Is Slugging the Secret to Great Skin?

Slugging skincare has blown up overnight, going from an unheard-of trend to over 80 million views (and growing) on TikTok in January-February 2022 (USA Today). Long been used in the Black and Asian communities, slugging involves coating your face in Vaseline (or, less popularly, Aquaphor) before you go to sleep.

What Does Slugging Your Face Do?

Slugging as the last step in your skincare routine with an occlusive moisturizer like petrolatum/Vaseline locks moisture (and other ingredients) against your skin. When the lipids in your skin are depleted, the glue between your skin cells is damaged, and results in what is known as “transepidermal water loss,” or TEWL. In at least one published, peer-reviewed scientific study, treatment with Vaseline has been found to prevent this water loss from the skin (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology).

If you want to try slugging your face, it’s important to use a very thin layer of ointment  – literally a quarter size or less. The best strategy is to measure a very small amount, and then dab a tiny bit on your forehead, cheeks, nose, chin, and neck, and then use a circular motion to gently blend in.

Cosmetic-grade petroleum jelly is safe for slugging skincare.

Is Slugging Safe for the Skin? Is Petrolatum Safe for the Skin?

I remember years ago, when I was still blogging at FutureDerm (I don’t anymore), when I went against the EWG recommendation and boldly claimed cosmetic-grade petrolatum, the type used in ointments like Vaseline or Aquaphor, was safe. I also remember getting some very angry comments and emails at the time.

However, and I don’t mean this in a gloating way (or maybe a tiny bit gloating), but it turns out, I was right. In the years since I first made this statement, petrolatum has been found to be so safe that the American Academy of Dermatology recommends it for use on small babies with eczema (American Academy of Dermatology).

And even though agencies like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (TCFSC) continue to claim that “petrolatum is often not fully refined in the US,” as reputable media sources like Byrdie report, this is not true. As Byrdie states, “the U.S. has regulated and tested petrolatum since the ’60s, and it has long been recognized as a skin protectant by the FDA.”

So I wouldn’t be concerned about being exposed to harmful chemicals in petrolatum, especially if you are using cosmetic-grade petrolatum jelly, like brand-name Vaseline, in the U.S. or Canada. This is, however, one place I personally wouldn’t try to be cheap and go for saving a few pennies on a generic or unknown brand, just in case. (Some of the dollar store brands, for instance, have had contamination with other types of personal care products in the past.)

Slugging skincare is safe for dry or irritated skin.

Who Should Slug

  • People with irritated skin
  • People with dry skin

Who Should NOT Slug

  • People who have acne-prone skin.
  • People who use retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, or hydroquinone in their skincare regimens. Petrolatum can trap these ingredients up against the skin in a way they’re not designed to, which may result in increased levels of irritation.
  • People who have had COVID in the past 3-4 weeks or so. There is a suspicion that COVID may change the lipids within the skin (The Lancet) and may exacerbate acne in some. I would wait for a full round of skin cell turnover (3-4 weeks) post-COVID before trying slugging as a part of your skincare routine.
  • People who wear a mask for work (6-8+ hours a day). If you’re regularly wearing a mask for work, I would NOT try slugging. Various dermatologists and dermatological scientists recommend those wearing masks use only water-soluble moisturizers to prevent excessive oil from blocking the pores and causing acne (International Journal of Venereology).
  • People who don’t wash their pillowcases regularly, or have extra pillowcases. I personally wouldn’t use this method unless I change my pillowcase at least twice a week. Even if you use a silk pillowcase, to which less Vaseline will transfer than to an absorbable material like cotton, this can be a real mess.
Should you use Vaseline or Aquaphor for slugging skincare?

Should You Do Slugging with Aquaphor or Vaseline?

If your skin is dry, but otherwise not irritated – meaning you have no redness, irritation, or swelling/puffiness – I would say that Vaseline is fine for trying slugging.

On the other hand, if your skin is dry AND irritated – meaning you have signs of redness, irritation, and/or swelling/puffiness in areas – I would use Aquaphor instead, which also has emollients and humectants that can offer additional benefits, besides just the occlusive agent petrolatum.

Is There a Proper Concentration of Skincare for Slugging?

Not really. Using a quarter-size amount of Vaseline or Aquaphor, evenly distributed on the face and neck, should be more than enough, volume-wise. There’s no need here for measuring out concentrations of skincare, like with the oil control method with castor oil, for instance.

Slugging skincare is all the rage.

Bottom Line

Slugging is all the rage in skincare right now for softer, smoother skin overnight. And with Vaseline retailing for about $3-5 a jar and readily available, it’s hard to justify not trying it.

However, it’s not for everyone. I do NOT recommend slugging for:

  • People who have acne-prone skin.
  • People who use retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, or hydroquinone in their skincare regimens.
  • People who have had COVID in the past 3-4 weeks or so.
  • People who wear a mask for work (6-8+ hours a day).
  • People who don’t wash their pillowcases regularly, or have extra pillowcases.

However, if you have dry skin and don’t meet the warning criteria above, I (cautiously) say go for it! It can help your skin be softer and smoother overnight.

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