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The Magic of Natural Facial Rejuvenation with Beth Griffing

Facial rejuvenation is trending (although it has been around for many years), and "no-tox" treatments that offer a natural option to preserving skin texture and tone are becoming more and more accessible at spas and integrative medicine clinics. This is amazing for a number of reasons of course; it encourages a re-education of what we can do to best support our skin without chemicals, and introduces us to practioners in the field that have been doing this work all along. It's a very valuable foot in the door to natural, effective, skin supporting therapies.

My foot in the door began as a bit of an IG obsession with Cecily Braden's gua sha tutorials. From there I began to incorporate gua sha and facial self massage into my skincare routine at home, and was increasingly drawn to other facial rejuvenation tools and techniques. I began wondering how I could best support my skin in a more mindful/focused/natural way with a holistic skincare expert.

I was then that I was introduced to Beth Griffing, a local acupuncturist and green beauty therapist specializing in natural facial rejuvenation techniques. Beth utilizes a combination of Thai herbal compress' (aka herbal poultice), double facial rolling, and the only patented gua sha tool out there- the Nefeli Gua Sha board. These things combined make for what I have come to call, the best facial ever.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with Beth for one of her facials, and was fortunate to learn a great deal more about these impressive (to say the least) techniques:

Can you tell me more about the story behind the development of the Thai Herb and Jade Stone facial?

This facial began with learning the neck, shoulder, and head routine for the Thai herbal poultice massage, from Cecily Braden at Beauty Secrets (a distributor for Ytsara). I found her by looking for the highest quality Thai herbal poultice available in the US. The Thai poultices made by Ytsara are held to a super pure standard both organic and ethical. The formulas of the herbs inside Ytsara’s organic poultices are created by Thai Traditional Herbalists in Bangkok, and many of the herbs are grown and dried at their organic farm in Thailand. So the product itself is great, and in order to ensure that this high quality product is used properly, Cecily requires her clients to take a class in their usage technique prior to purchasing them for clinical use. Because of Cecily’s esthetician background, she melded the traditional use of primary relaxation with her experience in lymphatic massage.

Cecily created a beautiful routine for the neck, shoulders, upper back, entire scalp and face that not only deeply relaxes the patient but also unveils a beautiful glowing face while lifting and tightening the tissues. I was wowed by the results in class, and I immediately began playing around with the steamed Thai herbal poultice facial massage in clinic. I used it on any patient who needed it for musculoskeletal complaints such as TMD, sinus pressure, neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches, eye strain, etc. Patients loved the poultice treatments, and I became so comfortable using it for medical purposes that I started to develop a closer eye for detail when using the poultice. I started to see the facelift effect when purposefully attempting to achieve that result.

I considered offering a cosmetic service using just the Thai herbal poultice work, but I felt something was missing. I preferred to use Chinese herbal facial products but was not satisfied with what I had found so far. Then I was invited by Cecily to receive Dr. Ping Zhang’s training in facial gua sha, and this was the game changer for me. Because Dr. Zhang is a 4th generation Chinese herbalist, she knows how to meld external and internal herbal treatment approaches for the best effect, as well as the absolute best methods of application of these herbs. Her facial gua sha routine layers a few wonderful things, just as the Thai poultice layers water, heat, Thai herbs, and massage. Facial gua sha layers the cooling, anti-inflammatory property of the jade gua sha stone; the acupressure-stimulating techniques for meridians of the face, neck, and shoulders; the herbal infusion technique gently driving the herbal components deep into the skin; and the precise connective tissue stimulating effect of the gua sha technique for treating deep and fine wrinkle lines. The combination of Dr. Zhang’s Nefeli pearl powder, Nefeli herbal serums, and patented facial gua sha tool creates the extra layer of detail work in the texture of the skin that was missing from the poultice massage.

Together, the poultice and facial gua sha act as hot/cold therapy, and a complementary yang and yin treatment pattern. The poultice warms everything up and gets fluids moving very easily. Then, the cold gua sha stone infuses the herbs into the skin with soothing deep movements while allowing for detailed work on lines, scars, and tone. I may alternate between the two treatments a few times, as well as using Thai massage techniques, double gemstone roller massage, and Qigong. The overall blend and treatment flow is my own, but the techniques come from Cecily and Dr. Zhang primarily.

Can you describe the difference between single and double facial rollers?

