to have a dip or bump in the tool here and there so that it appears to match a specific body part or technique but it’s not necessary. So the key is to choose the shape, size and weight that is comfortable for you and your hands.

Smoothness: A Key Factor in Choosing a Gua sha Tool

The next question is - is it smooth or round enough? A Gua sha tool has to be smooth on all sides so that it creates just the right amount of friction on the skin. There are some tools which have edges that are too pointed or sharp which will feel less comfortable when scraped over the skin. Mineral based tools like jade, quartz, bian stone and obsidian are often smooth purely down to the production process but other materials like Buffalo horn, porcelain, metal, resin and wood vary in how appropriate they are to be used in Gua sha. The sides of a natural material like Buffalo horn can actually be scraped with sandpaper which is quite common in Asia. Some tools have a jagged edge or dull saw-like serrated section on one side which is aimed at specific parts of the face. There’s a certain gentle technique involved with its use so it’s not supposed to be smooth in that part of the Gua sha tool.

I’ve got lots of Gua sha tools. They’re everywhere. If I open my desk drawer there are 6 of them in between all of the mostly junk that I hide in there. One is red and black, one white, the others black or green. There’s jade, quartz, porcelain, resin. There are 2 on the table in front of me next to the screen. There are more than a dozen in a plastic tub in the corner and this is just in my office not my clinic. If I were to use the Gua sha tools around me right now, I know that some would require more effort than others. This is because some have rounder, smoother edges and really feel smooth on the face for example and some have slightly sharper edges which are fine on the face but dig in a fraction deeper in the back to cause less effort when using Gua sha.

Temperature Considerations for Your Gua sha Tool

And next - is it the right temperature? Do you want a Gua sha tool which always feel cold on the skin? Jade is the obvious one, but other mineral-based materials too, are almost always cold to the touch. They warm up with the heat of the action of Gua sha and by being in your hand but there’s a definite cold tendency to jade. In the hot Saharan summer, jade was the perfect material, but in midwinter when the heating is trying to keep you all warm, it might not be want you want. It’s the same of course with metal Gua sha tools. Mineral-based stones can be warmed up in hot water and used on the body like a type of hot stone therapy but that’s a technique not the nature of the minerals. Plastic resin, wood and buffalo horn Gua sha tools are generally more stable in their temperature and feel warmer.

Professional Appearance of Gua sha Tools

If you’re going to use the Gua sha tool on other people, you have to ask yourself - is the Gua sha tool professional looking? Does it look appropriate to what you’re doing? If someone is paying you money for a treatment, are you going to use a porcelain soup spoon or a stainless steel arched Gua sha tool? Well, for those of you that follow me, you’ll know my answer to that! The soup spoon is a bit like my trademark and yes, I actually use them professionally. Probably not the same as the ones in your local Chinese restaurant but not that different. The shape is basically the same although unless I went out of my way to show you, you wouldn’t actually know it was a spoon as they don’t look like them. Some people prefer metal Gua sha tools and others prefer natural stones but remember that professional treatments require professional level cleaning - disinfection - so you have to bear that in mind.

Summary: Choosing the Right Gua Sha Tool for You

So in summary, there’s a huge variety of Gua sha tools which you can choose from but you’ve got to think about what would be the most appropriate for you in your situation. Most people over think this part of Gua sha. It just has to be smooth, comfortable and the right size and weight for your hand to hold. You don’t need to get stressed about the rest of it. You get a tool and you try it out. If it doesn’t feel right, you use that experience to get a better on for you. It can be trial and error until you find the right one. And remember, it’s not the tool that changes your body or your face, it’s what you do with the tool.

So that’s it for another episode, if you want to know more, there are a few videos on my YouTube channel on tools and even more in my Ecology in Motion™ Gua sha certificate course.

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Hi, It's Clive Witham

Director of Komorebi Institute

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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