Jade Rollers, Sheet Masks, Gua Shas: It’s time to acknowledge ancient Asian beauty rituals

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By Webdesk

Image Source: Getty/Iuliia Bondar

Growing up Asian, I clearly remember one of the beauty rituals my mother enforced: slathering my hair in coconut oil. To make sure my hair was shiny and strong, the thick coconut foam sat on my head for 15 minutes before rinsing it out. I hated the ritual because the smell was smelly, but it was a home beauty remedy passed down from her mother, and it did leaves my hair with a noticeable shine. “It’s something Filipino,” she would say.

I also remember trips I would take to Chinatown with my mom, seeing ginseng roots submerged in liquid-filled jars. As a child I found them unsettling, but my mother went on about the healing and energizing effects of ginseng and bought practically all supplements containing the ingredient. In her mind it was a panacea, like Vicks Vaporub under the tubers. To this day, my mother prefers ginseng beauty products. (She has a stash of ginseng-infused sheet masks.)

I embraced these tendencies and more fully. The Asian in me has bonded with the Asian in my bottles and serums. To this day, I only buy sheet masks from Asian brands – just a painstaking curation I’ve honed over the years. I’m drawn to what I know are Asian ingredients. Rice sheet masks? I participate. Green tea products? Awesome. Ginseng? Even better.

The recent spate of heinous hate crimes targeting the AAPI community left the beauty industry with a reckoning. Consumers notice brands that are silent about anti-Asian hatred and brands that go beyond an Instagram post, duly acknowledging Asian practices and ingredients, and acknowledging the Asian contribution to beauty.

While Asian culture is most often recognized when it comes to Korean or Japanese beauty, the reality is that our culture has greatly helped influence and shape the entire beauty industry.

“Asian beauty practices are incredibly unique, intricate and passed down through the generations. I learned a lot about my beauty routine from my mother,” Cocokind founder Priscilla Tsai tells POPSUGAR. “While Asian culture is most often recognized when it comes to Korean or Japanese beauty, the reality is that our culture has helped greatly influence and shape the entire beauty industry. This comes from the ingredients we use to how we build the steps to make our daily skincare routines.”

Adds Cary Lin, the founder of sustainable beauty brand Common Heir, “Asia has clearly emerged as an innovation hub for beauty and skincare culture. Manufacturers are reinterpreting these traditional herbs and rituals and developing some of the most innovative and forward-looking formulas, textures and ingredients in the industry.”

Unfortunately, some brands go beyond “reimagining” and condone our practices and traditions. It’s not just a problem in the beauty industry, either. (Remember that mahjong debacle?) But with the AAPI community going through a rough time, it’s more important than ever to give it the credit it’s due.

“The AAPI community is not a monolith, but I think we have constantly felt underrepresented and harassed and reminded that we don’t belong here,” says Lin. “Representation counteracts xenophobia because it shows belonging. Feeling seen is an emotional experience.”

Asian practices are more than buzzy, trendy ingredients and gimmicks. They are centuries, if not millennia, of traditions passed down from generation to generation and it is time to honor their origins. Here we have compiled some of the most common beauty tools and ingredients with Asian roots.

A jade roller and a gua sha tool have a rich history in ancient Asian beauty rituals.Image Source: Getty/Olena Ruban

Jade rolls

Jade rollers, the quintessential double-sided massage tools, are ubiquitous in the beauty market today sold at every retailer from Ulta to Goop. They come in multiple colors and a variety of gemstones — rose quartz, opal, amethyst, or a two-part permutation — but jade rollers were used in the US long before their emergence. “Jade rollers have been used by Chinese women for centuries,” board-certified dermatologist and author of “Asian Beauty Secrets” Marie Jhin, MD, tells POPSUGAR. “Jade contains magnesium, iron and calcium which are essential for the body. These properties, as well as the coolness of the stone, help to flush out internal toxins and reactivate bodily rhythms.”

Gua Sha

Another ancient Chinese staple, a Gua Sha is a massage tool carved from a single stone, usually jade. “Gua Sha involves using a stone to massage the face to relieve tension and improve lymphatic drainage and improve circulation,” says Dr. Jhin. By dragging the tool across your face, it helps boost energy and reduce inflammation. In addition, draining the lymphatic system also drains toxins, which reduces puffiness.

Leaf masks

The serum-infused tissue-thin masks that usually come in individual packets have a history that goes beyond the advent of K-beauty. The first variants of a sheet mask were used by Japanese geishas. According to Elle, an 1813 manual of skin care and makeup tips for geishas titled Miyakofuzoku Kewaiden or “Capital Beauty and Style Manual”, contains descriptions of the first sheet mask. The outlet reported that it contained “instructions to moisten a piece of kimono silk with distilled floral water and place it on the face,” which is, in practice, a sheet mask. Today there are countless iterations made from materials from foil to rubber with all sorts of permutations of ingredients.


Turmeric is definitely more than a kitchen staple. More and more beauty companies are using the properties of the Ayurvedic yellow spice, which originates from South Asia. Turmeric is one of the key ingredients in Cocokind’s products, and Tsai says turmeric is one of those beauty ingredients that are “very common” that “derive directly from Asian beauty practices and play an important role in various Asian cultures.” According to Cocokind, it has been used for over six millennia for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Plus, the active ingredient curcumin is a polyphenol (which is packed with antioxidants) that helps reduce dark spots and UV damage. The ingredient can be seen in a range of beauty products from masks to vitamin C serums.

Image Source: Getty/Westend61


According to dr. Jhin, green tea is another beauty ingredient whose history spans millennia. “Although the tea was discovered by chance by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong 5,000 years ago, unfermented green tea is now a Japanese superhero,” she says. “The polyphenols in green tea neutralize free radicals and help detoxify the body and skin.”


Have you ever tried that rice water TikTok hair trend? There’s a reason why rice water got off the ground. Rice water has been used by ladies-in-waiting for their hair since the ancient Heian period.

But it was not only used as a hair product. “Rice was an abundant staple in Korea and Japan in ancient times. Women have bathed for centuries with water used to wash rice,” says Dr Jhin. “They found that their skin was smoother, more supple and blemish-free. The rice water was a gentle cleanser and easy to use.” According to Healthline, fermented rice water or rice wine helps improve sun damage on the skin. In addition, it releases collagen to keep the skin tight. Today, rice water is infused into products from toners to creams.


“Ginseng originated in Korea and Manchuria, in northern China, and was a precious and expensive elixir of life for royalty and the wealthy,” says Dr Jhin. In these ancient practices, achieving Qi, or the overall balance of the body, was the goal, and ginseng played a major role in that. “It is revered as a general tonic to restore balance to the body. It is rich in phytoestrogens called ginsenosides and is a powerful antioxidant,” she explains. Ginseng stops the production of melanin, which helps with hyperpigmentation. In the book by Dr. Jhin, “Asian Beauty Secrets,” she also mentions the anti-inflammatory properties of ginseng that help with redness and swelling. Plus, she adds that ginseng stimulates the circulation of blood vessels, boosting collagen production. More collagen means tighter skin.


The fleshy fruit is believed to have two places of origin: one is on the Pacific Ocean, in Southeast Asian countries, and the other on the Indian Ocean, in South Asia. It comes as no surprise, then, that both Southeast and South Asian cultures have passed down coconut-centric beauty rituals and home remedies for generations. Not a single part of the coconut is wasted. Coconut water is not only refreshing, it also has antioxidant properties and the electrolytes are hydrating, while coconut oil has a range of benefits from an effective hair conditioner to a breath freshener.

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