SLUGGING: Is the viral TikTok trend good for your skin?
Is slugging, the TikTok megatrend that’s been viewed over 200 million times, good for your skin? The standard method using Vaseline is certainly effective for keeping skin comfortable and moisturised, but it comes with some cautions and limitations.
Did you know that there are even more effective ways of slugging than using Vaseline? These give your skin even more benefits and can be used to help skin that is oily and acne prone.
And what are the do’s and don’ts of slugging? Here’s what you need to know.
What is slugging?
Slugging, according to TikTokers, is the excessive application of a last occlusive (blocking) barrier layer over your other skincare layers.
This acts as an ‘impenetrable’ barrier to block moisture escaping from the skin and prevent anything penetrating the skin from the outside. It supposedly helps skincare ingredients penetrate more effectively, as well as leaving skin plump, glowing and moisturised, with wrinkles looking softer.
Is slugging a new thing?
Despite the name, slugging has nothing to do with another recently much-hyped skincare ingredient, snail mucin. Rather, the name refers to the sliminess on your skin after you’ve slathered on the goop.
While this is a K-beauty trend that hopped on to TikTok, only the name is new. The habit of applying a thick cream at bedtime has been with us since our grans went to bed wearing curlers and Nivea or cold cream.
What do you use for slugging?
The slugging addicts’ product of choice is usually petroleum jelly (mostly Vaseline) or products that contain petroleum jelly. Since petroleum was discovered in the late 1800s, workers found that the black goop had a soothing effect on cuts and irritations. This led to the development of refined, skin-grade petroleum jelly (petrolatum), which has been used since as an inexpensive, safe and effective skincare treatment, including for baby bottoms.
What is slugging trying to achieve?
The ultimate goal of slugging is prevention of trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL or dehydration), and barrier repair.
Your skin’s hydrolipidic barrier is the ‘force field’ on its surface, which keeps water in your skin and keeps any external threats, such as bacteria and pollution, out. The balance between keratinocytes (skin cells) and lipids (fatty molecules) is crucial for your barrier. And - even more importantly - the balance between the different skin lipids themselves is essential for a healthy, intact barrier.
The crux of the matter
Nêô Sephiri founder and chief scientist Dr. Bernard van Vuuren explains, ‘A “lipid” is just the scientific word for a natural oil or fat. Your body and your skin have lots of them, naturally. They play an absolutely critical role in healthy skin barrier function.’
Vaseline, the primary product used in slugging on TikTok, does not contain lipids. It is petrolatum or petroleum jelly. ‘This is made from crude oil and contains highly refined hydrocarbons,’ Bernard continues. ‘These hydrocarbons are inert and safe for use in skincare, and they have similar hydrophobic properties (they dislike water) to lipids, and so they also prevent water loss from the skin (TEWL). But that’s where the similarities with lipids end. Hydrocarbons cannot provide the skin with the biological function that lipids can.’
Some natural plant oils are rich in different lipids that benefit the skin enormously.
‘It’s difficult to overstate the importance of lipids in skin health. They’re present in every single cell, and they play active roles in antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immunological pathways in the skin barrier,’ Bernard stresses.
In a nutshell, slugging with Vaseline or similar occlusives will prevent TEWL, while using the correct plant oils to slug will prevent TEWL and repair the skin’s protective barrier.
"Slugging with Vaseline or similar occlusives will prevent TEWL, while using the correct plant oils to slug will prevent TEWL and repair the skin’s protective barrier."
Protect your skin barrier
Ensuring your skin’s barrier is not compromised in the first place is an easier and more effective alternative than slugging. This involves:
- Treating it gently by not stripping the barrier with harsh ingredients such as soaps and aggressive cleansers, toners and exfoliators.
- If you’re using active ingredients that have a strong exfoliating or skin cell turnover action, such as AHA or BHA and retinol, make sure you replace the lipids with a good emollient product with barrier-strengthening ingredients – like a good, natural oil.
- Avoiding excessive sun exposure or other external stressors will also help your skin barrier to remain intact. And, of course, diet and lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol intake (and lack of water intake) can also affect skin health. It’s an organ that needs to be fed, watered and looked after, after all.
