Think about the last time you scrolled through your Instagram Feed or TikTok For You page. Chances are that you came across at least one person rocking some seriously slick skin while winding down their nighttime routine. While the thought of going to sleep with such a greasy complexion might feel cringe, skincare aficionados swear that slugging (the lovely term for the trend) is the secret to gorgeously glowing skin.
Slugging is the practice of topping off your nighttime skin-care routine with an occlusive layer of Vaseline (or a similar product) to lock in all the hydration and glow-boosting goodness of your full regimen. The question is, do professional estheticians and dermatologists agree?
"Slugging is my favorite skincare trend name ever and refers to the concept of applying a thick layer of Vaseline to the skin and leaving it on as a mask, usually overnight,” says Stanford University resident dermatologist James Kilgour, MD. “While it was popularized by K-beauty, and has become an internet sensation, the concept is not new. Dermatologists have been recommending it for many years for certain situations, particularly for people with dry skin conditions.”
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Specifically, Kilgour says that he recommends slugging (albeit by a different name) for people with atopic dermatitis. “I frequently recommend ‘the moisturize sandwich’ of putting on an emollient cream containing ceramides and other skin beneficial ingredients, followed by a thick layer of Vaseline or Aquaphor to ‘seal’ the hydration in,” he reveals.
Slugging isn’t solely beneficial for hydration, though. Olivia Makinson, director of product at Futurewise — a brand entirely dedicated to the practice of slugging — says that “it also allows for better absorption of other skincare you have underneath and creates a protected environment that encourages the skin to repair itself. All of this helps achieve plump, juicy, healthy skin.”
Origins of Slugging in Skincare
As mentioned, slugging isn’t some newfangled technique. It’s just a relatively new term for a tried-and-true skincare hack that originated in South Korea. “While slugging has exploded on TikTok and other social media more recently, the practice has been around for generations as a household staple across various cultural communities and is a go-to recommendation from dermatologists for healing and restoring skin,” Makinson says.
Benefits and Downsides of Slugging
According to Dermstore’s resident esthetician, Lindsay Holdorf, slugging is primarily beneficial for moisture retention and skin hydration. “The occlusive nature of petroleum jelly forms a barrier on the skin's surface, helping to lock in moisture from previous skincare steps and preventing water loss overnight,” she explains. “In the morning, you will wake up with softer and more supple skin.”
In addition to preventing transepidermal water loss, Kilgour says that slugging is particularly beneficial because it’s a practice that all skin types can enjoy. “Vaseline and Aquaphor are the common barrier ointments used for slugging,” he says. “They are composed mainly of petrolatum, which is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, thick hydrophobic ointment derived from crude oil. It is inert, and so even the most sensitive skin can tolerate it without issue, and reports of contact dermatitis (a skin allergy) to petrolatum are exceedingly rare, with only a handful of isolated case reports.”
Unlike some other trendy skincare hacks, slugging is a universal practice to consider, no matter your skin type.
While every skin type can benefit from slugging, overdoing it can lead to some not-so-stellar results depending on your skin profile. "Slugging is not something I would recommend you do every day unless you have a dry-skin condition,” Kilgour says. “For most people, particularly on the sebaceous gland-rich areas of the central face, it will lead to breakouts due to the occlusive properties of these ointments.” Additionally, he points out that as much as he personally loves Aquaphor for the added soothing ingredients it has, it’s also formulated with lanolin, which he says is “particularly comedogenic.”
Beyond the potentially pore-clogging characteristics of slugging products, Makinson reminds us that slugging is designed to seal in whatever’s on the skin. This means that, in addition to skincare products, slugging can trap dirt and bacteria if it’s present. “The only downsides of slugging come in if the practice isn’t done properly,” Makinson points out. “It’s important to always start with clean skin; slugging traps moisture, but it can also trap in dirt and impurities if the skin is not thoroughly cleansed, which can lead to breakouts.”
Additionally, Makinson says to be mindful of the products you slug over top of. “Slugging also increases the potency of any products underneath it, so you want to steer clear of any potentially irritating ingredients while slugging,” she points out.
Since the occlusive products might not be tolerable day in and day out, Holdorf recommends leaning into the trend while monitoring how your skin reacts. Start with once or twice a week and go from there to avoid potentially overwhelming your pores.
Choosing the Right Slugging Products
Slugging is all about occlusion, so you want to look for products that work to seal moisture in. “When it comes to slugging, occlusives are going to do the heavy lifting — think waxes and oils that create a physical barrier on the skin — so you should always look for those first,” Makinson says.
While some slugging products are formulated with hydrating elements, Holdorf says that they’re primarily designed to lock in other hydrating skincare products underneath. “Pair slugging with hydrating ingredients, as slugging itself doesn't add moisture but rather retains the applied moisturizing products,” she explains. “It is recommended to avoid using active ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), or retinoids when slugging at night. The trapped actives may intensify their intended concentration, resulting in unpredictable effects on the skin.”
Need some recs? Shop the six slugging products below, all of which are highly rated and/or recommended by dermatologists.
Alternatives to Slugging
Slugging is beloved for its instant overnight results. If your skin doesn’t tolerate the thick occlusive ointments or if you just don’t like the feeling of going to sleep with greasy skin, Holdorf says to stock your nighttime skincare routine with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and humectants. “They are effective ingredients for moisture retention without relying on heavy occlusive layers,” she says. “Tailoring your skincare routine to your specific skin type and experimenting with different products can help achieve similar benefits to slugging."
While these ingredients are undoubtedly hydrating, Kilgour admits that even the thickest emollient cream isn’t going to be as occlusive as slugging. Still, he says that “a thicker cream can still provide essential hydration to the skin when needed."
Slugging is a nighttime skincare ritual that should be performed a few times per week. For best results, layer your occlusive product of choice over other hydrating skincare products for optimal hydration. “A really comprehensive hydrating regimen will include glycerin, ceramides, hyaluronic acids (of different molecular weights), lipids, fatty acids, and hydrating non-fragrant oils and butters such as shea butter,” Kilgour says.
As always, analyze how your complexion reacts to slugging before making it a regular part of your regimen.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should you slug for best results?
It varies by skin type. Makinson says to start slugging one to two times per week and build (or subtract) from there. “If your skin is on the drier side, you may love it as a daily ritual,” she says. “Another thing to keep in mind is that skin changes with the seasons, so your slugging routine can change over the year (it’s a savior when it’s cold or dry outside).”
Which skin type is slugging best for?
Since slugging is specifically designed to maximize hydrating and prevent transepidermal water loss, Kilgour says that it’s best for dry skin, especially when the skin barrier is impaired through conditions like atopic dermatitis. “The barrier created by the ointment can replace the function that has been lost by the skin, keeping hydration within the skin while preventing allergens and irritants from the environment from entering in,” he explains. While slugging is most beneficial for dry skin, Makinson reminds us that it’s a skincare technique that’s tolerated by all skin types.
What are the best ingredients to use for slugging?
Slugging is the use of petrolatum as an occlusive. As such, you’ll want to scour your skincare products for petrolatum and mineral oil. Makinson says that plant-based waxes and oils, like hydrogenated vegetable oil, also have occlusive benefits for slugging.
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