Gua sha, an ancient Chinese beauty practice that dates back to the Paleolithic Era, has found a place in Western beauty and wellness routines in the last few years. The practice has skyrocketed on TikTok and has garnered quite a celebrity following. But while you'll usually spot folks rubbing the feel-good stones across their cheekbones, jawlines, and forehead—or even their shoulder blades to help improve their posture—gua sha massage on your scalp offers its own host of benefits that earn it a worthy spot in your self-care lineup.
How does scalp gua sha work?
The gua sha stones you're familiar with likely have rounded, smooth edges so they glide easily along the surface of the skin. Scalp gua sha stones, on the other hand, are pointed like combs so that they can push past the hair and onto the scalp.
What are the benefits of scalp gua sha?
1. Stimulates blood flow to the scalp
“[This] gua sha method works by releasing tension in the muscles of the scalp, opening the flow of energy in the meridians, and circulating blood and lymph through the tissues," says Britta Plug, an esthetician and the co-founder of Wilding, a brand that makes gua sha tools. "All of this supports scalp health and healthy hair growth."
2. Boosts energy
Since gua sha massage increases the amount of blood flow to your head, you may also experience a nice boost of qi, or life force energy, when you need it most, according to Plug. "I love this as a pick-me-up when the midday slump hits,” she says, “and it’s the perfect tool to keep at my desk, since oil isn’t necessary for the scalp work [the way it is for your face or body]. I return to my next task or meeting refreshed after a minute or two of quick zig zag movements across the scalp, combined with some deep breathing."
3. Calms tension headaches
Last but certainly not least, Plug says that scalp gua sha may help you calm a tension headache. "Releasing tension in key muscles of the head and neck can provide sweet relief, while stimulating healthy blood flow to the area. Even just taking a few minutes to tend to the tension can make a huge difference," she says. And thus, there are a whole host of reasons you may decide to whip out your gua sha and get to work.
Can gua sha scalp massage help hair growth?
While no research has definitively linked gua sha massage on the scalp with faster hair growth, one study found that massaging in the scalp region may encourage hair thickness in people suffering from androgenic alopecia or pattern baldness found in people of all genders (although it's more common in men).
“A scalp massager, like a gua sha tool, can help products like hair oils or other scalp serums—which work to moisturize the scalp—penetrate deeper into the scalp while promoting microcirculation,” says Helen Reavey, certified trichologist and founder of scalp care brand Act+Acre. “Increasing the circulation of your scalp can help to stimulate the follicles.” So while the topic definitely needs more scientific study, it does have thousands of years of anecdotal evidence to offer.
Are there any negative effects of gua sha scalp massage?
Most beauty trends come with a laundry list of side effects or drawbacks, but this is one that’s pretty excellent. The only thing experts encourage is proper usage of the tool. “While there aren't any negative side effects from using a gua sha tool on your scalp, if you apply too much pressure when using the tool you risk causing bruising and potential discoloration,” says Reavey.
How do you massage your scalp with gua sha?
Here, Plug walks you through step-by-step instructions for how to use gua sha as a scalp massager next time you're feeling drained, have a headache, or just want to take care of your scalp.
Step 1: Apply hair oil (optional)
Pump some oil (perhaps a multitasking hair and scalp option) into your hands and apply it across your scalp. You can also skip this step if you don't have oil on hand or if you find that you like the feel of a dry scalp more. If you like, draw a bath or get under a comfortable blanket before you start, so you'll be nice and cozy. “If I’m using the gua sha with a scalp treatment or oil, I start by sectioning my hair and apply a few drops of the product,” says Reavey.
Step 2: Start releasing tension in the scalp
Grab your gua sha comb and "begin by releasing areas of tension, such as the temporalis muscle, the whole area of the scalp above the ear,” Plugg says. “For this, hold the stimulating scalp comb fairly flat, with the teeth of the comb lined up along the hairline at the temple. Press, and lift, as if giving yourself a facelift. Wiggle, shimmy, and release. Repeat the deeper press and release on any other areas of tension." Continue this process for as long as you desire. You
Step 3: Activate blood flow
The next part of the process is a little more energetic. "Holding the stimulating scalp comb perpendicular, zig zag through with light quick strokes,” Plugg says. “Work section by section, covering the entire scalp. It should feel stimulating and invigorating.”Remember not to bear down too hard; you don't want to wind up yanking out a chunk of hair. Reavey offers a more relaxing, passive approach if you’re using the gua sha more as a way to increase scalp product absorption. “I massage the scalp by gently combing the tool in long strokes across my head,” she says. “Then I let sit for 10 minutes, then wash my hair as usual.”
Step 4: Give the area around the scalp some TLC
"Use the U edge, or flat edges, of the stimulating scalp comb to release the back of the neck and shoulders,” Plug says. “I highly recommend this if you’re using it for headache relief! Oil is necessary for slip on these areas.” Take your time and enjoy.
What are the best scalp gua sha tools?
When looking for the right gua sha stone, consider the material it's made of. “Opting for natural materials, like jade for example, is far better than plastic alternatives,” says Reavey. “A high-quality stone like jade is also recommended as it is non-porous, making it easier to clean and less likely to trap bacteria.”
This Bian stone is nice for thick, curly hair as it won’t snag or get tangled. It has multiple different sides that are suitable for the neck, face, and chest as well as the scalp.
This cloud-shaped jade gua sha from Mount Lai is dual-sided for different kinds of massage. Bonus points: It’s from an AAPI-owned business that’s rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine practices.
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