An image shows a woman touching her face with her hand.

How Slugging Can Make Your Skin Smoother and Brighter

4 min read

By Dr. Michelle Henry, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist

If you’re experiencing dry, uneven and dull skin — which may be due to negative reactions from harsh skincare products, harsh weather conditions, or issues like UV damage — “slugging” is a beauty trend you can likely benefit from.

In addition, slugging can help other skin care ingredients work more effectively, plus it’s a great approach for healing dry, sensitive or irritated skin that has a compromised skin barrier.


What Is Slugging and How Does It Work?

Slugging is a skin care practice that’s been around for generations which involves applying occlusive ingredients to your face over other beneficial products, which creates a protective surface on your skin. While this practice might seem new to some people, this ritual has been part of the Black community for decades. From using petroleum jelly to protect skin from the elements, such as the bitter winter months, to using it to lock-in moisture to provide skin with a healthy appearance, slugging has always played a part in the personal care routine of many Black and Brown households.

It’s called “slugging” because the thick ointments you use on your skin can resemble the look of a slimy slug.

The goal of slugging is to “seal in” powerful ingredients that you apply to your skin, such as serums and toners, while also increasing skin’s hydration.

Most often slugging is done at night, since occlusives can leave your skin looking a bit shiny and ”gooey.”

While these thick products don’t work well under makeup or for a daytime look, they have the power to make your skin smoother, softer, and with help from other skin care products, brighter and more youthful looking. Many people claim that when they wake up after a night of slugging, their skin looks fresh and dewy.


Types of Slugging Moisturizers

In case you're not familiar with occlusives, these include products such as:

● Petroleum jelly, e.i Vaseline® Healing Jelly Original

● Lanolin

● Beeswax

● Olive oil

● Avocado oil

What is the difference between them?

Occlusives don’t actually moisturize your skin in the same way other lotions and creams do. Instead, they create a layer on the surface of your skin that keeps water and skin’s natural oils (sebum) locked in. This prevents dryness due to water and oil evaporation (also called transepidermal water loss). My favorite is petrolatum for the ease of use and low likelihood of clogging the pores.

Occlusives work differently than humectants and emollients, two other types of skin care products that are sometimes used for similar purposes. Here’s the main difference between these three:

● Occlusives: These don’t penetrate the skin, but sit on top and prevent water and oil loss.

● Emollients: These are products containing lipids (including ceramides), cholesterol, fatty acids, or silicones. They penetrate the skin’s top layer with extra lipids in order to improve moisture. They work by essentially “filling up” tiny spaces in the skin’s barrier that are lacking lipids, helping to improve the health and appearance of the skin.

● Humectants: These attract and bind to water from the air or from deeper within the skin. Some also loosen dead cells on the skin’s surface, helping to break them up.

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