The practice of “slugging” involves spreading a layer of an occlusive (typically a petroleum jelly like Vaseline, or a healing ointment like the popular ones made by Aquaphor or CeraVe) over the entire face while sleeping at night. It has a close cousin in the beauty routines of the mid-1900s, when women wore thick cold creams on their skin overnight to prevent wrinkles.
Why try slugging? The benefits are twofold: Not only does it “hold in” all the moisture from the products you apply underneath, it also prevents dry air from further dehydrating skin.
“If you have severely dry skin that struggles to maintain hydration, slugging could be a great option to help prevent water loss, keeping skin moist and nourished,” said Geeta Yadav, a board-certified dermatologist in Toronto. “It’s also great for those who have intentionally caused skin damage through in-office aesthetic treatments like peels and laser resurfacing treatments, or those who have unintentionally injured their skin with severe sunburn or through overexfoliation with an OTC or prescription retinoid,” Yadav said.
But not everyone is as big a proponent of slugging as the numerous positive TikToks might make you assume. Writer Jessica DeFino, who asks her readers to Please Stop Slugging, even points out that petroleum jelly—which is what Vaseline and similar occlusives are made of — is a purified petrochemical, a fossil fuel and therefore a contributor to climate change. And just the idea of smearing Vaseline over your face might have you imagining the breakouts that will appear soon after. Plus, we’re all probably using too many products anyway, so is there any real benefit to adding another one?
Will slugging make you break out?
First, some good news: petrolatum is noncomedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores and cause breakouts. But there’s a caveat. Depending on your skin type, it may still contribute to acne.
“Even though it’s not comedogenic, as an occlusive, it can trap oils or other comedogenic ingredients in the skin and could potentially contribute to breakouts,” said Hadley King, board-certified dermatologist in New York City and a clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine.
This means that slugging is best for those with normal to dry skin types, or those experiencing irritation and eczema. King advises that those with combination or acne-prone skin skip it, but others may find it beneficial.
“For dry skin, particularly in a dry environment that will exacerbate transepidermal water loss and dryness of the skin, applying an occlusive like petrolatum can be very helpful,” King said.
Yadav likes to think of slugging as a “factory reset” for skin, giving skin the opportunity to heal itself. “Think about how you help heal a wound on your skin, like a cut: You slather it in a product like Neosporin (which not only contains healing antibiotics, but petrolatum), then cover it to keep it protected. Slugging works similarly — keeping the skin moist, then protecting that moisture with an occlusive formula,” Yadav said.
What’s the best product to use for slugging?
While petroleum jelly alone is most often used, it might not actually be the best option. “For slugging, the emphasis is on the occlusive, but ideally this still should be combined with humectants and emollients for optimal moisturizing results,” King said. Like what, then?
“Occlusives are oils and waxes, which form an inert layer on the skin and physically block transepidermal water loss,” King said. This includes petroleum, but also other substances like beeswax, mineral oil, silicones, lanolin and zinc oxide. Humectants include hyaluronic acid and glycerin, and emollients include cholesterol, squalene, fatty acids, fatty alcohols and ceramides.
Yadav recommends using a product like SkinCeuticals Hydra Balm Moisturizing Ointment. “In addition to containing petrolatum, it has rose hip oil and squalane for added moisture. I use it on my patients to help them heal after more intensive procedures, like deeper chemical peels and laser skin resurfacing,” Yadav said.
If you’d prefer to avoid fossil fuel byproducts entirely but still want to try slugging, oils and thicker night creams are good alternatives to petrolatum, and can be used the same way.
Here’s how to do it (and how not to do it)
Whatever you choose to use, make sure you start with clean skin. Then, follow up a thin layer of hydrating moisturizer before sealing it in with your chosen occlusive. “Some suggest cleansing and going straight to the petrolatum-based product, but I disagree — if your skin is very dry, the occlusive will seal in that dryness,” Yadav said.
Be cautious if you’re using any topical prescription medications, since using an occlusive on top of them could increase their potency. Other strong ingredients, like AHAs, vitamin C and retinoids should be skipped, too. “By sealing in ingredients that can irritate the skin, you’re increasing the likelihood of sensitizing your complexion and diminishing the moisture barrier,” Yadav said.
Slugging might not be the best choice for every skin type, but for those with dry, irritated skin that needs some TLC, it can seal in hydration and help skin heal.