Spoiler alert: the popular TikTok skincare trend isn’t for everyone.
If obscure beauty trends regularly wind up in your Google search history, “slugging” is probably one of them. The tried-and-true K-Beauty practice—now a viral topic of discussion on platforms like Reddit and TikTok—has exploded in popularity recently—and for good reason. Fans of the popular skincare hack claim that the treatment has helped them achieve the softest, smoothest, and dewiest looking skin of their lives, and all with a single overnight treatment.
As is the case with almost any social media-driven beauty trend, though, there’s more to the story here than just flawless skin. As such, we tapped four leading skincare experts to break down everything you need to know about slugging, including what it is, how it works, and whether or not the “slug life” is right for your skin type. (Spoiler alert: it’s not for everyone.)
What Is Slugging?
While there are facials out there that consist of actual slugs sliding across your face, that is not the case with this latest trend. Instead, slugging involves coating your skin in a heavy emollient (aka moisturizer), such as petrolatum or allantoin, to create a slug-like effect—hence the name. The idea is that by coating your skin in one of these rich, ointment-like formulas—Vaseline and Aquaphor are the two most popular products—as part of the last step in your nighttime skincare routine, you lock in moisture, as well as the other products you applied, so they can better work their magic.
What Are the Benefits of Slugging?
Short-term benefits: Slugging’s key benefit is that it gives the skin an immediate boost of hydration. But as Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, explains, the benefits go far beyond that.
“In terms of an effective skincare practice, slugging is a good adjunct technique to help deliver skincare ingredients into the skin, maintain water content, and achieve a plump, firm skin surface,” he says. “It’s essentially a supercharged method of hydrating overly dry skin that has started to show signs of aging, including things like fine lines and wrinkles.”
Long-term benefits: According to Dr. Rachel Maiman, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical, slugging is also able to provide some pretty impressive long-term benefits, specifically for those with severely dry, sensitive, or reactive skin. “The idea behind slugging is that it’s a means of repairing a compromised skin barrier—that is, one that has an imbalance of the normal ratio of proteins and lipids (fats) that make up the outermost layer of the skin.”
As Dr. Maiman explains, when the number of lipids in the skin barrier is depleted—whether that be from environmental stressors, genetics, inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, or the overaggressive application of irritating ingredients like retinol—this results in excessive transepidermal water loss, which can lead to things like skin chronic dryness and irritation.
“Applying an emollient like petrolatum prevents this excessive transepidermal water loss, which allows the skin barrier to repair itself naturally,” she adds.
Can it actually fix a damaged skin barrier? As it turns out, not everyone is as convinced of slugging’s long-term barrier repair claims. According to sought-after skincare expert and celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, while slugging “can temporarily relieve the symptoms of a damaged barrier, it won’t fix the underlying issue. Vaseline is essentially a band-aid to help you deal with the symptoms of a damaged barrier instead of addressing the underlying issue. That said, it is a safe way to keep damaged skin protected from water loss and irritation temporarily.”
Is Slugging Safe?
Like drinking wine or eating chocolate, slugging is a practice that’s best done in moderation. As Rouleau explains, “Slugging can lead to comedogenicity—how likely a product is to clog your pores and cause bumps—if continued over a period of time. If you’re using a product with a very high concentration of petrolatum all over your face every day, the chances of it leading to clogged pores (bumps) are high.”
Dr. Maiman agrees, adding, “Though inherently non-comedogenic, applying petrolatum and other occlusive emollients to the skin does risk trapping beneath it dirt, oil, and other impurities sitting on the skin surface, which can trigger breakouts. As such, I do recommend acne-prone patients stay away from slugging and reserve it for patients with non-acne-prone skin that is normal to dry, affected by conditions like eczema, or in need of recovery from irritation from external factors like harsh products and in-office treatments.”
Is Petrolatum Safe to Use on Your Skin?
While it may get a bad rap online these days, the experts we spoke to all agreed that the ingredient is, in fact, safe to use. “Petrolatum has been inappropriately mislabeled online as a toxic ingredient by those who follow the ‘clean beauty’ trend,” explains Dr. Maiman. “The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says that ‘petrolatum is often not fully refined in the US.’ However, this is entirely untrue. The US has regulated petrolatum since the 1960s, and it’s been well-recognized by the FDA as a skin protectant since the 1980s. It’s entirely harmless to apply to the skin and is an incredibly safe and non-toxic ingredient. So much so, that the American Academy of Dermatology recommends its use in the management of infants with eczema.”
Who Shouldn’t Try Slugging?
