Bag Balm Started as a Farm Remedy. It's Now a Viral Solution for Glowing Skin

This product's humble beginnings as a cow udder moisturizer haven't stopped its takeover on TikTok. But does it work?

bag balm review
(Image credit: Future)

I’ll be honest: Some interesting substances have made their way onto my face in my time as a beauty editor. I tried Whole Foods yogurt instead of an exfoliator per a recommendation from celebrity facialist Ivan Pol—surprisingly rebalancing, if I do say so. I’ve had my blood massaged into my face during what’s known as a "vampire facial." Once upon a time, I even slathered myself in snail mucin in pursuit of glass skin. Perhaps my most bizarre beauty experiment, however, came to pass this week, when I soaked my skin in Bag Balm, a moisturizer originally developed to soothe dry cow udders.

Call me crazy. It’s fine. I get it. But hear the TikTok girls out before you judge. They’re rather convincing—and entirely responsible for the product's viral resurgence.

Bag Balm is touted as a do-it-all salve that can cure chapped lips, dry cuticles, and rough patches, as well extend the life of your perfume, repair your makeup, and serve as a slugging alternative. On TikTok, the $11, nostalgic-looking green jar is increasingly being described as a “far superior” alternative to Vaseline or the “older hotter sister” to Aquaphor. That's resulted in Bag Balm's social following skyrocketing. Alix Earle's viral TikTok about the balm received nearly 500,000 likes, while the hashtag "bag balm" has generated well over one thousand posts on the platform (and counting).


♬ original sound - Sarina

The buzz seems credible. "I've been using bag balm for years," raves a 62-year-old TikToker, whose skin appears hydrated, even, and plump.

"It's a really nice nourishing solution. I'm obsessed," TikToker Madison Taylor says in another viral video. These completely organic, this-isn’t-an-ad endorsements have prompted viewers in the thousands to "run to TJ Maxx" or order the jar on Amazon.

But TikTok trends, no matter how convincing, can be misguided. Case in point: The BeautyTok belief that a raw potato taped to your chin can cure cystic acne or that chia seeds are a substitute for Botox. I asked myself: Can an item developed for livestock, the barnyard, and the rough leathery skin of a 1,100-pound cattle really help my skin?

To find out, I tapped Karan Lal, DO, MS and board-certified dermatologist for insight into Bag Balm's supposedly transformative formula. I also put the product to the test along with the Marie Claire beauty team.

What Is Bag Balm, Anyway?

Bag Balm and its no-frills packaging have pretty rural roots. Rewind to 1889, and the formula was whipped up on a farm in Vermont as a “tonic and conditioner” for dairy cows’ chapped udders. There wasn't much sexy about it—it was a farming staple. It wasn’t until the 1960s that people started using it as human skincare.


♬ Bam Bam Full Beat - Nata HG

Bag Balm's formula itself is simple. It has five ingredients: Petrolatum, Lanolin, Paraffin, Water, and 8-Hydroxyquinoline Sulfate, and it's free of common skin-irritants like fragrance, alcohol, parabens, phthalates, and dyes. Described as a “skin moisturizer that works wonders on dry skin,” the company promotes the product as a multi-purpose healer suitable for under-eyes, heels, tattoos, hands, and generally chafed skin.

Can Bag Balm Be Used for Slugging?

A handful of videos currently circulating online push Bag Balm as slugging agent. For the uninitiated, slugging is “applying a layer of petrolatum or a petrolatum-based ointment to the face before bedtime,” Hadley King, MD, FAAD and board-certified dermatologist, previously told Marie Claire. The technique is thought to seal in moisture and can be particularly beneficial for dry skin types.


Bag balm is life 💚🤌

♬ original sound - Natalie Nicosia

While Bag Balm technically fits the bill (petrolatum is the first ingredient on the INCI list), Dr. Lal warns that it’s not the best product for the job, namely because Bag Balm includes lanolin, a wax secreted by wool-baring animals. “I would never use this on my face,” he says. Lanolin, he explains, is not only a common allergen but also incredibly comedogenic. “It will clog your pores. It’s similar to Aquaphor, which has lanolin in it, too.”

While you don’t need to slug to have healthy, balanced skin, Vaseline is the preferred medium if you choose to do so—it’s lanolin free.

Editors' Honest Bag Balm Review

By the time Bag Balm landed at Marie Claire's offices, the team was convinced it could replace our moisturizers, cuticle oils, and lotions. TikTok can be very persuasive (and we do appreciate an unsexy beauty product).

Bag Balm certainly held its own once we put it to the test—it's great for cracked skin and fragrance priming. But proceed with caution before putting it on your face. Our honest thoughts, ahead.

Samantha Holender, Beauty Editor

"Candidly, the smell of Bag Balm is a clear indicator that it was intended to be used for animals. It’s a little—how do I put this nicely—rustic. The natural fragrance turned me off, but I persisted in the name of beauty testing.

"I’m personally a big fan of slugging; my skin is on the drier side and New York City AC units aren’t friendly. I used an incredibly small amount of product and spread it on some dry patches around my mouth. It was deeply hydrating (I’ll give it that), but as Dr. Lal predicted, I woke up the next morning with some small pimples and clogged pores."

girls holding bag balm review

Beauty Editor Samantha Holender likes to use Bag Balm as a cuticle hydrator and fragrance primer.

(Image credit: Marie Claire Editors)

"While I don’t plan on slugging with the occlusive balm anymore, I did find some worthwhile alternative purposes. I happened to love using it as an eye cream: Bag Balm was non-irritating and genuinely plumped up the dehydrated area overnight. It worked wonders on my typically rough cuticles, too. It’s been 24 hours, and the skin around my nails is still soft.

"Perhaps my favorite use for the Bag Balm was as a perfume primer. I rubbed a little dot on the inside of my wrists before spraying my favorite custom-blended scent. Normally, the light perfume fades fast, only lasting around five hours. But with a little boost from Bag Balm, I swear I got a solid 24 hours out of my fragrance. That in and of itself is reason enough for me to keep this green jar by my side indefinitely."

Gabrielle Ulubay, Beauty Writer

"When my mom bought me this unassuming container of Bag Balm, I didn't realize that the tiny green container would become one of my beauty staples. It's a true skincare hero, with a hydrating formula that works beautifully on all my driest spots. I use it on my upper lip after waxing: In the immediate aftermath, it breaks down the leftover wax on my skin and soothes redness and irritation. Then over the few days post-wax, the thick formula eradicates any patches rendered flaky by the harshness of hair removal."

girls holding bag balm review

Beauty Writer Gabrielle Ulubay uses Bag Balm to soothe her upper lip after waxing.

(Image credit: Marie Claire Editors)

"I also use my Bag Balm in the spaces between my fingers, which are prone to dryness as a result of the multiple rings I wear. The rings chafe against the skin at the base of my fingers and make regular lotion application slightly challenging. Bag Balm always comes to my rescue with its thick formula that moisturizes, heals cracked skin, and lasts for hours."

Shop Bag Balm

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar,,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.