Vogue USA - 04.2020

(singke) #1
WHEN I WAS A CHILD I spent many sweltering summers
in my aunt’s Shanghai apartment, which had one air-
conditioning unit that was only turned on for the hottest
hour of the afternoon. Unused to the heat, I was often weak
and nauseated. To assess my health, my aunt would palm
my forehead and check my tongue for changes in color and
shape. Then she’d clear the hair from the back of my neck
and, with a spoon—or more often, her knuckles—press
and pull at my skin until a reddish-purple mark appeared.
I was suffering from heatstroke, she said, and this friction
would draw out the toxins that were making me feel sick.
The darker the resulting welts, according to her, the more
bad energy had been released.
Did it work? All I really remember is being mortified
that the bruise resembled a misplaced hickey. My biggest
takeaway: that it hurt like hell—so much so that to this day,
when I hear the term gua sha—often translated to “scrap-
ing” in English—my first instinct is to flinch.
I had a similar reaction when I recently
discovered the heavily trafficked gua sha
hashtag on Instagram, a feed featuring
smooth, pore-less faces, not only unmarked
but supposedly de-puffed and contoured.
Missing from these images were soup spoons
or hardened knuckles; in their place were
elegant facial rollers and flat, grooved tools
made of jade, rose quartz, and other divinely
polished stones—the practice I associated
with pain now rebranded as a soothing, med-
itative, and even luxurious experience.
Why was I (and most Chinese people I
know) just now hearing about these “ancient Chinese
beauty tools,” as they’re frequently billed online? Was facial
gua sha—which has been put through the woo-woo well-
ness spin cycle, really the chosen beauty routine of ancient
Chinese princesses—another piece of internet lore? “Well,
that is false. It’s marketing,” explains Ping Zhang, DOM,
L.Ac, a New York–based traditional Chinese medicine
(TCM) guru and a pioneering acupuncturist in the field of
facial rejuvenation. “Gua sha was originally used for two
conditions: the abrupt, immediate, sudden collapse of the
body from heatstroke”—my aunt was onto something—
“and seasonal diseases, like a cold virus.” Zhang goes on
to describe how traditionally, gua sha could be performed
with whatever tool was on hand—an animal bone or horn,
a soup spoon, a coin—and was often used as far back as
the Yuan Dynasty to revive farmers who collapsed with
exhaustion from working under the hot sun.

With photo-ready polished-stone tools and an ASMR-inducing effect,
gua sha was made for Instagram. Or was it? Meng Jin explores the origins of
the white-hot wellness trend. Photographed by Harley Weir.

“The facial benefits of gua sha were discovered by mis-
take,” claims Cecily Braden, a holistic esthetician and New
York–based spa educator who has spent her career import-
ing traditional Eastern beauty and wellness treatments and
translating them for a Western audience. (We have Braden
to thank for the early-aughts proliferation of Balinese
massage at luxury resorts nationwide.) As acupuncturists
used facial pressure points to treat ailments in other parts
of the body, they stumbled upon their facial rejuvenation
effects as well. “They had this aha moment when they saw
that wrinkles were going away, too,” says Braden. In her
popular Gua Sha Facial Fusion protocol, outward, upward
strokes of a flat S-shaped nephrite jade stone work to help
manually drain sluggish lymph—stagnant fluid that can
cause puffiness and inflammation—to, as she puts it, “kick
our bodies’ natural cleansing system into gear.”
At the Paris-based atelier of acupuncturist Elaine
Huntzinger, gua sha facials were one of the
most sought-after appointments during
the spring collections. “My whole face feels
different, like, all of the tension is gone in
my jaw,” Eva Chen, the director of fash-
ion partnerships at Instagram and a vocal
Huntzinger supporter, posted pre-Balencia-
ga. Canada-born with family roots in Hong
Kong, Huntzinger was raised on TCM. After
her mother’s death, she found herself drawn
back to the home remedies she grew up with,
driven partially by a desire to find a solution
for her own eczema, which had not responded
to cortisone or antibiotics. Her skin finally
cleared up when she started to address her diet and lifestyle,
but also her grief. “In Chinese medicine, you learn the root
of what’s causing your imbalance with emotional issues,”
she says. She brings these lessons to her treatments, which
begin with a 20-minute consultation to determine physical,
emotional, and spiritual health. Like my aunt, Huntzinger
also looks at people’s tongues as a portal to other system
imbalances; like her own mother, she leaves them with food
recommendations to rebalance qi—energy flow—all of
which contributes to a toned, radiant complexion.
This emphasis on a top-to-toe approach is a nod to a
somewhat obvious philosophy that is only beginning to
gain traction in the beauty industry: “The skin is a map
for what’s going on in the body,” explains Katie Woods, a
Bay Area–based esthetician and the owner of Ritual SF, a
San Francisco face-massage studio offering bespoke facials
that incorporate gua sha tools and

Fa c e Tu n e d



Traditionally used to
manually scrape and pull
toxins from the body,
gua sha can also target
pressure points above the
neck to stimulate other
systems, while contouring
the skin. opposite: Model
Tess McMillan nods to
the face-body connection.
Sittings Editor:
Phyllis Posnick.



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