What Is Slugging for Your Skin?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 13, 2022
4 min read

You can breathe a sigh of relief: Slugging has nothing to do with slugs. Phew.

Instead, slugging is a skincare technique you may have noticed trending on social media. If you’re skeptical, you’re right to be — TikTok beauty hacks are rarely dermatologist-approved. However, slugging is one skin trick that predates social media entirely, and it may actually yield impressive benefits.

Slugging is the process of applying petroleum jelly to your skin and leaving it on overnight. The technique got its name due to the way it makes your face look: slimy, like it’s covered in slug mucus… but in the long run, much more hygienic and glamorous!

When selecting a slugging product, pick one that’s pure (or almost pure) petroleum. Why? Because, although it’s derived from crude oil, petroleum undergoes a stringent refining process that makes it one of the safest products to use on your skin.

Petroleum is considered an occlusive, which means it acts as a shield that doesn’t let anything in (or out) once it is applied. Your skin won’t absorb this petroleum; the jelly just rests atop the dermis like a blanket.

Experts recommend good old-fashioned Vaseline or products like CeraVe Healing Ointment and Aquaphor, which both contain hyaluronic acid and ceramides. Don’t choose a product with too many additives, as these may irritate the sensitive skin on your face.

Once you’ve picked your petroleum, it’s time to use it!

The beauty of slugging lies in its simplicity. In order to do slugging at home, all you need is petroleum jelly and the skincare products you already own.

  • Step 1: Cleansing
    The first step of any beauty routine should be cleansing. Clean skin is receptive to products and ensures that no dirt will be trapped by slugging. Gently pat yourself dry after cleansing, ideally leaving your skin a bit damp. 
  • Step 2: Priming
    Apply your usual products in the proper order (toner, serum, eye cream, moisturizer, etc.). Note: Do not use acne medications or harsh acids in conjunction with slugging, as they’re likely to irritate your skin.
  • Step 3: Slugging
    Once you’ve completed your skincare routine, you’ll move on to the final step: slugging. A little petroleum goes a long way, so start with a pea-sized amount and use your fingers to apply a thin layer over your skin. Focus on the dryer areas of your skin, like those around the eyes.
  • Step 4: Waiting
    Give your products ample time to work their magic underneath the petroleum (preferably overnight) before cleansing your face again.

That’s it! Now comes the big question, though: Do the benefits of slugging outweigh any potential drawbacks?

Slugging promises some great perks — but it also comes with a few disadvantages. 

  • Pro: Petroleum is cheap! In a world of $80 moisturizers, it’s no small victory when you can buy the latest “miracle product” for a couple of dollars at the drug store.
  • Pro: Slugging enhances your prized products’ ability to penetrate your skin, thereby realizing their full potential and maximizing your investment.
  • Pro: Slugging can help you look younger. Petroleum helps your skin retain moisture, and moisture’s plumping effect on the skin lessens the appearance of wrinkles.
  • Pro: It’s tried and true. Unlike many skincare trends, petroleum is more than a passing fad. Dermatologists have recommended it for decades, and many proponents have seen great long-term results (just ask your grandmother!).
  • Con: Due to its occlusive nature, slugging increases the intensity of the products underneath it, which is generally the idea. However, this means that slugging can indirectly cause skin sensitivity if combined with the wrong products.
  • Con: If you adore your silk pillowcases, slugging may prove problematic. Petroleum is an oil-based product and has the potential to stain fabrics. Play it safe by placing a towel over your pillow before sleeping in slug mode. 
  • Con: Like many skincare strategies, slugging won’t work for everyone. Certain people may find that it causes breakouts or other skin issues.

Ultimately, whether slugging is right for you really comes down to your personal skin type and preferences.

Theoretically, slugging should be safe for most people with healthy skin. Petroleum is noncomedogenic, which means it shouldn’t clog your pores. However, people with the following skin conditions may find that it doesn’t work for them:

People with these skin conditions may find that slugging increases oiliness and breakouts or causes milia (tiny, pimple-like protrusions) to form.

Here are a few helpful tips before you start slugging:

  • Slugging doesn’t fly solo. Always apply the appropriate skincare products pre-petroleum — slugging will accomplish nothing without them!
  • Retinoids may be risky. If you have sensitive skin, think twice before trapping a retinoid under your slugging mask. The strong active ingredients in such products may cause irritation or breakouts.
  • It won’t soothe a sunburn. Don’t try slugging over a sunburn, as it may intensify and prolong the burning sensation (ouch!). Instead of slugging to treat your sunburn, wear sunscreen to avoid this issue entirely. 
  • Nighttime is the right time. While you can technically try slugging during the day, most deem it a nighttime activity due to the slimy face effect. On top of that, your skin does its best regenerative work overnight.

Slugging does what it’s supposed to do: It protects your skin and enables your skincare products to do their best work. Provided that your skin is well-suited to slugging, you can reasonably expect healthier, softer skin after trying this treatment.

As with all new skin treatments, though, it’s wise to run a petroleum patch test in a less visible area. If your skin responds well, you can incorporate slugging into your beauty routine once or twice per week. 

Still unsure whether slugging is right for your skin? You can always check with a dermatologist!