Slugging is the skincare trend the beauty world currently can’t get enough of. On TikTok alone, the hashtag “slugging” has over 150 million views, populated by creators with shiny, Vaseline-slathered faces who laud the practice for its ability to yield bouncy, dewy and soft skin.
So what exactly is slugging, how does it work and is right for you? We tapped three skincare experts to find out everything you need to know before you reach for the Vaseline.
First things first, no actual slugs are involved in this process. Rather, the term “slugging” refers to the slime-like texture left on the skin when it’s covered an occlusive moisturizer, like petroleum jelly.
While “slugging” is currently trending on social media, the practice itself is far from new. “In dermatology, we've used this technique for many years, even though we never coined the term ‘slugging,’” says Monica Li, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Dermatology and Skin Science. She adds that it's often recommended to patients who have severe eczema, or suffer from extreme dryness on their face and hands.
Renée Beach, a Toronto-based dermatologist and founder of DermAtelier on Avenue, notes that the practice of coating the skin with occlusives, and specifically Vaseline, has been common in Afro-Caribbean communities for decades. “Slugging is certainly not new in our community,” she says. “It's a staple product that is generally applied to reduce the appearance of ashiness.”
Charlotte Palermino, a content creator who helped popularize the technique and the founder of skincare brand Dieux Skin, says a major part of slugging's appeal is that fact that it’s inexpensive and accessible. It helps other skincare products—like serums, essences and moisturizers—work better, so you also get the most bang for your buck.
“[By] you're enhancing the hydrating effects of moisturizers or serums that you’re using underneath,” says Li. As a result, the skin is more hydrated, which can make it look plumper and help reduce the appearance of fine lines. “There’s more support to fill in some of those lines and crevices, to make the skin appear more hydrated,” says Li, likening slugging to a “supercharged hydrating facial mask.”
Slugging also strengthens the skin's moisture barrier, the top layer that helps keep moisture in and all the bad stuff out. “When the moisture barrier is supported, it’s able to better defend against environmental irritants and allergens,” says Li.
Another benefit? The use of occlusive products create a seal that can help to heal minor wounds and burns, adds Palermino. “Say you went a little too far with a chemical peel, or your skin feels sensitive, or it's just cold out, [slugging] will create a protective barrier,” she says.
After washing and moisturizing your face as usual, Li recommends applying pea-sized dabs of Vaseline (or an other occlusive of your choice) on the forehead, cheeks and chin, and spreading it all over the face.
Slugging is more effective—and manageable—when done before bed as opposed to during the day, notes Li. “Leave it on overnight and then wash it off with a gentle cleanser in the morning,” she suggests. It’s a good idea to tie up your hair and sleep on an old pillowcase or towel since occlusive products tend to be greasy.
To avoid contaminating the jelly, Beach likes using products that come in a squeezable tube instead of a jar.
Also worth noting—petroleum is derived from crude oil, so some may prefer occlusive options formulated without the ingredient for environmental reasons.
That said, petroleum (which is sometimes called petrolatum) is completely safe to use thanks to the way it is processed, explains Li. “To ensure that a skincare product contains refined, standard-meeting petrolatum, look for the label ‘USP white petroleum jelly’—which Vaseline and Aquaphor contain.”
Petroleum jelly is safe for sensitive skin (remember, it's often used on babies) and non-comedogenic. But because it forms a physical seal at the skin’s surface, it increases the potency of the underlying products. To avoid irritating the skin, Li recommends using a non-fragrant, gentle moisturizer underneath the occlusive. Palermino adds that it’s best to avoid using potent active ingredients, like retinol, before slugging.
When applied to delicate areas, like under the eyes, slugging could cause milia, which are small, painless white bumps that appear when keratin gets trapped beneath the skin’s surface, says Beach. “[Milia] occur more commonly when people are using a heavy product around the eyelid or the eye area,” she explains. “So they're less than ideal sites to carry something as occlusive as petrolatum on a nightly basis.” For that reason, she doesn’t recommend using the technique on the entire face, focusing instead on treating particularly dry spots.
Slugging is best for dry skin types and suitable for sensitive skin, but it’s generally not advised for people with oily skin or acne as the barrier it creates can trap bacteria and cause breakouts, says Li. If you have acne-prone skin but want to give slugging a try, Palermino recommends doing a patch test first to see how your skin reacts.
As with most skincare routines, the ideal frequency depends on your skin type and the environment you’re in. In the winter months, when skin tends to be drier, some skin types can slug every night, while others may only be able to tolerate slugging a few nights a week without breaking out.
In the summer, you might not need to slug at all. “Generally speaking, when the weather is more humid, people just don't need to have those extra hydrating effects,” explains Li.
When it comes to slugging, “there’s no one size fits all,” she adds. If you’re unsure about giving the trend a try, she recommends consulting a physician or dermatologist first to see if it's right for you.
Indeed! Slugging can be used on any part of your body that’s prone to dryness, like the lips, hands, elbows, knees and ankles. All areas that are frequently exposed to the elements and do not produce a lot of natural oils—what Beach calls “vulnerable sites”—can benefit from the protective layer. For body parts where the skin is thicker, Li says to be more generous with the occlusive. On the hands, for instance, she recommended using a healthy pea-sized dab on both the palm and back of the hand.
When slugging drier areas such as hands, she recommends using occlusive products like Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream or La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume to seal in a non-occlusive product underneath. Pro tip: if your hands are really dry and cracked, put on cotton gloves after slugging to further lock the ointment in and ensure a mess-free sleep.
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