What Is Slugging? The Benefits and Drawbacks, According to a Dermatologist

Read this before coating your face in Vaseline.

girl with glowing skin from vaseline
(Image credit: Getty)

Slugging might be trending (the hashtag #slugging has amassed more than 268 million views on TikTok), but slathering on Vaseline before bed is a hydration technique as old as time. Layering on petrolatum has been a staple practice in the Black community for decades, has roots in K-Beauty, and has long been hailed as the skin barrier’s savior among dermatologists. Think: the best moisturizer, but supercharged. “There’s a lot of great data, since the beginning of dermatology, that petrolatum-based products are great for repairing the skin barrier, as an occlusive to prevent trans epidermal water loss, and to help the barrier repair itself,” explains Dr. Robert Finney, board-certified dermatologist from Entiére Dermatology

Even though slugging sounds like drugstore-priced, moisturizing miracle worker, we urge you to proceed with caution. We repeat: Proceed with caution. Just because everyone on social media is taking it for a test run doesn't mean you should. “It is occlusive. It can trap oils or other comedogenic ingredients in the skin and could potentially contribute to breakouts,” Dr. Hadley King, a New York City-based dermatologist adds.  

To figure out if applying petrolatum is something that could work for you, keep reading. With the help of dermatologists, we’re breaking down the do’s and don’ts that come along with slugging in skincare. 

What Is Slugging?

While it’s easy to get lost in the beauty aisle (so! many! moisturizers!), slugging is a one-product-and-done technique that locks in hydration. “Slugging is applying a layer of petrolatum or a petrolatum-based ointment to the face before bedtime,” Dr. King says. “A thick layer isn’t necessary to get the occlusive properties, but [it’s up to] your personal preference.” 

Vaseline and CeraVe Healing Ointment are probably the most popular items on the market when it comes to slugging, but Dr. King says any occlusive product can be used to achieve the same intensely moisturizing effect. (Doctor's note: "Occlusives are oils and waxes which form a layer on the skin and physically block trans epidermal water loss.")

What Are the Benefits of Slugging?

“For dry skin, particularly in a dry environment that will exacerbate trans epidermal water loss and dryness of the skin, applying an occlusive like petrolatum can be very helpful,” Dr. King explains, noting slugging seals in moisture. Dr. Finney adds that petrolatum-based products are “amazing for patients with a breakdown of the skin barrier, sensitivity of the skin, and eczema.” Studies have shown that petrolatum is extremely effective at restoring a compromised skin barrier.

What Are the Drawbacks of Slugging?

Slugging isn’t for everyone. While there are benefits to using petrolatum as skincare, anyone with acneic or acne-prone skin is going to want to steer clear of this practice as it can contribute to more clogged pores and, in turn, more pimples. Instead, reach for an oil-free moisturizer, like the Elta MD PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer

Will Slugging Cause Breakouts?

A healthy dose of skepticism is of utmost importance when taking advice from social media. While the viral videos are correct in that Vaseline is non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores or cause breakouts), it’s a little more complicated in actuality. Dr. Kings explains that because of the product’s occlusive nature, it can end up locking in ingredients from your other serums or makeup debris that can cause breakouts. 

How Frequently Should I Be Slugging?

“Starting off slow is always going to be better,” Dr. Finney warns. Even though you may be able to work up to slugging every night, it’s best to ease into the practice (think: one to three days a week) and see how your skin reacts. While you might not have active acne or acneic skin, you may still be acne-prone when it comes to certain products or ingredients. 

“If you’re not super attuned to your skin and you dive in head first, you could have a lot of breakouts, a lot of clogged pores, and a lot of congestion. Start off low and slow and make sure that your skin’s going to tolerate it,” he advises. 

What Skincare Products Should I Avoid When Slugging?

Slugging can amplify hydration, yes. So, bring on all the hyaluronic acid and peptide serums. But the reverse holds true, too. Dr. King explains that because petrolatum will seal in everything underneath, it can increase the potential irritation that comes along with prescription topical medications (think: Aczone, Tretinoin, Clindamycin—the list goes on) or potent topical corticosteroids. Being on these treatments doesn’t mean slugging is a hard no, but proceed with caution and consult with your dermatologist. 

The Best Products for Slugging

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, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, Delish.com, 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.