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TikTokers and Redditors swear that going to bed slimy as a slug is the secret to baby-soft, healthy skin. This skin hack, called slugging, involves slathering an occlusive product like Vaseline on your face before bed to help lock in moisture.
The result: Legend has it you’ll go to bed mucus-slicked and wake up glowing and reborn.
Dermatologists like Elaine Kung agree that slugging really does work for smooth, rejuvenated skin — and this “trend” has actually been around for ages.
“The idea of layering a thick occlusive emollient as the last step of a nighttime routine is nothing new,” Kung says. Not only have derms been recommending it for decades, but “purveyors of K-beauty have been pushing this practice in their 10-step beauty routines for years!”
Here’s how to live the slug life and add slugging to your skin care routine. 🐌
Slugging is the process of applying an occlusive emollient cream (like the ones made by Vaseline, Aquaphor, and CeraVe) to your skin, Kung explains, which “helps reduce trans-epidermal water loss.”
Basically, an occlusive keeps moisture from evaporating through your skin. So, all those serums you applied? They’re not going anywhere. Meanwhile, it keeps the elements out, so that dry air from your rickety heater can’t work its way into your skin, either.
That’s why petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) is often medically recommended to keep the skin hydrated during dry winter days, dermatologist Cheryl Rosen explains. It’s also sometimes recommended for treating conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
That being said, folks with various skin types swear by it as part of their year-round nightly routine. (But heads-up that it might not be ideal for oilier skin types — more on that below.)
And no, your fave TikToker didn’t invent it: As some point out, slugging has been a part of K-beauty, as well as many Black women’s beauty regimens, for generations.
When in doubt, slug it out? According to the pros, yes.
Research suggests that when the lipids in your skin are depleted — whether as a result of your genes, the weather, or too many acidic serums — applying petrolatum can help restore your skin.
“Because the skin’s barrier is protected overnight, people wake up with softer and glowing skin,” Kung explains. (And, full disclosure, sometimes a greasy pillowcase.)
A small 2016 study suggests that petrolatum boosts peptide regulation on the skin’s surface. Since peptides are the building blocks of proteins like collagen and elastin, this is def promising for your dermis.
Kung notes that improving and repairing the skin barrier is especially helpful for people who:
- have atopic dermatitis or any type of eczema
- have irritated, dry, or chapped skin
- live in cold or dry climates
“Slugging is very effective in retaining moisture in the skin,” Rosen says. She notes the following benefits of applying petroleum jelly:
- It’s non-irritating. Sensitive skin types, rejoice: “It does not contain any harsh chemicals or other potentially harmful ingredients.”
- It’s super hydrating. Is your skin sick of freezing temps and bone-dry heaters? “It’s effective at moisturizing dry skin, which can help to counteract the drying effects of winter weather or central heating.”
- It’s protective. “It can protect your skin from windburn and other forms of environmental damage.”
- It’s cheap. Who cares if you can’t afford Sunday Riley when you can pick up some Vaseline for a few bucks?
If your skin shines bright like a diamond (and no, not because you used a ton of Fenty highlighter), then you might want to skip out on slugging.
“Slugging is not for everyone,” Kung says. Because slugging traps oils and moisture in the skin, she explains, it can worsen underlying problems in those with the following conditions:
- oily skin
- acne-prone skin
- clogged pores
- whiteheads or blackheads
- seborrheic dermatitis
“I have had to simplify and de-slug many of my acne patients’ skin care routines because they have been layering oils and sealing them with petrolatum, shea butter, and beeswax for months to years,” Kung says.
She points out that some patients have been practicing a version of slugging without even knowing it. “Many people have been using toners, serums, or lotions with plant-derived oils and then applying a moisturizing cream [on top], thinking those other steps in their skin care routine are not moisturizing enough.”
But if your skin is already on the oily or acne-prone side, you prob don’t need to lock in all that moisture.
“Petroleum jelly is a very thick and heavy substance that can form a film on the skin’s surface and block the pores,” Rosen says. “This can lead to the development of blackheads and whiteheads, as well as an increase in the number of pimples.”
