Skin-care trends tend to fall into two camps: Space-age, cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, or time-honored, traditional practices handed down through the generations. For the past couple of years, facial rollers (typically made from jade or an imitation jade-like stone) have been wheeling down either side of that divide, and picking up fans along the way. On the high-tech end, microneedling has made news for its laser-esque youth boosting effects, while low-tech beauty fiends have fallen hard for jade rollers. We've given you a primer on microneedling before, and since we'd never want to be accused of favoritism (we love you too, natural beauty) we thought it was about time we gave the old (really old) school a closer look.
Jade facial rollers have been around for centuries; there's evidence of them as far back as seventh-century China, where the stone was believed to have healing and protective properties. Like most beauty strategies that stand the test of time, the art is in a jade roller's simplicity. The mechanism is downright basic: It features an oblong stone of pure jade, usually an inch to an inch and a half long, that's attached to a handle with a metal frame, like a paint roller. Many versions are dual-ended, featuring a smaller stone on the opposite end for use on smaller areas, like around the eyes. Some versions also feature a textured surface, which increases the massage factor. And yes, the massage factor is key.
In exactly the same way that a deep tissue session can leave your body feeling relaxed and refreshed, facial massage helps give your overworked facial muscles a little love (seriously, think about how often you put your jaw to work; by the way, friendly reminder to unclench your jaw) which can, in turn, help loosen up those spots where wrinkles are born.
Jade rolling basics
"Our facial muscles store a lot of tension," says Ling Chan, an esthetician and the owner of the facial-specializing Ling Skincare spa. She was also one of the early forces behind the jade roller's recent renaissance. "This tension can cause wrinkles and fine lines, especially around our forehead and eyes. Using a jade roller often can help to release tension in these spots." Gentle pressure and motion also promotes circulation, which plumps and firms skin and is a major contributor to that clean-living, eight-hours-of-sleep glow we're all striving for.
According to Chan, using a jade roller as a follow-up to skin-care products helps the ingredients soak in better so they can, in turn, do their jobs better. "Any sort of occlusion, including with a surface like a roller, can increase absorption of a product," agrees Dr. Annie Chiu, a dermatologist based in New York City. This means that anything that you can do to trap skin-care ingredients against your skin until they're fully absorbed (and not evaporated or, say, rubbed off on your pillowcase) will help boost the effectiveness of them.
Throw in jade's naturally cool touch for on-the-spot depuffing — as well as its reputation among crystal healers for warding off stress, anxiety and other general Mondayness — and it's not hard to see why jade rollers have developed a following with everyone from your dream-catcher-loving aunt, to your sister who swears by her chemical-free beauty regimen, to your Instagram-obsessed roommate who keeps snapping photos of them against her Tumblr pink bathrobe.
"I came across the gadget in a Qing dynasty museum. Emperors used it as one of their ancient beauty secrets," says Chan. She started testing the devices on herself and was so enamored with the results ("I swear by it to make my skin more alive,") that she quickly integrated the tiny stone rollers into traditionally inspired treatments that have since graced the faces of the likes of Madonna, Behati Prinsloo and Naomi Campbell.
The key to getting the most out of jade rolling, according to Chan, is to use the right tool. Keep an eye out for rollers that specifically note they're made from natural stone: "Many of the cheaper versions on the market are actually made from glass and infused with dye to match the color of the jade stone," she warns. (The $90 version she sells is the real deal.) Another giveaway of inferior quality is a roller that makes noise when you use it, and, of course, a too-good-to-be-true price point. Remember, high quality stone takes effort to craft, so if you buy a roller that costs less than you'd pay for a salad bowl, well, you're likely getting what you pay for.
As for use, Chan suggests incorporating a jade roller into your nightly routine. "Once you've applied your hydrator, serum, cream or moisturizing mask, you can massage all over the face for three to five minutes with the jade roller," she says. You can also store your roller in the fridge or freezer for an extra chilly pop of puff-fighting, but even a room temperature tool will be pleasantly cool, warming slightly as you work. And obviously you don't want to roller your eyes (ouch) but if you opt for a version with a mini roller on one end, drawing the smaller roller across your undereye area first thing in the morning can help to take down overnight swelling.
Here's what happened when I tried it for myself
Before I started working on this story, I was aware of jade rollers in the casual way that anybody who follows beauty trends inevitably has become. My mother and aunt both have them stashed in their freezers (my aunt is so obsessed, she brought hers along on a recent vacation), but I've always been somewhat skeptical of their effectiveness.
Still, I'm nothing if not a diligent beauty tester. Following Chan's instructions — "Always apply the jade roller in an upward motion!" — I've been diligently roller-ing my face for a few minutes every night (I went with the ultra-pretty Herbivore Botanicals version, but you can find additional options below). Starting in the middle of my face and rolling up to the hairline, I applied pressure on the upward roll and then released it on the way down. The rhythm very quickly becomes meditative, the kind of relaxing pre-bed ritual that sleep experts are always saying you should get into before you turn in for the night. I tried it at room temperature, refrigerated and after a chill in the freezer and I can't say that there was any obvious difference in the results between them, so go with whichever temperature feels like your happy place. (Although I can recommend holding the frozen mini roller against a cystic acne bump to help calm redness and swelling if you happen to develop one like I did recently — curse you, post-20s zits!)
How has my skeptic-fueled foray into facial rolling been? Am I a convert? Is it all a bunch of hooey? (Your grandma's slang says hi) Behold the fruits of my jade-tinted labors:
The first image features yours truly, before any jade roller experiments; the second came immediately after my first attempt; and the third is me after a full week of regular jade roller use. The difference is... nominal. But, despite the lack of obvious skin changes, I really can't hate on my jade roller experience. I found the ritual of it to be pleasant, and there has maybe been a small change in the overall tension of my facial muscles (anything that combats my tendency to grind my teeth is bound to get my dentist's seal of approval).
I've taken to rolling the small side under my eyes first thing in the morning regularly, which is much faster than any of the mask options I've tried over the years in getting rid of eye bags; worth it all on its own for me. There's also a certain old-school decadence that keeps drawing me in, like I should be sitting at a giant vanity as I roll the sleek, elegant stone over my face, possibly while being fed peeled grapes and fanned with a palm frond.
I'm still not a hard-core jade roller devotee, but I also don't plan on hanging up my roller any time soon. If you're looking for an easy, spa-like element to add to your beauty routine that might make your products work better, I say give these beauties a shot. If nothing else, you'll get some great Instagram #content out of it.
Click through the gallery below to shop our favorite jade rollers:
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