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July 07, 2023

Slugging can help soothe dry skin, but it's not ideal for everyone

Applying petroleum jelly to the skin overnight locks in moisture, allowing it to heal quickly, dermatologists say. People with sunburn or open wounds are advised against trying it

Wellness Skin Care
Slugging Dry Skin Towfiqu Barbhuiya/Unsplash

Slugging is a skin care technique that involves applying a thin layer of an occlusive product, like Vaseline, before going to bed, allowing the skin to moisturize overnight.

For people with sensitive skin, it can be difficult to manage blemishes, dryness and irritation at any time of year. Searching for solutions, it's easy to come across people on social media attributing their dewy, soft and clear skin to slugging. 

The skin care technique involves applying a thin layer of an occlusive product, like Vaseline, before going to bed, allowing the skin to moisturize overnight. Proponents have touted its ability to clear blemishes, smooth fine lines and soften skin within weeks.

Slugging is believed to have originated in South Korea, but the term appears to have first appeared in the U.S. on a Reddit thread in 2014, the Washington Post reported last year. It took several years before the term went viral on social media, but the practice has been recommended by dermatologists and aestheticians for years. 

"When your skin is irritated, you say, 'OK, I'm going to baby you,'" Dr. Heather Rogers, a dermatologist at Modern Dermatology in Seattle, told VeryWell Health. "'I'm going to put you in bed and give you some water and some nice moisturizer, and make you not do anything.' That's what slugging is — it's like a nap for your skin." 

Vaseline is the best-known brand of petroleum jelly, a semi-solid product made of hydrocarbons and waxing crude oil. When used on the skin, petroleum jelly forms a protective layer that protects the skin from dirt, excess oils and bacteria. It also retains moisture. 

Though petroleum jelly has been used for skin care since the 15th century, slugging primarily involves using it as the final step in an evening skin care routine. 

Slugging might be most beneficial during the cold, dry winter months, but it can be used throughout the year as a skin protectant, experts say. It should be used in conjunction with other cleansing products to ensure the layer of skin being protected overnight is free of excess oils, dirt and makeup products. Only a pea-sized amount of petroleum jelly is needed, because a thin barrier will provide all of the protection needed. 

"Petroleum jelly is a simple and very occlusive ointment," Dr. Amy Kassouf, a dermatologist with the Cleveland Clinic, said last year. "Slugging should only be done on clean skin, so start your evening routine with cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing. Cleansing is important because the skin is a living organ that has dead skin cells, oils and bacteria that need to be able to slough off. Some of the gentler but foaming cleansers are probably best if you have the type of sensitive skin that is benefitting from slugging." 

Adding a protective layer of petroleum jelly to the skin overnight keeps water from evaporating from the surface of the skin. It can help keep the skin hydrated, improve elasticity and keep the skin away from irritants, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 

For people with eczema or dry skin, slugging can provide additional protection during the night, though dermatologists warn against using it on top of topical medications for those conditions because it can increase the potency and potentially harm the skin.

"It (occlusive ointment) moisturizes or retains moisture, protects the skin barrier, and repairs dehydrated skin," Dr. Hope Mitchell, a dermatologist and founder of Mitchell Dermatology in Ohio, told Healthline in 2022. "Dermatologists have been using this beauty hack to prevent trans-epidermal water loss and lock in moisture to quickly heal dry skin for many years, and now this beauty tip has a formal name – slugging. With aging, the skin barrier loses the ability to repair itself, and one may notice decreased hydration, or saggy skin and more fine lines and wrinkles. Slugging can be a benefit in all of these cases." 

The benefits of slugging for anti-aging and smoothing wrinkles are not well studied. A 2022 paper on slugging in Clinics in Dermatology explored its rise in popularity on social media, explaining that medical providers were more likely to explain the potential drawbacks of using occlusive products while regular users were more likely to simply explain their own experiences without concern for whether slugging was right for their skin type.

Slugging is not recommended for everyone. Only people with normal-to-dry skin would benefit from slugging with any regularity. Those with sensitive skin are advised to speak with a dermatologist before beginning a new skin care routine. 

People with acne-prone skin and most people with combination skin should consult with a doctor or avoid slugging altogether, because occlusive products can clog pores, which can cause additional blemishes on the face, according to the Cleveland Clinic. People with oily skin have enough lipids in their skin, which means that adding an occlusive agent would be excessive and unnecessary.

People with sunburn are advised to use caution when slugging because thicker ointments can trap the heat and make sunburn more uncomfortable. People with infections or open wounds on the face also should avoid slugging because petroleum jelly can prevent infections from clearing up. 

"This is certainly not for anyone with acne-prone, oily skin or combination skin," Dr. David Kim, a dermatologist in California, told Good Housekeeping in 2022. "If you have oily or acne-prone skin, I wouldn't recommend this at all unless you're applying it to just the lips. I would only recommend it as pulse-therapy, meaning only for a few consecutive intermittently."

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