The American Academy of Dermatology agrees: Petroleum-based products can indeed cause breakouts. So if you tend to get zits, this trend prob just isn’t it for you.
OK, slugger — ready to put the products to the test? Here are a few of the most popular and effective slugging products.
- $ = under $5
- $$ = $5–$10
- $$$ = over $10
Rosen recommends good old-fashioned Vaseline, which is 100 percent pure petroleum jelly, as her top choice for slugging. She also recommends it for healing chapped lips or sun-damaged skin.
If you don’t need any additional moisturizing factors in your petrolatum, Vaseline is your best (and cheapest) bet. It does have a grease factor most of us know all too well, but for serious sluggers, looking like you dunked your face in oil is a small price to pay for results.
Not quite a lotion, not quite a cream. Whatever it is, many derms are fans of Aquaphor. The classic formula contains 41 percent petrolatum along with hydrating ingredients like mineral oil, lanolin, and glycerin.
What really puts the “aqua” in Aquaphor is its moisture content, which some people love and others can’t stand. Basically, it feels pretty wet on your skin and will stay that way until you wash it off.
Keep in mind that lanolin is derived from sheep’s wool and might not jibe well with some sensitive skin types. If you’re the type to feel itchy, scratchy, and uncomfy AF in a wool sweater, lanolin will also irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction. Plus, if you’re vegan, you’ll want to steer clear of lanolin products.
3. CeraVe Healing Ointment
Are sluggers to blame for this iconic ointment selling out all the time? Probably. CeraVe products are always all over the Amazon personal care top 10 list, and for good reason.
In addition to petrolatum, this ointment has hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which will give your skin an extra moisture boost.
Bonus: This healing ointment has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Approval.
4. Cetaphil Healing Ointment
Hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and dermatologist-recommended — what more can a slugger ask for?
In addition to lots of petrolatum, this formula packs a decent punch of shea butter. If you have super dry skin, it might be just what the derm ordered. But it might have a little too much oil for folks with oilier skin types.
This one also has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Approval.
Got the slugging bug? Here’s how to add slugging to your nighttime skin routine.
You know what to do: Wash your face and pat your skin gently with a towel to dry.
2. Optional: Tone
If you have dry skin, you might want to skip toning or astringent, which will further strip your skin. Otherwise, reach for tea tree oil, witch hazel, or a chemical exfoliator — whatever’s your go-to pick.
3. Apply serum
Serum time. Whether you’re a vitamin C stan or a peptide devotee, be sure your pick works well with your skin type and your slugging routine.
Kung says, “If you have irritable skin, don’t layer AHA, BHA, retinol products and then seal it in with petrolatum.” Basically, sensitive skin just can’t handle having all those acids locked in.
“If you have oily skin, don’t layer jojoba and moringa oil and then seal it in with shea butter,” she adds. (That’s a recipe for way too much oil.)
“But, if you have eczema, then… yes… moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!”
When in doubt, talk with a dermatologist about your options.
4. Optional: Moisturize
Some drier skin types may benefit from an extra layer of moisturizer before the petroleum seals it all up. It might take some experimentation to figure out what works best for you.
5. Get slugging!
Time to get slimy. This part’s personal — some people really slather it on, while others swear by just adding a few dots to their T-zone and rubbing in. Again, it really depends on your unique skin.
If you’re not sure, just try a few dabs here and there and see how your skin responds to it. If it’s still a little dry, add more.
When it comes to slugging, your sebum’s the limit. Basically, it all depends on your skin’s natural oil production: If your skin’s looking like an oil slick during your slugging days, you prob want to give it a rest. Ditto if you’re getting breakouts.
“My main advice is to really know your skin,” Kung says. And if you can’t seem to understand it, maybe head to a derm who can.
But if your skin is glowy and thriving, then slug on.
Slugging involves layering an occlusive product on your skin to seal in moisture. It’s usually done as the last step in a nightly skin care routine.
Those with oily or acne-prone skin may want to skip it, but those who have dry skin, live in harsh winter conditions, or have skin conditions like eczema may especially benefit from it. If you’re not sure whether it’s right for you, talk with a dermatologist.