Does slugging work?
Yes, slugging is very effective for boosting moisture retention in the skin. But by swapping petrolatum for a plant oil with the right composition, you will see much greater benefits.
What’s best for me to slug with?
It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
Slugging with Vaseline
If you simply have dry skin and only want to improve the moisture-retention and plumpness, you can slug with petrolatum. It works well for:
- Dry, ageing skin. As our skin ages, our oestrogen levels drop, and our skin produces less oil.
- Soothing and rehydrating skin after laser treatments or peels.
- This treatment is recommended in cooler months to prevent and soothe winter-dry skin.
- It’s a good repair treatment if you’ve suffered windburn doing outdoor sports.
- Cracked skin on heels, etc.
Slugging with plant oils
Slugging with certain plant oils (specifically those that are rich in linoleic acid) gives your skin numerous benefits. ‘Slugging with natural oils that contain lipids that are native to your skin – specifically linoleic oil – will simultaneously improve the barrier function and health of your skin,’ Bernard explains.
Maximise this action by choosing a product or ingredient that has added benefits besides strengthening the skin barrier. Kalahari melon seed oil, for instance, is 70 % Linoleic Acid, which is deemed an essential fatty acid. ‘This is one of the most – if not the most – important lipids for healthy skin barrier function,’ Bernard continues. It is also very rich in antioxidant vitamin E, which has multiple additional benefits for skin health.
Which oils contain linoleic acid and are recommended to use for slugging?
Besides Kalahari melon seed oil, safflower, sea buckthorn, rosehip, raspberry or hemp seed oils are also ideal for slugging.
Important note: By contrast, many other well-known plant oils such as argan oil, sweet almond oil, and marula oil are high in oleic acid, and are therefore not recommended for slugging, as too much oleic acid disrupts the skin barrier and can cause dermatitis (skin irritation) if applied excessively.
Slugging with linoleic-rich plant oils is hugely beneficial for these skin conditions, which are related to compromised barrier function:
- Dehydrated or parched skin.
- Eczema, breakouts, combination type skin.
- Prevention of premature skin ageing.
A healthy barrier not only prevents dehydration, itching, inflammation (redness) as well as infection. It helps to prevent wrinkles, dullness, hyperpigmentation and many other signs of premature ageing. In other words, this is something everyone needs.
Caution for acne-prone skin: Slugging with Vaseline is not suitable for problem skin as the occlusive effect traps oil and skin cells and can cause clogged pores and breakouts. However, there are quite a few studies that suggest acne is due to a shortage of linoleic acid in the skin. So, slugging with linoleic-rich plant oils is actually very good for skin that’s acne-prone or excessively oily.
Slugging as a spot treatment
- If you have combination skin, only do the slugging on dry areas.
- Use it on dry and chapped lips.
- Use it on patches where eczema flares up to soothe dryness and itching.
CAUTION! Need to know
- Slugging should not be used if you’ve applied active treatments such as retinoids (vitamin A), AHA fruit acids or BHA (salicylic acids), or benzoyl peroxide. The occlusive effect will make these ingredients even more active and cause dryness and irritation.
- The goopy or oily product is thick, sticky and messy, and can leave skin feeling uncomfortable and suffocated initially. It also plays havoc with your pillowcases!
How do you slug?
This is not an overnight skin fix. You need to do it consistently for at least a month to see good results.
Do this as part of your night-time beauty routine:
- First cleanse and exfoliate (if necessary)
- Apply a serum with humectants (which draws moisture into the skin), emollients (moisturiser) and barrier repair ingredients, such as Nêô Sephiri Pure Kalahari Melon Facial Oil.
- Lastly, apply your chosen slugging product. You can use only a relatively generous amount of oil (5-10 drops or two pumps). Although we wouldn’t recommend going quite as far as they do on TikTok examples, as you will look like a glazed doughnut, and you risk blocking your pores.
- In the morning, cleanse your skin well and apply your daily serum, moisturiser and sunscreen.