What the heck is 'slugging' and why is everyone so obsessed with it?

The trendy skin care technique explained

BEAUTYcrew Junior Beauty Writer / September 30 2020

When it comes to strange beauty trends, we’ve seen our fair share of odd offerings. But none has left us more confused (albeit, intrigued) than the slimy skin care method referred to as ‘slugging’. Yes ick, slugging, that’s correct. As you may have guessed by the name, the trend entails coating one’s face in a thick swathe of product, specifically petrolatum or petroleum jelly, emulating the slick, slimy trails left behind by your average garden slug.

What is the point of all this you may ask? We had the same question and so we enlisted the help of a professional – skin scientist Dr. Michelle Squire – to unpack  the baffling trend and the benefits of using good ol’ fashioned petroleum jelly or Vaseline in your skin care routine.

Firstly, what’s the difference between petrolatum and petroleum?

“Petrolatum/petroleum jelly (brand name, Vaseline),” as Dr. Squire explains have, “been around since the late 1800s, and is the most commonly used ingredient found in skin care products (after water). Petrolatum is a type of moisturiser called an ‘occlusive’ which acts to minimise evaporation of water from the skin.” 

“Even though you can find scary stories about the ‘safety’ of petrolatum on the internet, the truth is that petrolatum used for cosmetic and personal use products, although derived from petroleum, is highly refined and purified. Medical grade petrolatum has even more stringent controls.”

The benefits of petrolatum on the skin

The magic of petrolatum lies in it’s intensive moisturising properties and occlusive texture, taking it back to its ability to minimise evaporation of water from the skin..“It also has some emollient properties, meaning that it can fill the gaps between the dry outermost skin cells and stimulate the production of the skin’s own lipid-making machinery, making the skin’s surface appear smoother and feel softer,” explains Dr. Squire.

Impressively, it can also “ reduce transepidermal water loss by 99% making it THE most effective moisturiser available,” she adds..

“It can be used by those with even the most sensitive and irritated skin, including those starting out on prescription retinoids, which is where we most often recommend it.”

“It is also a very safe substance,” Dr. Squire insists. 

And what about good ‘ol Vaseline?

“Vaseline is a great moisturising option on its own – you don’t need to layer anything underneath,” insists Dr. Squire, but if you want to capitalise on the slugging trend she recommends layering a hydrating facial mist or serum underneath a substantial layer of Vaseline to seal in moisture for maximum hydration. 

The only time you shouldn’t use the ingredient according to the doctor? 

“There isn’t any evidence that Vaseline blocks pores, but it does feel greasy and cosmetically inelegant. So if you already have oily skin (which is usually acne/breakout-prone) then it’s probably best to avoid it.”

If Vaseline isn’t for you, Dr Squire. says you can still reach for moisturisers that include as little as 5 per cent of the occlusive moisturising agent in their formulas, and still receive the benefits.

“There are plenty of petrolatum-based moisturisers around without having to resort to Vaseline. But as a night cream for dry, sensitive, ageing, reactive, irritated skin – you can’t go past it!”

Sorry to our pillowcases but we’re definitely trying this for ourselves. 

Slugging isn’t the only use for Vaseline. Here are 9 surprising beauty hacks using the timeless product. 

Main image credit: @ponysmakeup

Briar was a Beauty Crew intern before she joined the crew full time in 2019 as a Beauty Assistant, and as a Junior Beauty Writer as of 2020. She is a self-professed skin care obsessive, always on the hunt for the perfect mascara, and can't go past a Fenty lipgloss.