Single rollers have a cylindrical shape with a broad area of contact on the skin. The double facial rollers have two spheres which each have a much smaller point of contact on the skin. For this reason, the single rollers are effective for sweeping movements to move lymph or help serums/oils sink into the skin. Any time one creates friction on the skin, even very gently, this helps polarize the cells and increases skin permeability slightly, allowing products to pass into the skin more easily. This happens just as easily with self-massage, with rollers of the single or double variety, with gua sha and with dry brushing. But the form of the single roller makes this technique cooling, smoothing, and relaxing while accomplishing the desired effect.

And because double rollers have two parallel and smaller areas of impact on the skin, they are superior for soothing and lifting the delicate tissues around the eyes. They can be manipulated in a much more precise way, and consequently can create a super gentle smoothing and lifting effect around the eye without danger of poking the eye or dragging the skin. The double rollers have a finer response level, as you can “feel” the muscles and connective tissue more easily than the single roller, by varying pressure and angle. They can be used under the cheekbones, around the jawline, along the neck, and even on the sides of the nose, to stimulate acupressure points that “remind” the facial muscles and connective tissue to behave- to relax and then activate. So both types have their advantages, and I would recommend having both in your facial repertoire.

Where do you like to get the best quality single rollers from?

I think Jade Roller Beauty does a great job of ethically sourcing their high quality stones and differentiating between different types and weights of single rollers. All of the rollers I have seen have the exact same construction, so it generally comes down to the quality of the stone. I think theirs are Xiuyan Jade, rose quartz, and amethyst.

Your double rollers are so beautiful! How are they sourced?

The double roller style originated in South or Southeast Asia as far as I understand, but this type of tool is ancient and may have roots anywhere in Asia. The double roller style is used with angled rollers to grab a muscle between the two spheres and massage it from the sides. This is another advantage of the double roller style, which can treat the muscle between the two rollers. The double gemstone rollers available from Thai Herbal Topicals are made in Northern Thailand with sustainable teak wood. The stones used are not “jade”- they are quartz, amethyst, tigers eye, and lapis lazuli. Thailand is an ancient trade center for precious stones, and I am still working on tracking the source of these gemstones through their vendors. The company that creates them is an OTOP {One Tambon/ Village, One Product} certified vendor, which means that they are certified as an ethical local craft created to encourage economic autonomy in the countryside of Thailand. The company hires people with disabilities, and they encourage a positive work environment at their storefront in Chiang Mai.

What do you look for in an herbal compress?

Herbal compresses are another example of an ancient tool, with roots in many healing traditions including Ayurvedic and Thai Traditional Medicine. I learned about the use of herbal compress massage in the context of Thai Traditional Massage, and through this I learned about the Thai herbs inside them. The qualities I look for are: 1) Grind and quality of the herbs. Do they smell completely fresh and vibrant? Is the texture too squishy as if they are all just fine powders (which lose potency quickly), or are they chunky with little sticks poking through the fabric? Somewhere right in the middle is perfect, with a slightly rough grind like a rough coffee ground texture, but not pure powder and not poky. 2) No fillers- often even the “organic” compresses can have mineral fillers that smell weird or impact the potency/ concentration of the herbs. 3) Weave and type of cloth- sometimes the cloth itself can have irritating substances in it, or a chemical smell. If the weave is too loose, the herbs can filter through the openings. I look for a medium-tight weave, and only natural organic cotton muslin.

The compress itself combines three things I love most- water, heat, and delicious herbs. Steam perfuses the compress, allowing it to retain heat for a long time (the bigger the compress, the longer the heat retention due to surface area ratios). The moist heat creates a deeply soothing effect on muscles, connective tissues, and the nervous system. It relaxes the dermis and allows waste products to be released from the skin, in a similar fashion to how the body excretes waste products via sweat. It also stimulates circulation and infuses tissues with fresh blood via dilation of capillaries and encourages the transfer to veins for veinous return and re-oxygenation. It increases movement of fluid via the interstitium, activating the lymphatic system and encouraging a healthy immune system.

On top of all that, the Thai herbs inside the compress are slowly released across the compress cloth onto the skin which has been warmed and relaxed, encouraging transdermal movement of active herbal constituents.

