Photo: Courtesy of Natalie Stechyson
It goes against every one of my older-millennial instincts to smear my face in petroleum jelly in the name of beauty.
I was a teenager in the late 90s and early 2000s, after all, when matte was life, and the more my face resembled an impenetrable mask devoid of all moisture, the better. I used to carry blotting paper on me at all times, tucked into my teeny-tiny trendy backpack next to my Starburst candies, roll-on eye glitter and travel-sized “Dream” Gap scent.
But today’s beauty standards—not quite content with the emotional damage of bringing back mom jeans, which on me, an actual mom, hug all the wrong curves (like my womb)—have deemed we must now also be dewy.
Enter slugging, the viral K-Beauty trend that’s all over TikTok and Reddit (and soon, your pillowcase). And it is just as slimy as it sounds.
Slugging means to slather your face in a petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) before bed, and then wash it off in the morning to reveal, in theory, a glowing complexion. Picture what your grandma used to do with cold cream, except now you’re using the goop you keep on hand to lube up your baby’s rectal thermometer.
It’s really quite simple, and while it may be viral, it’s not new. “I hadn’t heard of it referred to as ‘slugging’ until recently but it’s something dermatologists have been doing for decades,” says Julia Carroll, a board-certified dermatologist in Toronto, and co-founder of Compass Dermatology.
Petrolatum (petroleum jelly) is an occlusive, which locks in moisture as well as the active ingredients in any other creams you put on your face before applying it, explains Carroll. She says that it also reduces what’s called trans-epidermal water loss on the skin by about 99 percent. “So if you’re looking for that extra moisture kick, this helps to seal it in.”
While the thought of sliming my face before bed still didn’t appeal, I did like the sound of my anti-aging creams getting sealed into my forehead creases.
And even though it seems counterintuitive, Carroll assures that petrolatum doesn’t clog pores. So even oilier or acne-prone skin types could benefit from trying it, just maybe not on a regular basis. Those with dry or eczema-prone skin types could slug every night, if they want, she says. “Try it one night and see how it goes.”
Start with your nighttime skincare routine, applying any creams or moisturizers you already use. Make sure your skin is nice and clean since the occlusive layer you’re about to add will hold everything in, including dirt, makeup and any evidence of leftover baby food.
For your final step, smear your face in petroleum jelly the same way you would apply a moisturizer. You don’t need a thick layer, unless you want to wake up looking like you were dipped in a vat of melted butter or enjoy getting stuck to your sheets. (Hot tip: Throw an old towel over your pillow so you don’t grease up your linens.)
As for what to use, petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, is your best bet, says Carroll. Some non-petroleum jellies can contain other oils that may clog your pores.
The next morning, wash it off well, then continue with your normal skincare routine; it could be a shower, moisturizer, makeup or even just a mom-facial (you know, a quick clean with baby wipes before running out the door for daycare drop-off).
Let me give you some context: I’m raising two young and very spirited boys (one of which was up six times the night before I decided to slug); I’m one week into a month of night shifts at work; I’m weaning my boob-addicted toddler cold turkey; my toddler has taken to waking up around 4:30 a.m.; I recently thought I’d entered perimenopause until I realized my night sweats were due to the new comforter I’d ordered without realizing it was polyester (note to self: do not shop when sleep deprived); and I can’t stop crying. (I’m FINE. Everything is FINE!) … but wouldn’t you know it? I’m still effing GLOWING.
In the name of due diligence, I slugged two nights in a row (even though I have oilier skin). And to be honest, as I rubbed Vaseline into my skin, all I could think was, “I hate this.” I fully expected to wake up with cystic acne, but instead I woke up completely clear. Slimy, but clear.
After washing my face, showering and applying moisturizer, I looked like I’d just left the spa, instead of the bathroom I share with my boys, their 35 trucks that live in the bathtub and the Paw Patrol life jacket my five-year-old insists on wearing in there so he can float.
I won’t slug every night, but I think I’ll view it as an occasional treat to my weathered, mom-weary skin.
This also means I’ll be adding my toddler’s tub of butt jelly to my own personal fleet of bathroom beauty products. It can live next to the baby wipes.