From Face Rollers to Gua Sha: The Benefits of Face Massage (+ How to Care For Your Tools)
Every other beauty influencer is jade rolling or gua sha’ing in their feed. What you need to know about facial massage, plus how to care for these trendy face massage tools.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (no offense to Patrick Starfish and other subterranean dwellers), you’ve probably noticed the explosion of the face massage trend. This is especially true of face massage tools, which are a popular beauty accessory for skincare enthusiasts, available in various shapes and configurations.
To be quite honest, Asian beauty is kind of a pioneer in the face massage game, at least as far as individual home practice. Way back when I started paying attention and shopping for products to build my routine, I remember seeing massage accessories and V-line products for sale on e-commerce sites and being used by characters in Korean dramas, along with sheet masks and mists. They always seemed like an unnecessary step to me, but after I was gifted an ice roller for my birthday, I became a convert. So join me on this journey into face massage, exploring what it is, how to do it properly, and how to get the most out of it.
Why face massage?
Face massage was practiced as far back as the 30th century BC in China as a holistic treatment, and it eventually found its way to the U.S. in the 19th century. It’s a remedy for stress, which in turn treats a whole host of stress-related health issues like high blood pressure and depression. One reason why face massage might not have reached popularity here until recently is the fear that it could lead to complications like facial bruising or acne. With the resurgence of esthetics though, there are a number of facial treatments available which involve some kind of massage.
While face massage therapy might not automatically give you Kareena Kapoor’s jawline or Cate Blanchett’s cheekbones, practicing face massage at home has a number of benefits that go hand-in-hand with a dedicated skincare regimen in the pursuit of healthy skin.
I don’t completely buy into the claim that regular massage can change the shape of your face, but I’m a believer in the de-puffing effects. If you look like Alvin or one of the other Chipmunks when you wake up in the morning, an ice roller will do you a world of good. The rolling back-and-forth motion, along with the cold barrel of the tool, reduces inflammation thanks to improved circulation.
You’re also guaranteed to be wide awake the second a frosty barrel rolls across your face. Who needs caffeine when they’ve got a glacial jumpstart?
If you’re respiratorially challenged and suffer from sinus issues, face massage is a good way to provide relief to congested, achy sinuses. The next time you have a cold or a sinus headache, try massaging the sinus cavities next to your nose and above your nose to relieve pressure. For this purpose, I advise using a tool that’s room temperature or can be warmed up. Massaging with cold hands or an ice roller is counterintuitive and will only worsen congestion.
In addition to relieving pressure, gentle kneading stimulates lymphatic drainage which fights infection and water retention. A good method to try is Gothamista’s lymphatic drainage massage.
And of course, the major reason people pick up face massage is because it’s touted to help products absorb better as well as improving the skin’s firmness. A simple massage has the ability to strengthen muscle memory, encourage increased blood circulation, and stimulate collagen production. A 2017 study of the effects of skin massaging found that stimulus evoked an anti-aging response in skin explants, and said response varied depending on the frequency of stimulus. In plain English, the more you massage, the greater the effect on signs of aging like wrinkles, sagging, and texture.
However, be careful not to apply too much pressure when you do, so as not to bruise your skin and the delicate blood vessels underneath. Face massage should be more like a soothing caress and less like kneading dough. Your face is not a batch of bread ready for the oven.
Face massage has medical applications too. For instance, if you’ve had your wisdom teeth extracted, you know very well how painful the experience can be. In addition to the pain, the swelling makes you look like a squirrel stockpiling nuts for the winter. Instead of waking up from a nap with a mushy bag of peas stuck to your face because you tried to use them as an ice pack, you can use an ice or jade roller instead, which will knock out pain and swelling in one go. It’s great for other kinds of facial surgery as well and is a recommended form of home therapy for cancer patients who are suffering effects from radiation.
Face massage tools
Tool-wise, there are a few options. The most popular ones are perhaps the double-ended jade or rose quartz ones that everybody and their mama seems to be selling. I’m not into crystals, so I don’t completely buy into the differences in “energies” according to each type. But there is apparently a difference in terms of material composition. And what I mean by that is the claim that jade rollers are not as smooth as rose quartz or amethyst, and so might not be suited to sensitive skin types.
There are also silicone and metal rollers, but these are more suited for freezing. I’m partial to rollers with metal barrels because I think they’re easier to sanitize.
There’s also gua sha, a massage technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine, whose claims vary from skin brightening and improved circulation, to wrinkle reduction and an overall change in face shape. It’s a form of massage that works not just on the face but on the body as well. (But I guess for DIY purposes, trying to massage your own back doesn’t really work.)
Gua sha comes with its own distinctly shaped tool, which is flat with somewhat sharp edges. I’m a little wary of practicing gua sha at home because a common result of all that scraping with the tool is bruising. Compared to massage with your hands or the smooth barrel of a roller, gua sha involves a lot more pressure and vigor, hence the bruising. I’d rather leave it to the experts who know what form the treatment is supposed to take, rather than risk damaging my skin.
V-line contouring tool
One type of tool I would like to try now that I’ve discovered the pleasures and benefits of face massage is the V-shape facial contouring tool that used to be really popular in Korea a few years ago. They were a major feature in a lot of K-dramas in the last decade. Chances are that if you turned on your telly or laptop to catch an episode (or binge a whole series — I’m not judging), you saw an actress using a 6-barreled contraption to massage her face one-handed. That strange-looking tool is designed to slim the jawline in addition to possessing all the other benefits of a facial massage tool. I’ll be adding to cart the next time I spot one.
There is one tool that is completely free and is available whenever you want it. You guessed right — it’s your hands! Those bad boys are ready to ease tension and boost blood flow whenever you need them to. You can try out the oil massage portion of Fifty Shades of Snail’s grit method, or the famous Tanaka facial massage, which claims to yield skin that looks 10 years younger, after a stringent two-week course.
Caring for your face massage tools
Along with proper technique and dedication to the practice, it’s also important to clean and store your massage tools properly. Just like anything else that comes in contact with your face, be it a makeup brush or konjac sponge, cleanliness is imperative to ensure that you’re not introducing bacteria or harmful substances to your skin.
* For hands, simply wash with antibacterial soap before you touch your face, the same as you would before embarking on your daily routine.
* For metal rollers, wash the barrel with soap, rinse, and spray with 90% isopropyl alcohol. Make sure to wash and sanitize before and after using, and store in a Ziploc bag before setting it in the freezer. You can also sanitize by boiling some hot water and soaking the barrel in it for a few minutes.
* For silicone and jade rollers, soap and water is the way to go. You can also wipe it down with alcohol and rinse with water. If the rollers have metal components, it’s important to keep them dry so that they don’t rust.
Are you a big fan of face massage and rollers? I’m practically married to mine now. Even in colder temps, I pull it out on mornings when I need some help trying to look less like a fugu fish, and I can’t wait to try it out in the summer when it’s blisteringly hot.
What are your favorite face massage tools or methods? I’m always on the lookout for tips and would appreciate the knowledge.