In the restorative eye herbal poultice used for the Thai herb facial, the dried herbs inside include several unique to SE Asia. It soothes irritated skin and fights against acne and skin eruption, while invigorating aging skin. Thus the poultice is conditioning, softening and stimulating simultaneously. It contains a high percentage of Vitamin C which is released through the water medium. Some of the unique herbs include Thai ginger aka plai, lemongrass, java apple leaf, ivy gourd leaf, and roselle flower (hibiscus). Together they are anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, anti-bacterial, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic; they strengthen blood vessels and are slightly astringing and tightening.

After using this poultice, my skin feels almost tingly in a happy buzzy way, like it is alive and singing. I have had patients tell me that people have asked what perfume they are wearing after getting a treatment with this poultice, because the faint scent lingers and has a delicious aroma- citrus and earth with a hint of herb.

Is there a gua sha tutorial out now that covers the basics for daily maintenance that you would recommend?

Sandra Chiu at Treatment by Lanshin has created a great self care video which you can find here:

Can you take me through the order of how I should use the herbal compress at home?

When using the steamed herbal compress, it is important to consider the heat cycle of the massage tool. It starts out piping hot and slowly cools down. It needs to be moved quickly and lightly at first, then slower and with more pressure as it cools. So when it’s very hot, I like to have it wrapped in a hand cloth and just press it gently along the sternum, and under the collarbone out to the shoulders and even into the armpit. This stimulates a string of lymph nodes to activate, waking up the lymphatic system in the upper body and beginning to relax the tight connective tissue that runs from the collarbone to the jawline. It’s important to remember that relaxing the muscles and connective tissue must happen first, in order to open up the fluid matrix pathways of the interstitium that will ultimately help plump up or de-puff the target areas.

So start at the sternum and collarbone, then work along the back of the neck, just under the skull- the occipital line is where your head meets your neck. This is a key area to stimulate the glymphatic system of the head, where cerebrospinal fluid and interstitial fluid exchange to help clean the brain of waste products. Massaging the occipital line can help clear one’s head literally and figuratively. So that is second. Then work all over the scalp, any place that feels good to press, press it. The compress should be cool enough now to unwrap from the hand cloth, and then apply to the neck and face.

Begin pressing along the triangle formed by the earlobe, shoulder, and the front center base of the neck. Press just under the ear, then down along the top of the shoulder, and just above the collarbone along to the center of the neck, then back up the neck to under the ear. Find tense areas and just hold the compress over them, not pressing, just holding. Do this on both sides, then start pressing along the jawline, the cheek line, the eyebrow line, and the hairline. These are the bony landmarks used as a “latitude” if you will. The “longitude” is how close to the center of the face you are. So for lymphatic work start at the edge of the face, then start a little closer to the center, then a bit closer to the center, and then at the center line, and roll out toward the edge each time.

The rule is always to roll or rock the compress outward and upward. The work is like digging a ditch- start with where you want the water to end up leaving the area, and slowly dig inward, but always encourage the water to move back out along the path you just made. So if we want the puffy area next to the nose to get smaller, then we need to start under the ear, where the lymph drains into the neck area. Loosen that spot, then move a little toward the cheek and roll out toward the ear again. Then move under the eye and roll out again toward the ear. Then move close to the nose and roll out toward the ear again. This overlaps the rolls, and it allows the fluid to move more easily away from the puffy nose area.

This principle is then applied to every area of the face, using the bony prominences as guiding lines. It also just feels heavenly to press and roll lightly over the places where muscles connect to the bones along the jaw, cheek, and eyebrows.

Do you recommend a compress and gua sha over facial acupuncture? What would you say is the difference in results between the two?

First of all, you can’t go wrong getting either treatment. They both stimulate collagen, reduce inflammation, relax and invigorate muscles, and help correct internal imbalances via the acupressure points of the face, neck, and shoulders. They can both create lift and help with tone and texture of the face. If one is very depleted, anemic, just getting over a long illness, or unable to absorb nutrition from one's digestive tract, I would recommend acupuncture first in order to balance the organ systems and recommend a Chinese herbal treatment regimen as well. Some types of scars and cystic acne can be better addressed with acupuncture. However, as to the immediate physical effects of the two treatments, they differ in 3 main ways, in my opinion:

1. The overall experience

Cosmetic acupuncture can be very comfortable, but often it is not very relaxing to have even the tiniest of needles inserted in the face. That process can take up to 15 minutes, and the number of needles varies from around 16 to 100, depending on the style. Motor points may be stimulated, causing muscle twitching (which is totally rad, but also not super relaxing). There is also a risk of bruising (creating a subdermal hematoma) at the acupuncture points of the face, so one may have to deal with a spot of discoloration or two on the face after the treatment. This happens only rarely, but it is unpredictable.

