The term “slugging” is a skincare technique that has taken the internet by storm in the past year. From subreddits to TikTok, slugging skincare is a hot topic. While some people are swearing by the beautiful dewy skin slugging promises, dermatologists aren’t so sure.
Slugging involves slathering on a petroleum jelly product at the very end of your skincare routine. The goal is to avoid transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and lock in moisture. While this might be beneficial for your skin barrier, surely there are other ways to accomplish this without glistening like a sticky slug, right?
In the name of beautiful, healthy skin, people are slathering on a layer of petroleum over their nighttime skin routine and then climbing into bed for the night. But is slugging skincare acne friendly, and are there alternatives to the slug life?
Keep scrolling to find out.
Slugging skincare uses the power of occlusives which are ingredients that form a protective barrier over the surface of the skin.
In slugging, petroleum jelly is often used, which is a mineral oil that is non-comedogenic and effective at creating a protective layer.
This petroleum layer, smoothed on after your regular skincare routine, leaves you looking slippery -- like, well, a slug.
This sealing layer stops water from evaporating from the skin. Trapping this water, (and thus stopping TEWL) is said to be a great way of repairing the skin barrier, rehydrating dry skin, and leaving faces feeling dewy and soft.
Ideally, there are humectants beneath the occlusive (otherwise you’re not really trapping anything but your own facial oil.)
In the morning when you wash off the petroleum, you’re left with skin that is said to be more hydrated and softer than before.
A similar mineral oil ingredient can be found in popular La Mer products.
Occlusives are nothing new to skincare. Squalane, shea butter, castor oil, beeswax, and silicones are all examples of popular occlusive ingredients that are likely already found in your intensive night creams or lip balms.
However, smoothing on the strongest and most protective occlusive is what makes a “slug” a “slug.” Petroleum or bust.
Slugging skincare is pretty intense. Is it really worth the hype?
Anecdotally, people are saying slugging “transformed” their skin and they’re never looking back. But slugging skincare certainly isn’t for everyone.
Dermatologist Dr. Emma Wedgeworth says, this technique is really only useful (or called for) if you have a damaged skin barrier, or have an eczema flare-up, for instance.
If your skin barrier is functioning properly, you really don’t need a protective occlusive barrier every night.
However, if your skin is cracked, dry, chapped, or irritated, slugging might be helpful in the short term.
But slugging every night is not recommended. Your skin needs some level of water loss in order for your skin barrier to function properly.
It’s important to note that slugging may worsen acne and rosacea.
Although petroleum jelly is non-comedogenic, the consensus among experts seems to be, no, slugging is not for the acne prone or for those with oily or combination skin.
The danger of slugging while acne-prone or oily is that the protective “slug” layer can trap dead skin cells, sebum, and acne-causing bacteria -- creating a great environment for a breakout to wreak havoc.
These two do not play well together. Don’t mix in the slug life when using a retinoid. Slugging while using retinoids could increase irritation.
If you want to use a petroleum-based product to soothe irritation caused by a retinoid, that is fair game. But it’s not a good idea to do both at the same time.
Here at Strut Health we love talking about the importance of moisturization and skin barrier health. (Honestly, we’re obsessed.)
But we have to beg the question: aren’t there better methods of hydrating and improving the skin barrier than slugging?
If you want to hydrate your skin and bolster the health of your skin barrier function, there are certainly alternatives.
Alternatively, focus on using humectants like hyaluronic acid and hydrating products rich in ceramides, then “sealing” that in with a skin-barrier-loving emollient like jojoba oil or rosehip oil.
These alternatives can help nourish your skin, and boost your skin barrier function while still providing your skin some much-needed breathing room.
If you have extremely dry, cracked, and irritated skin, this slugging skincare method might be really helpful for you in the short term to regain moisture.
If your skin barrier is otherwise healthy, or you have combination or oily skin, it’s recommended to steer clear of slugging skincare.
At Strut Health we treat common skin conditions like rosacea, acne, and melasma with prescription skincare. Beyond bespoke prescription care, we recommended focusing more on gentle skincare, antioxidants, and nourishing emollients and humectants.
Want to try our skin barrier-loving formulas? Simply complete a questionnaire-based online doctor's consultation to see if our treatments are right for you.
If our doctors find this is a good fit for you, we’ll ship your prescription skincare to your doorstep.