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Are There Real Benefits to ‘Slugging’?

As a general rule, I try not to be too influenced by TikTok. But there’s one TikTok trend that’s now become a nightly habit: “slugging.”

No, it doesn’t involve real slugs. It’s a skincare practice, that’s become wildly popular on the internet and captured by the term: #sluglife. Let’s break it down.

What is slugging?

“Slugging” is the practice of covering your entire face in a layer of occlusive moisturizer — often a petroleum jelly-based product like Vaseline — as the last step of your nighttime skincare routine. It’s been dubbed “slugging” because the layer of jelly looks like something a slug would leave behind.

Your skincare routine might include cleanser, serum, toner, an exfoliant and/or a moisturizing cream. (Slugging’s not recommended with products like retinoids because it can intensify the chance of irritation.) You sleep that way, and then wash it off in the morning. 

Occlusive moisturizers create a protective seal over the skin, locking water in. When you apply one over serums and creams, your skin gets a mega dose of hydration. Many, like myself, only recently discovered slugging, but it’s actually been around much longer. 

In the 1800s, a chemist became fascinated with a waxy byproduct of drilling that oil workers at a plant in Pennsylvania were using to heal their wounds. After some experimentation, he extracted petroleum jelly, or Vaseline. It quickly skyrocketed to popularity; by 1875 Americans were buying it at the rate of one jar per minute. Since, people have been using the inexpensive product to help heal burns or to keep skin from cracking in the winter. 

Are there real benefits to slugging?

I’ve been slugging nightly for some time now, and I swear it makes my skin look brighter, smoother, and more moisturized. And I’m not alone; the experts I spoke with touted the benefits for their patients. 

“I love using a nighttime occlusive moisturizer for all my patients,” says Dr. Aaron Secrest, a Utah-based dermatologist. “My wife, my teen daughters, all of my staff and many of my patients, are firm believers in slugging.”

Let’s take a look at the benefits. 

  • It locks in hydration. Due to their oil-based nature, occlusives create a protective barrier that prevents moisture from escaping your skin. Research shows that occlusives not only block transepidermal water loss (moisture escaping from your skin, which can occur when you sleep in a room with dry air), but also enhance the skin’s water-holding capacity. As Dr. Nadir Qazi, a California-based cosmetic dermatologist describes it, slugging “provides a blanket of protection to your skin as you sleep.”
  • It gives your other products a boost. By locking in hydration and preventing products from rubbing off your face at night onto your pillow, slugging allows your serums and moisturizers to penetrate your skin more deeply. 
  • It defends your skin. While it locks in the good stuff, slugging can also keep common irritants away from your skin. The protective barrier keeps allergens, friction and other elements, at bay.   
  • It’s cheap. If you’ve even dipped a toe into the world of skincare, you know that it can get expensive fast. That’s part of what makes slugging so appealing —  a good-sized tub of Vaseline rings up to just a few bucks. “Vaseline is super cheap, and I feel it works as well as or better than far more expensive moisturizers,” says Secrest. 

The practice isn’t for everyone

While slugging works well for patients with dry or combination skin, those with oily or acne-prone complexions should think twice before jumping on the trend. Slugging can cause irritation in oily skin, and Qazi says occlusives can keep acne-causing bacteria trapped, leading to more severe breakouts. 

How to live your best #sluglife

Note these tips. 

  • Do your normal nighttime skin routine. Cleanse your face as usual, using whatever other products you normally do. (Just don’t slug after using harsh products like retinoids or acids because it could increase your risk of irritation.)
  • Apply a thin layer. “You don’t need a lot of petroleum jelly to be effective,” says Qazi. 
  • Give it time. Don’t apply the occlusive right before you hop into bed. Qazi recommends putting it on at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep, so it has time to absorb into your skin rather than rubbing off on your pillowcase. 
  • Bask in its magic. You’ll look much less shiny when you wake up, because your skin should’ve absorbed most of the petroleum.  

Secrest recommends Vaseline, because it contains only petroleum jelly and is the most affordable. But many other occlusives will do the trick (I’ve been using Aquaphor, because that’s what we had around).

It’s good to have qualms about jumping on any trend, but there’s compelling evidence that slugging could have benefits for many people. And if all it takes is an inexpensive jar of Vaseline to get glowing, wrinkle-free skin, then I, for one, will keep living the #sluglife for a long time — likely far longer than anyone uses that hashtag on TikTok. 

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