What Is Slugging?
Slugging is a skincare technique that involves slathering a petrolatum product or Vaseline after your skincare routine to prevent water loss. The term “slugging” is adopted because once the petrolatum coating is applied, your face looks shiny, slimy, slippery, and a bit dewy like a slug. The idea is to keep the skin as hydrated as possible while protecting the skin barrier. If you know anything about Korean beauty tenets, hydration and skin protection form the basis of all routines.
How Does Slugging Work? The Science Behind Slugging
As stated, slugging is all about coating your face with a petrolatum product, also known as an occlusive moisturizer. When looking up slugging, you are going to come across this term quite often. Nonetheless, an occlusive moisturizer refers to a moisturizing agent designed to seal moisture within your skin to prevent water loss. There is substantial evidence that suggests occlusive moisturizers promote wound healing after surgeries by keeping it (the wound) moist.
Coming back to facial skincare; these wound healing properties repair skin layers that have been damaged by sun exposure, pollution in the air, as well as usage of other harsh skincare products.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Dr. Dana Stern, a licensed dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai, New York City, explained that it is near impossible for the moisture that makes the skin look supple and full to be maintained when the skin barrier lacks the proper balance of fats[i]. Harsh products or overuse of certain products such as peels and scrubs can wound your skin or leave it vulnerable to corrosive agents in the environment. By maintaining a moist ecosystem, slugging can help restore the barrier.
Perhaps you may have heard about the possible harmful effects of using slugging products such as Vaseline. Well, let’s set the record straight. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends its use on small babies who suffer from eczema[ii]. Besides, the former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology, Dr. Ranella Hirsch, is on record, in an interview with Byrdie, stating that Vaseline’s main product, petrolatum, is safe to use on any skin.
This claim has been put forward by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (TCFSC), stating that “petrolatum is not fully refined in the United States”. However, we know for a fact that the federal government has regulated and tested petrolatum for decades and has also been FDA-approved since the ’80s. The study put forward by the TCFSC is neither peer-reviewed nor conclusive of the fact that petrolatum has a direct link to cancer. Scientists are on record stating that participants of the study had other lifestyles that made them predisposed to cancer[iii].
According to Dr. Angelo Landriscina, another licensed dermatologist based in New York, petrolatum helps faster the balance of keratinocytes (skin cells) and lipids both of which are essential to the health of your skin barrier[iv]. Lipids keep the skin layers intact lack of which leads to water loss. They can get destroyed through overzealous peeling and scrubbing as well as exposure to environmental pollutants.
Step by Step Guide for Slugging the Right Way
Should you be interested in trying out slugging, we have provided a step-by-step procedure below.
Step 1: Thoroughly Clean Your Facial Skin
As you now know, the point of slugging is to seal your entire skincare routine while you sleep. Therefore, it is in your best interest to first get rid of things like make-up, sunscreen, and possible dirt your face may have gathered throughout the day. Trapping all this grime within your skin overnight can lead to devastating breakouts.
Step 2: Go Big On Humectants (Moisture Retaining Agents)
It is important to note that occlusive moisturizers can only prevent water loss but cannot infuse said water into the skin. You want to get the moisture in your skin first before preventing it from seeping out. Include in your routine, agents such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin which are known to attract water molecules. Do it on damp skin.
Step 3: Apply Moisturizer
Slugging does not alter your nighttime routine in any way. It is merely an addition – the last step – to your routine. That said, perform all steps as usual and then massage your skin with your preferred slugging product.
Step 4: Application of Occlusive
Take your preferred occlusive and rub it onto your palms so that it melts with the warmth of your hands. Gently massage it into your face and give it a few minutes to set before retiring to bed.
Slugging with Acne: Is It A Fool’s Errand?
Any product with a greasy feel attracts hesitation due to the possibility of clogging pores. So, let’s take a look at the most popular slugging product, Vaseline. While the fear of clogging pores is legitimate, Vaseline’s molecules are much larger than the average pore; therefore, they can’t fit. It is thus not reasonable to claim that slugging may cause acne to someone who has naturally dry skin.
On the other hand, some experts advise against slugging for those who have acne-prone skin. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Dr. Adarsh Mudgil, MD, licensed dermatologist and founder of Mudgil Dermatology, explained that the occlusive nature of Vaseline traps skin oils in effect irritating the hair follicle. This can trigger acne. The most crucial thing to do before slugging is figuring out your skin type and whether or not you are prone to acne.
[i] Jesa Marie Calaor, Cosmopolitan (June 2016): “What Is My Skin Barrier and Why Does It Matter?” Retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/a36685356/what-is-skin-barrier/
[ii] Editorial Staff, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (Updated 2021): “HOW TO TREAT ECZEMA IN BABIES”. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/childhood/treating/treat-babies
[iii] M. Margaret Pratt, et.al., Carcinogen-DNA Interactions Section, National Cancer Institute (2011): “Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Exposure and DNA Adduct Semi-Quantitation in Archived Human Tissues”. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/8/7/2675
[iv] Kenneth R. Feingold and Peter M. Elias, Metabolism Section, Medicine Service, and Dermatology Service, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of California San Francisco (2013): “Role of lipids in the formation and maintenance of the cutaneous permeability barrier”. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24262790/