What is Gua Sha? Skincare Expert Patricia San Pedro Explains

Last Update: December 21, 2023

One look at Patricia San Pedro’s radiant complexion and you’ll want to know all her skincare secrets. Fortunately the author and beauty expert shares them freely, in the form of easy-to-follow Instagram tutorials and a book, “Face Fitness: Simple Exercises and Rituals for Toned, Glowing Skin.”

San Pedro’s career in the beauty industry officially began with roles in marketing and consulting for spas and cosmetics brands, but her passion for skincare goes back even further. “I grew up in a Korean household, which meant skincare was a big deal,” she says. “It was always just a part of culture, [like] going to the spa regularly as a family.” 

With its multi-step routines, unique ingredients (hello, snail mucin), and innovative products like sheet masks, Korean skincare has gained global popularity over the last few years. Other Asian beauty rituals followed; one of the most popular is gua sha, a traditional Chinese medicine technique in which a smooth, flat stone (often made of jade or rose quartz) is methodically scraped across the skin. Many traditional Chinese medicine techniques (such as acupuncture) are predicated on the idea that stagnant energy, or “qi,” can result in health issues. Gua sha and similar practices are thought to promote health by ensuring “qi” is flowing freely throughout the body. Gua sha is said to help improve circulation, release tension, and reduce inflammation.

San Pedro developed her signature style of facial massage, which incorporates gua sha with other techniques like cupping to tone the skin and release stress, while she was teaching yoga and Pilates (hence the name Face Fitness). “At the end of each yoga class I would end with, not savasana, but SPAvasana,” she recalls. “I would go around the room and give mini face fitness décolleté and neck massages while guiding everyone in a meditation.” 

These days, San Pedro provides Face Fitness guidance on Instagram as a content creator while also running her own skincare line, testing all kinds of beauty products; and keeping up with her four kids. We asked her to give us the scoop on Face Fitness, including how it works, its benefits, and the essential products you need to start adding these techniques into your self-care routine.

What is gua sha, exactly, and what are some of the benefits?

Gua sha is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been used for centuries as an alternative healing method for better circulation. It became popular in Western culture more recently because of the glow effects to the skin and how healthy and vital you feel afterwards. In TCM it is called “qi” that we move; in Western culture it is comparable to lymph drainage. Gua sha literally means “to scrape sand”: scrape, meaning the gliding movement of the stone, and sand is the petechiae, or redness that occurs afterwards (after scraping the body—not so much the face as we’re very gentle on the face).

How do you recommend people incorporate gua sha or other Face Fitness techniques into their routines?

With gua sha, I love it as a ritual. I do it during the day, usually as a quick pick-me-up—it’s like a matcha latte break for your skin! I normally do this three to four times a week as needed.

Face fitness is something I do every single time I touch my face with skincare products. You can really do it in every step of your skincare regime. So two to three minutes each morning and evening at minimum to get energy flowing.

What kind of products should you use with gua sha?

If you’re not into oils, you can use serums, but I really recommend facial oils—of course non-comedogenic [oils] so you do not have the possibility of breaking out from clogged pores. Rosehip, argan, and jojoba are nice for all skin types.

Can you explain the different tools used for face fitness?

They all have similar goals, but some tools are more effective for specific results. For example, cupping is great for plumping the skin, gua sha tools are great for reducing puffiness (i.e. the sculpted look), and Face Fitness is great for overall wellness of the skin and complexion.

Are there any risks associated with gua sha?

Gua sha is generally harmless but there are contraindications to be aware of, including inflammation of the skin from rosacea, eczema, and severe acne breakouts. Don’t use it on sunburn, if you’re on blood thinners, or if you’ve had Botox; however you can use it in areas that you have not injected. And always use clean tools and clean hands! 

Aside from your face fitness routine and product regimen, what are some other habits that help you maintain such an amazing complexion?

Mindset is everything. Meditation, exercise, good eating habits, staying committed to evolving, being in a state of gratitude, loving my kids and husband, just enjoying life!

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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