Is “Slugging” the Secret to Glowing Skin? A Look Inside the Viral TikTok Phenomenon

CLEAR IT UP Applying a jellylike protective layer at night may help condition the skin. Fashion Editor Max Ortega.
Applying a jellylike protective layer at night may help condition the skin. Fashion Editor: Max Ortega.
Photographed by Norman Jean Roy, Vogue, May 2023. 

Is it because you’re lazy?” a friend queried, only half-jokingly, when I told her I was investigating the TikTok-propelled skin care trend known as slugging. But her comment left me wondering why a slow-​moving mollusk, often encountered in garden lanes after a rainfall, has suddenly become the spirit animal of contemporary skin care. Of course, we’ve all been through a lot: the pandemic, natural and climate change–related disasters, wars and the gradual erosion of democracy. Who hasn’t been feeling a little “sluggish” recently?

This new mode, however, involves applying an occlusive, i.e., water-resistant, layer of a petroleum-jellylike substance to the face as the final step (after cleansing and moisturizing) in your evening skin care routine and leaving it on as you sleep. Slugging’s proponents claim that going to bed looking like a glazed donut carries with it a host of benefits, including increased hydration, a replenished and protected skin barrier, and (for that rare mature follower of TikTok trends) a reduction in wrinkles. In other words, it’s meant to mimic or intensify the restorative work that a good night’s sleep has on one’s complexion.

It was a younger colleague who introduced dermatologist Rosemarie Ingleton, MD, to the term. “I gave her a quizzical look, and then I realized it was something people had been doing for a long time,” she says. Ingleton, who grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, recalls seeing her grandmother apply Vaseline to her face at night. “In her heart, she was a country woman, and she would do the cheapest thing she could to preserve her skin,” says Ingleton, who, when she moved to the US, heard of older Southern Black women doing the same thing. Particularly in winter, “if you’re sleeping in a room that has a heater going, sucking everything out of your skin at night, this will prevent that transdermal water loss,” she explains.

Slugging is not a cure-all, however. Both Ingleton and Ellen Gendler, MD, a dermatologist and associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, caution against the potentially pore-blocking effects for people with oily skin or those who are prone to acne. “It’s not something I ever tell my patients to do, unless they are at an altitude of 7,000 feet in Colorado and their faces are really chapped and dry,” Gendler says. Slugging is “almost like treating your face as if it has diaper rash,” she adds.

In fact, she speculates that slugging might have originated with infant care. (A friend’s response when I explained the trend: “I do that to my baby!”) A long-held belief instructs that smearing a baby’s skin all over with petroleum jelly would make them less susceptible to eczema later in life. (Besides creating a very slippery baby, this strategy has been disproved in a recent long-term clinical trial.) “Maybe somebody did that to their kid, and thought it would be a good idea to try it on their own face,” Gendler says.

My own baby is closer to college than the crib, but what mother can ever forget the unadulterated softness of infant skin? And so, I slugged—or rather, I tried. Though Aquaphor and CeraVe Healing Ointments—effective classics of both infant and wound care—are popular with sluggers on social media, I was looking for a product that might lie a little lighter on the skin. One night, I gamely layered my face with Futurewise’s full slugging system—a hydrating mist, a barrier-repair moisturizer, and a moisture-locking occlusive balm—and went to bed wearing a headband to keep my hair from sticking to my thickly coated cheeks. (Capitalizing on the recent trend, the brand uses a gastropod as its mascot.) But I’m naturally a side sleeper, and after a couple of hours of worrying about staining my pillowcase, I got up and washed it all off.

Another evening, I was tempted by the beautiful mauve hue and seductive rose-tinged scent of Ranavat’s Restoring Moonseed Treatment, an occlusive and nourishing product. Michelle Ranavat, the founder of the line, mentions three key Ayurvedic principles that contributed to the product’s design: dinacharya, the creation of a daily ritual; rasayana, a focus on vitality of the mind and body; and vayasthapana, the use of herbs to ward off and repair the signs of aging. “We use many of those herbs in our Moonseed Treatment,” she says, including bala and shatavari. Alas, my usual night cream contains retinol, which Ingleton had counseled might be irritating under an occlusive.

I did enjoy Loops—a Korean hydrogel “slugging mask” that boasts antioxidant, plant-based oils, including jojoba, grape seed, and evening primrose—when I finally managed to apply the slippery thing to my face one night before bed. A pleasant, cooling sensation ensued. I left it on for 10 minutes as instructed, and once removed, the residue didn’t feel overly thick. It was something I could sleep in, and come morning, I imagined a sunspot had faded from my right cheek.

Why has slugging taken off as a trend now? Does it have something to do with the fact that, at least according to The New York Times, young people in particular are having less sex than ever before? (Tastes differ, of course, but the look and feel of slugging is no aphrodisiac to me.) Do we all just want a little babying? Perhaps it’s the reset needed after all the poking and prodding that took place during the pandemic. “When we were on lockdown, people were doing everything they could to their skin,” Ingleton says. “They were creating these concoctions, and burning and irritating their skin. This is the antidote to that.” Gendler concurs, going on to emphasize the value of good old-fashioned rest. “We are self-preserving organisms, and if you stop bothering the body, it usually does a pretty good job of repairing itself,” she adds. That’s enough to send anyone back to bed, with or without a face coated in creams. 

Hair, Ilker Akyol; Makeup, Francelle Daly for Love Craft Beauty. Produced by The Canvas Agency.