We know—it sounds gross. You would think that the skincare world would agree upon a much more pleasant term for a practice that leaves your skin happy and hydrated. Don’t worry: it’s not laying slugs in your face, or is it taking advantage of “slug essence” a la snail mucin. Instead, it utilizes something that you likely already have in your cupboard—no bug trapping required.
Slugging is the act of coating your face with a generous layer of a heavy-duty occlusive (such as petroleum jelly) as a part of the final step of your nighttime skincare routine. Though it’s not a new practice—Black and Indigenous groups in particular have been doing this for centuries—social media platforms like TikTok have shone a new light on slugging.
So, why is it so popular? And more importantly, is it actually effective? Below, we dive deep into slugging and whether or not it’s worth potentially ruining your pillowcases.
Rewind: Explain Occlusives
Before we talk about the practice of slugging, let’s review what an occlusive is. An occlusive is a moisturizing agent that “[works] by forming a protective layer on the surface of your skin,” creating a formidable barrier to help prevent moisture loss.
It mimics your skins’ natural lipid barrier all the while protecting your skin from any external irritants. Some of the most common occlusives include petroleum jelly and shea butter, making them a very accessible practice for all. The beauty of these two in particular lie in the fact that they also help to soften skin through moisturizing it.
Occlusives differ from humectants, which is another category of ingredient that’s often found in moisturizing skincare products. Humectants, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, attract and bring water to your skin. Occlusives prevent water from evaporating from your skin through creating a waterproof coating, helping the humectants underneath work their magic. One fun way to remember this is that occlusives are always on offensive.
Most occlusives mainly contain lipids, and since your skin barrier needs lipids to keep your outermost layer of skin intact, occlusives are a great product to prevent that moisture loss.
What’s Slugging and What’s It Got to Do With Me?
Though the content of viral videos may not always feature effective techniques, slugging is actually one that can help those repair damaged skin.
Even though you may have thought that you put your best foot forward when it comes to maintaining your skin, it’s possible to damage it unknowingly. Overdoing it with peels and acids, drying products, or any other things that can deplete your skin of its natural balance of fats, will leave your skin looking dry. This is where slugging can help.
The premise is simple: as the final step of your skincare routine, slather on a layer of Vaseline (for example), and… that’s it! The occlusive locks in all the good stuff you’ve applied onto your skin prior to that last step—your serums, your moisturizers, etc. get to work overtime thanks to the occlusive. And, through creating a moist, protective barrier, your skin can heal. Keep in mind that when it comes to slugging, less is more. All you need is a pea-sized amount of petroleum jelly for your entire face! Any more may leave you feeling too greasy and ultimately ruin your linens.
Another method is something called “short-contact slugging,” which is a perfect alternative for those who aren’t into the stickiness of petroleum jelly. Essentially, you slug your face after removing your makeup but before your nighttime routine, whether that includes showering or simply washing your face before all the cleansers, serums, and moisturizers. The effects will be slower, but it’s a good option for those who don’t want to sleep with Vaseline on their faces.
Not All Slugging is Equal
Slugging, on the whole, is beneficial for most people. With that said, there are ways to do this incorrectly and some should avoid the practice.
For example, it’s important to use the right product for slugging. According to New York-based dermatologist and medical writer Dr. Angelo Landriscina, you want some water loss. Water loss signals your skin to “produce more intercellular lipids thereby repairing the skin barrier.” Fully blocking your skin means that your skin will revert back to whatever issue you may be struggling with once the occlusive is removed. This is why petroleum jelly is most people’s go-to.
You should also avoid slugging if you’re using certain products, like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), or retinoids. Since the occlusive will trap these products, slugging can increase their respective strengths, potentially causing damage. Following this logic, you need to ensure that your skin is very clean before slugging, as otherwise you will be trapping dirt, oil, and makeup under the occlusive.
Another thing to consider is that even though petroleum jelly is non-comedogenic (read: it does not block the pores), it might be in your best interest to avoid occlusives if you have acne-prone skin. Testing it would be worthwhile since everyone’s skin may respond differently, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind for those with acne-prone skin.
Finally, and related to the previous consideration, it’s important to think about what your skin needs. If your skin is thirsty, then slugging may make sense. But if you’re feeling pretty good about where your skin is at in its moisture and hydration levels, or if you’re prone to milia, acne, or oily skin, you might consider skipping slugging as another step in your nighttime routine. Your skin’s needs should dictate how often you slug, or whether or not you should at all.
Will you try slugging? Let us know in the comments below!