Slugging is a skincare trend that involves slathering a layer of occlusive product, usually petroleum jelly (Vaseline), over your skin as the last step in a nighttime skincare routine resulting in a shiny appearance like a slick slug.
The goal of slugging is for the occlusive layer to help to seal in moisture and active ingredients in the previous skincare steps, creating a barrier that prevents water loss from your skin while allowing it to better absorb any beneficial ingredients and protecting the skin from external irritants.
Vaseline can prevent 99 percent of water loss from our skin, so it can be very effective for keeping moisture in your skin overnight, and can be especially useful if your skin is dry or dehydrated, or if you have a damaged skin barrier. However, while we would all love to wake up with soft and nourished skin, a thick occlusive layer is not the best choice for all skin types—especially if you have acne.
A Short History of Slugging
Slugging in its current form originated in South Korea. While it gained in popularity in recent years with skin care enthusiasts around the world thanks to social media, the use of petrolatum-based ointments such as Vaseline to seal in moisture is not a new phenomenon.
In the 1400s, a Native American Senecan tribe used petroleum jelly found in oil pits in Pennsylvania to heal skin. A few centuries later, refined petroleum jelly, also known as petrolatum, was invented in 1870 by Robert Chesebrough, a chemist from New York.
Chesebrough noticed that workers in the oil fields were using a waxy residue from oil rigs to heal their cuts and burns. He eventually refined the substance and created what he called “Wonder Jelly,” or Vaseline, which became a popular ointment for a variety of uses, from healing wounds to moisturizing dry skin. Marilyn Monroe is even known to have put a layer of Vaseline on her skin before makeup for her signature luminous glow.
Slugging, or greasing up, with Vaseline has been a beauty tradition in the Black community for decades. Generations have used it on their face, body, and even scalp to moisturize and heal the skin, and it remains popular today.
Does Slugging Cause Acne?
In short, yes. Slugging can cause acne breakouts. Does slugging help acne if you have acne-prone skin? Almost certainly not.
While you may have heard that Vaseline is non-comedogenic, meaning it does not clog pores because the size of the molecules are too big, slugging can cause acne on your skin if it is already acne prone. If petroleum jelly is applied to skin that is oily or prone to acne, it can potentially worsen acne breakouts because the thick barrier of petroleum jelly can trap bacteria and sebum in your pores, leading to the formation of pimples. Using a thick barrier over the skin can prevent your skin from “breathing” by blocking your pores and leading to more oil build up.
Additionally if you tend to get milia, small white or yellowish bumps that can appear around the eyes, you should also avoid putting petroleum jelly in that area. Milia are usually caused by skin cells that become trapped in small pockets on the surface of the skin. They can also occur as a result of using heavy skin care products such as petroleum jelly.
Overall, slugging can be a helpful technique for those with dry skin that doesn’t break out, but oily and acne prone folks should steer clear, as slugging can cause breakouts, and far from helping your acne, slugging is likely to block your pores and make your acne worse.
Alternatives to Slugging for Acne-Prone Skin
If you have acne-prone skin, it is important to know when a skincare trend or product that might be a holy grail for many other people is just not for you.
Unfortunately, while slugging is an inexpensive, widespread, and seemingly effective skincare treatment for many, it is one of those trends that is probably not the best choice for those of us battling acne, as it can potentially exacerbate breakouts.
Fortunately there are many other ways to provide extra moisture to the skin without relying on petroleum jelly, including:
Barrier Repair Cream
If you feel that your skin barrier is damaged and any moisture you add isn’t staying long enough to help, you can try a barrier repair cream that is safe for acne-prone skin. Barrier repair creams typically contain ingredients that help to rebuild and strengthen the skin’s barrier, such as ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. These ingredients work together to replenish and reinforce the lipid barrier, which helps to seal in moisture and protect the skin from external stressors.
Layers of lightweight products using lightweight toners, serums, and moisturizers can help hydrate and soothe the skin without clogging pores. Look for products with humectants, such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, urea, and aloe vera which help to attract and retain moisture in your skin. These ingredients work by drawing water molecules from the surrounding environment into the skin’s upper layers, which helps to improve hydration and plumpness. Apply them to damp skin after washing your face to give them plenty of water to work with. Start with the most watery and lightweight product and layer them in order of thickness up to your moisturizer.
If you feel the need for an occasional hydrating self care ritual, you can try using a sheet mask with simple humectant ingredients. Sheet masks are made of thin sheets soaked in serums or essences that are designed to nourish and hydrate the skin. By keeping it on your face for 10-20 minutes, the sheet itself helps to lock in moisture and prevent the serum or essence from evaporating too quickly, allowing the skin to absorb the active ingredients more effectively, which makes it similar to the benefits of slugging without the risk of acne breakouts. Use on evenings when you want to pamper your skin with an extra boost of moisture and nutrients and when you’re done be sure to lock the hydration in with a moisturizer.
Just because petroleum jelly might not be recommended for your face, you can still participate in the slugging trend by using it elsewhere on your body. If your body skin is not acne-prone, you can try putting on a thin layer of Vaseline or Aquaphor on your damp skin after you shower to lock in the moisture with an occlusive layer. Slather Vaseline on your feet and wear socks to bed, and/or apply it to your lips as an overnight lip mask and wake up feeling fully hydrated.
Does slugging clog pores and cause acne? If you have acne-prone skin, unfortunately, the answer to this question is almost certainly yes.