With facial gua sha and steamed Thai herbal compress treatments however, the entire experience completely relaxes the muscles, tissues, and mind. When that happens, deeper healing can occur. The patient often falls asleep or goes into a waking dream state during the treatment, since they are not trying to predict where the next needle will go to prepare for the sensation. There is also no discoloration of the skin afterward due to needles causing subdermal hematomas. In fact, gua sha and steamed herbal compress massage can treat facial bruises and discolorations very effectively and gently.

2. Efficiency effect (connective tissues and muscles)

Acupuncture stimulates nodes of tissue that have a higher impact systemically than the tissue immediately adjacent to those acupuncture points. When done correctly, several correctly placed acupuncture needles in the face and neck can create a healthier blood flow, cellular function, and overall healing response in the face, which includes healing wrinkle lines and skin tone.

However, facial gua sha (pao sha) and steamed Thai herbal compress massage cover every tiny bit of facial tissue directly, stimulating all of the cells with gentle strokes and rolling. The acupressure work using the gua sha tool stimulates the acupuncture points in a similar way as acupuncture, and it more efficiently harmonizes the direction of the fascia/ connective tissue. It also allows the provider to feel physically the feedback about the tissue changes throughout the treatment, as the provider feels everything in detail through the gua sha tool. The more stimulating gua sha work around scar lines and deep wrinkles can feel mildly achy but it is not startling in the same way as acupuncture, allowing the face to relax more fully and create the space for more change to occur. The compress also works to completely soften the skin surface, brightening it, while the gua sha tightens and tones the skin. No masks or lights are needed in order for the full healing effect to take place, and the effect continues to increase over the next two days. The herbs from the compress and the facial serums heal the tissue by traveling transdermally, healing from the inside out as well as the outside in.

The combination of the two accomplishes more than acupuncture can in one treatment. I would love to see a side by side comparison of the treatments. If any cosmetic acupuncturist cares to challenge me to a facial-off, I would be happy to do so! In Portland, I’m not traveling, lol!

3. Fluid Movement

This is a component of the efficiency effect as well. With facial gua sha and steamed Thai herbal compress massage, the gentle movement of fluid through the interstitium (such as lymph and other extracellular fluid) is accomplished in a direct and controlled manner. With cosmetic acupuncture, this movement can be stimulated but not directed. So if there is a disorganized area of tissue which is blocking the movement of fluid through the interstitium, I have found gua sha or compress massage to be vastly more efficient and effective with improving this fluid flow. This has so many downstream effects that the health of the face will improve more quickly with multiple sessions of gua sha and compress massage of the neck, shoulders, and face compared to cosmetic acupuncture of the neck and face.

Of course, acupuncture points on the body and neck can have a systemic impact on the body’s ability to organize and move fluid through the interstitium, so I always recommend that my facial clients get acupuncture as an adjunct to the facial work we do. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas efficiently improve the internal “constitutional” health which is always reflected in the face. The face is considered to be the flower of the body, with its roots being our organ systems. We treat the root in order to allow the flower to express itself most fully, vibrantly, and clearly.

What is your favorite facial rejuvenation tool and why?

My favorite facial rejuvenation tool is the steamed Thai herbal compress. Through using this tool, I learned to work on the face in such detail and care. It is multi-dimensional, with the various ways it can be applied to the face, neck, shoulders, and chest; with the Thai herbs inside that release slowly over the course of the treatment; with the varying levels of heat intensity; and with the glorious scent component. I am always impressed by the impact of the herbs both physically and aromatherapeutically. The herbs are non-inflaming yet deeply nourishing, and every single client comments on the lovely smell. It is not a strong smell, but it is harmonized sweetly and it brings out this harmony in the face. The expression of my patient’s face at the end of the treatment is my favorite part of the whole experience, and the facial gua sha doesn’t quite accomplish the complete beautific expression that is so apparent at the end of the herbal compress component of the treatment.

I also love using it on myself- it is by far my favorite evening relaxation facial routine. And any time I am very stressed, I crave a ten minute facial massage with the compress- it changes my outlook immediately! And I don’t look so intensely intense when I’m done!

Portland, OR