What is slugging?

Over the years, we have covered a few K-beauty trends. The recent one making the rounds is slugging. For a while, it was/is a favourite of Reddit forums, but now slugging is gaining traction after going viral on TikTok. Plenty of skincare trends from Pinterest and TikTok make us wince. These would include using apple cider vinegar, baking soda, or lemon juice on the skin. Just don’t do that. Another one is using high percentage acid peels and dermarolling at the same time. Again, just don’t do that.

What is slugging? How does it work, and does it benefit the skin? Is slugging suitable for all skin types?

What is slugging?

Slugging is a moisturising method. It means covering your face with a layer of a petrolatum-based product as the last step in your routine.

How does slugging work?

Petrolatum is occlusive and locks in the moisture. It helps prevent moisture loss and restores the moisture barrier. The lipid or moisture barrier is the uppermost layer of the Stratum Corneum. It consists out of layers of dead skin cells (corneocytes) and lipids.

Lipids are divided into sebaceous (squalane, triglycerides, and wax esters) and epidermal (cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids) lipids. When we don’t have enough lipids, our moisture barrier is compromised. And it leads to Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL). By applying a layer of petrolatum, we prevent moisture loss and help the skin repair itself.

Does slugging work for all skin types?

As with everything skincare YMMV (Your Mileage Might Vary). If you have dry skin with stubborn flaky patches and your moisture barrier is disrupted, slugging is worth investigating. But even then, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

  • Instead of using Vaseline, try healing ointments like Cerave Healing Ointment or Aquaphor. These include ceramides, urea, niacinamide, glycerin, and panthenol, which help repair the moisture barrier and lock in the moisture.
  • Even if you have dry, flaky skin, daily slugging isn’t a good idea. Why? Because it can have a counter-effect. While we want to avoid Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL), a certain amount of it gives your skin a signal to produce lipids and, by doing that, to repair the moisture barrier. If you coat your face in a heavy occlusive daily, you get extra moisture retention. That way, you are also impairing your moisture barrier, and it won’t function as it should.
  • If you have oily or blemish-prone skin, when it comes to slugging, proceed with caution. Petrolatum is non-comedogenic. However, it is still occlusive and does its job well. If you coat your face with a layer of it, it will trap all the oils your skin produces naturally together with bacteria and dead skin cells. This can lead to more breakouts.

A word on petrolatum

No matter what you might read on the Internet, petrolatum is a safe ingredient. The EU only banned unrefined petrolatum, which isn’t used in skincare products anyway. All of the products we mentioned (like Cerave Healing Ointment, Aquaphor, etc.) are available in Europe and contain refined petrolatum. As such, they are perfectly safe.

To sum it up:

  • if you have dry, flaky skin and your moisture barrier is impaired, by all means, try slugging.
  • do not slug on a nightly basis as, over time, it can have a counter effect on the skin and lead to an impaired barrier. Likewise, you don’t need to cover your whole face. Focus on flaky and extra dry patches of skin.
  • use products that combine other ingredients that fortify the barrier like ceramides, glycerin, panthenol, urea, etc.
  • if you have oily, combination, or blemish-prone skin, you might want to avoid slugging altogether. If you are determined to give it a go, patch test first. Or only use the product on flaky patches of skin instead of your whole face.

Have you tried slugging? Is it something you practice regularly? Are you happy with the results?

Roberta Striga