While heavy emollients like petrolatum are considered safe and non-comedogenic, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the slug life is for everyone.
People with allergies: “If someone tends to be allergic, I would not recommend applying Vaseline to the skin as it could cause an allergic reaction,” warns world-renowned and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman.
People with oily, acne-prone skin: The New York-based dermatologist also advises that those with blackheads, oily, or acne-prone skin refrain from applying Vaseline as it may worsen their breakouts.” That’s because, as Dr. Hartman explains, “slugging can trap dead skin cells and encourage bacterial overgrowth,” which can be a recipe for disaster for those who are already dealing with acne—particularly those fighting inflammatory or cystic varieties.
However, if you absolutely must try slugging for yourself, despite your skin’s blemish-prone ways, Rouleau recommends refraining from exfoliating your skin before applying your slugging product of choice. “Since exfoliants (facial scrubs, sonic cleansing brushes, and acids) all work to remove surface dryness, this could ‘open’ up the pores more, allowing for an increased chance of a blockage,” she explains. “You could find yourself with bumps on the skin as soon as the next day.”
What Are Some Other Alternatives to Slugging?
If the thought of slathering your face in globs of Vaseline or Aquaphor isn’t appealing to you, but you still want to achieve the many benefits that come with slugging (i.e., softer, smoother, more hydrated skin), there are some alternatives to consider.
Humectants: “I would recommend, first and foremost, using a non-comedogenic moisturizer morning and evening, which contains one or several ingredients classified as ‘humectants’,” says. Dr. Maiman. “Humectants help skin retain moisture by attracting water molecules from lower cell layers like a magnet, which make them especially useful in managing dry, dehydrated, and irritated skin in need of barrier repair. They also encourage the shedding of dead skin cells by breaking down the proteins that hold the cells together.”
“The most commonly incorporated natural humectant to look for in a moisturizer is hyaluronic acid,” continues Dr. Maiman. “Aloe vera is another one, although it’s less common. Other hydrating ingredients to look out for that are not classified as humectants include ceramides, plant oils, squalane, soy, colloidal oatmeal, and B vitamins. Using a moisturizer containing humectants and other hydrating ingredients both morning and evening (ensuring the morning formulation contains an SPF of at least 30 if you’re not applying a separate sunscreen) is the best first start to improving skin hydration.”
Ceramides and essential fatty acids: Rouleau also recommends turning to other proven skincare ingredients, such as ceramides and essential fatty acids, as they can actually help strengthen and repair the skin barrier. “You can find these ingredients in my Phytolipid Comfort Creme and Pure Radiance Creme Masque,” she tells us. “You can also apply plant oils rich in fatty acids and omegas. When used twice daily, you’ll notice less skin roughness and that the skin feels more comfortable—both of which are signs of barrier repair. You can find those ingredients in my Pro Remedy Oil.”
Dr. Hartman is also a big fan of SkinCeuticals’s derm-favorite Triple Lipid Restore. “It has a blend of free fatty acids but is not as occlusive as petrolatum,” he tells us. Meanwhile, for an even more low-key and inexpensive treatment, Dr. Jaliman recommends simply spraying your face with water before applying a product that contains moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides. The water makes it easier for your other skincare products to penetrate, which helps enhance their moisturizing benefits.
Face oils: But what about face oils? Aren’t they basically the same thing? “The short answer is yes; the concept is similar,” explains Dr. Maiman. “Like petrolatum, facial oils do not introduce moisture to the skin, but rather help seal in already-existing moisture by preventing transepidermal water loss. That said, the amount of transepidermal water loss that is prevented is, in part, inherent to the type of oil.”
Not sure which facial oil to use? Dr. Maiman suggests considering your skin type. “Those with normal to oily skin should choose grapeseed, jojoba, argan, squalane, or marula oil, as these do not easily clog pores. Meanwhile, safflower, sunflower, almond, and rosehip oils are more preferred for dry, mature skin. In general, I do not recommend using facial oil to my acne-prone patients, as they can risk exacerbating breakouts.”
The Final Verdict
As you can tell, there’s a lot to understand about slugging before you dive face-first into a jar of Vaseline. While the act of applying a heavy emollient has been deemed a safe and effective way of locking moisture into the skin to give it a plump, dewy appearance, that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. Those with oily or acne-prone skin should likely think twice before attempting to slug, but those with dry, sensitive, and eczema-prone skin types might find slugging to be a useful solution for combatting dullness, dryness, uneven skin texture, and irritation. Just make sure that slugging is the last step in your nightly skincare routine and that you practice it in moderation to help prevent unwanted buildup in your pores. Otherwise, happy slugging!