Although gua sha for the scalp is currently trending, it’s far from new. Acupuncture and integrative and Chinese medicine specialist Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, says Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors and others in the TCM culture have been using gua sha for thousands of years. Cofounder of WTHN and licensed acupuncturist Shari Auth, DACM, notes that for 2,000 years in Asia, gua sha has been used to “help reduce muscle tightness, disperse the common cold, alleviate chronic pain, ease respiratory problems, boost the immune system and more.” Now, many people use the tool during their skin-care routine and many experts advocate for using gua sha on the scalp as well.
Why should we be using gua sha on our scalp?
According to Sandra Chiu, acupuncturist, herbalist, TCM practitioner and founder of Lanshin, gua sha is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scalp care. She advises doing scalp stimulation with acupressure and massage as well as gua sha, all of which can be done with the same tool. “We should be doing these techniques because they help make our scalp, and thus hair, healthier—especially when combined with getting good sleep, nutrition and minimizing stress,” she says. The process mirrors gua sha on the face. It combines long and short strokes against the skin.
The benefits of scalp gua sha
Aside from scalp gua sha feeling amazingly soothing, it also has many health and wellness benefits. “Scalp stimulation improves the smooth flow of blood to our scalp, which in the tradition of Chinese medicine is really important for the health of follicles and hair,” says Chiu. “In the West, when you think of healthy, shiny hair, you often think of a product that will create shine and thickness. But in Asia, these are natural traits of healthy hair, so the goal is more so to create the conditions that produce healthy hair.” Chiu says they turn to scalp stimulation techniques to create optimal scalp skin. It’s “much like creating better soil conditions for healthy, strong strands to grow from,” says Chiu.
Dr. Trattner notes that the practice helps relax the muscles in the forehead and temporalis. “Massaging the temporalis helps with TMJ and tech neck. This helps relax points in the Du meridian and the gallbladder meridian, which are the longest meridians in the body and travel all over the head,” says Dr. Trattner. “Scalp gua sha also calms the nervous system and helps distribute hair oils throughout the head. It has a mild lifting effect on the face and increases scalp blood flow which can stimulate hair growth.”
Trichologist, celebrity stylist—she’s behind some of Marissa Tomei, Harry Styles and Selena Gomez’s best looks— and founder of Act+Acre, Helen Reavey says scalp gua sha helps products, like oil, penetrate deeper into the scalp in addition to promoting a bit of TLC. Dr. Auth notes that scalp gua sha can also relax tension related to headaches and stress. Additionally, “there are dozens of different acupressure points on the scalp that correspond to various benefits, including opening the sinuses and helping memory, so gua sha on the scalp has many health benefits.”
How to perform scalp gua sha
Reavey suggests doing scalp gua sha weekly on dry hair before you wash it. She recommends sectioning the hair and applying a few drops of a product, like Scalp Detox ($48). “Massage onto the scalp by gently combing gua sha in long strokes across the head. Let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse with shampoo and conditioner,” advises Reavey. Dr. Auth suggests following a small zigzag motion from the hairline down, keeping gentle pressure on the scalp. “As you come to the back of the head, pull the gua sha comb away from the scalp and repeat moving across the hairline,” says Dr. Auth.
Dr. Trattner notes that very light pressure should be used when practicing scalp gua sha. “I see too many people use too much pressure with facial and scalp gua sha. Be gentle, as you can pull out your hair if you are doing it too vigorously,” warns Dr. Trattner. You can also skip the oil and do it anytime on a clean, dry scalp. “If you feel tension during the day, it is a great way to increase more blood flow to the head, where it will relax you but keep you awake.”
If you learn better with visual aids, Chiu suggests watching Lanshin’s step-by-step instruction video on how she advises using the tool at home. “I like to recommend using different techniques—acupressure, gua sha and tapping—following the acupuncture energy meridians that exist on the head and scalp.”
Who should use scalp gua sha?
“Anyone who wants to take their hair-care routine to the next level,” says Dr. Auth. “The scalp is an extension of the skin, so it’s vital to give it some love and prioritize its health, in the same way you do for your face.” Chiu notes that it can be especially beneficial for those affected by stress or those concerned about thinning or weakening hair. “Think of the times when someone brushes your hair—it can be drool-worthy relaxing,” says Dr. Trattner.
Dr. Trattner says those that easily bruise or have high blood pressure or vertigo should use caution. Anyone in the hair-shedding stage or with an inflammatory shedding stage should also proceed with caution. “Light stimulation can help blood flow which can help facilitate growth, but the tugging can also expedite the shed,” notes Dr. Trattner. Dr. Auth warns that you should never perform gua sha on open wounds, cuts or abrasions.
Chiu notes that bringing more blood flow to the scalp rapidly can make some people feel lightheaded or dizzy. “If this happens, I always recommend drinking a few sips of juice or eating a few bites of something sweet or massaging your hands and feet,” says Chiu.
Expert-approved gua sha tools to use on the scalp
Dr. Trattner recommends Chiu’s Lanshin comb ($59). “It’s important to purchase from a TCM doctor,” says Dr. Trattner. “She creates beautiful pieces and is a leader in creating traditional gua sha products.” Dr. Auth likes WTHN gua sha ($40) for the face and scalp. Act + Acre Scalp Gua Sha ($48) is another great option.
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