We Tried 'Slugging' and Realized It's Not for Everyone

face slugging

Photo Illustration by Amelia Manley for Verywell Health; Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Slugging is a skin care trend that involves slathering a layer of occlusive ointment, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, over facial moisturizer.
  • If done right, slugging is an inexpensive and safe way to help irritated and dry skin to heal.
  • But for our editors, slugging won’t likely become a regular routine.

If you’ve scrolled through skin care hacks on social media in the last year, you’ve undoubtedly seen influencers who attribute their dewy, baby-soft skin to “slugging.” The hashtag has nearly 900 million views on TikTok alone.

Slugging, as the trend is called, involves cleaning and moisturizing one’s face, and slathering a layer of occlusive ointment, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, on top. The oily top layer “locks in” moisture so that it can more deeply penetrate the skin while you sleep.

It’s a great way to coax moisture and healing ingredients back into irritated or damaged skin, said Heather Rogers, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist and co-founder or Modern Dermatology in Seattle.

“When your skin is irritated, you say ‘OK, I’m going to baby you. I’m going to put you in bed and give you some water and some nice moisturizer and not make you do anything.’” Rogers told Verywell. “That’s what slugging is—it’s like a nap for your skin.”

Some of the Verywell Health editors tried it out to see if getting slimy is worth the skin gains.

Slugging Can Soften the Skin. Is It Worth the Mess?

As the name suggests, slugging can leave the face feeling sticky or slimy. Some influencers slather their face with a layer of occlusive so thick the goopiness is visible.

“The first time I tried it, I was like the girls on TikTok. The next time I did less than a pea-sized amount,” said Sara Michael, general manager of Verywell Health.

For the experiment, Michael used CeraVe’s healing ointment. She said that while she was aware of the product on her face, she didn’t notice any residue on her pillowcase, and it didn’t make her hair greasy. But the ointment made her feel slightly “claustrophobic,” she said, like her skin couldn’t breathe.

Michael, 43, said she deals with common skin problems that come with aging, like wrinkles and loss of skin moisture. She said her friends of similar ages swear by slugging. But within a couple days of her slugging journey, Michael developed a “hilariously giant zit.” It’s unclear whether the outbreak was related to slugging. It could be hormonal, she said.

Michael stayed the course anyway, “for science,” and tried to slug around her outbreak. Her dermatologist checked out the pimple and confirmed that daily slugging probably wasn’t right for her.

For Emma Brink, a senior editor at Verywell Health, the greasiness was uncomfortable. Brink, 32, said she tends to have dry skin, especially in the winter. Applying a pea-sized amount of Vaseline atop her typical moisturizer left her skin feeling “slippery.”

“I definitely didn’t want to put my face anywhere near my pillow… I probably laid on my back with my face completely away from my pillow for like 30 minutes,” Brink said. She washed her pillowcase the next morning.

Despite the off-putting greasy feeling, Brink said her face “definitely felt softer than usual” the following day.

Stephen Madamba, 33, Verywell Health’s research coordinator, said he doesn’t typically struggle with skin dryness. If anything, his skin tends on the oily side. He used Aquaphor for slugging and said his face felt a bit heavier, but the occlusive otherwise didn’t bother him.

After slugging for three days, he said the routine didn’t make a noticeable difference to his skin texture, but the Aquaphor layer “preserved” his skin care overnight.

“I think it did make a difference in the way my skin appeared in the morning,” Madamba said. “It looked better, like I had not just woken up.”

How Does Slugging Actually Work on the Skin?

The main component of Vaseline is petroleum jelly, an occlusive that can serve as a physical barrier to protect the skin from the environment and keep moisture close to the skin. In addition to petroleum jelly, mineral oil, silicones, and vegetable oils are all occlusive ingredients

The “slug” layer itself doesn’t hydrate the skin. Rogers recommends cleaning your face and misting it with water before adding a high quality moisturizer and a thin layer of occlusive product to seal in the hydrating ingredients.

While slugging is great to help skin heal, it’s a bad idea to use it to “force” your skin to deal with active ingredients, like retinoids, vitamin C serums, and chemical exfoliants, Rogers added. Doing so is like forcing someone who isn’t hungry to eat a six-course meal, she said.

Instead, stick to high quality healing products and give your skin a break from active ingredients.

“Slugging is a way to sort of baby your skin to get it back healthy so that it can tolerate your vitamin C or tolerate your glycolic acid,” Rogers said.

Should You Slug Every Day?

There is no one skin care fix for everyone—it’s all about finding what’s right for each person.

When one’s skin is balanced and healthy, slugging may not be necessary at all. On a recent ski trip, Rogers slugged her face daily to combat the cold and dry. During a normal week, she may slug only around her eyes to add moisture to the delicate skin there.

People with dry skin may benefit from frequent slugging, especially in the wintertime. But those who have oily skin or are acne prone may steer clear, as the occlusive can trap facial oil and cause breakouts.

How Can You Choose the Right Product for Slugging?

There are many different ointments that can be used for slugging, from cheap drug-store Vaseline to fancier healing balms.

Michael is a die-hard Aquaphor fan—she uses it for everything from keeping her tattoo moisturized to healing her kids’ scrapes. But in her slugging experience, CeraVe worked just as well.

Some people may feel averse to applying petroleum-based products, like Vaseline, to their face. But the ingredient is so safe that the American Academy of Dermatology recommends it for babies with eczema.

Rogers said to beware of trying too many skin care trends too quickly. Skin doesn’t change as fast as fashion trends and throwing the kitchen sink at it can cause more harm than good. 

“Our skin doesn’t like to be experimented on,” Rogers said. “These TikTok videos and viral things are fun and entertaining, but rarely are they good for our skin.”

The Final Verdict

If you have dry skin, slugging might be a good way to keep your skin moisturized, especially during the winter. But if you have acne-prone or oily skin, using an occlusive ointment on your face overnight can trap facial oil and cause breakouts.

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.