What is slugging?: See what the new K-beauty trend is all about

Robert Hundley

Oftentimes, trying out the latest skin care trend requires swapping out your favorite products or having to purchase new, pricey ones. It can end up costing both your skin and your wallet, and there’s no guarantee that it’ll actually do your skin more good than harm. So when a trend comes around that’s easy to replicate, affordable and doesn’t require switching up your existing routine — we’re all in.

Enter: slugging. You may have heard of the technique before, which has nothing to do with actual slugs. Instead, it involves applying specific products that give your skin a slug-like appearance — but more on that later. While its viral online origins date back a couple of years, its recent popularity on social media — particularly on TikTok where videos with the #slugging hashtag have racked up over 150 million views — has people wondering if this trend is worth trying.

Ahead, we’ve consulted dermatologists and skin care experts to help break down what exactly slugging is, what you need to try it out for yourself, what results you can expect to see, and a whole lot more.

Slugging is the process of applying an occlusive product — typically overnight — to your skin, explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. Occlusives are oils and waxes that form a physical layer on your skin to help protect it and aid in healing.

“When you apply a thick layer of an occlusive agent like Vaseline or Aquaphor,” explains Dr. Zenovia Gabriel, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Zenovia Skincare, you’re “preventing water loss and dehydration of the skin — which is referred to as trans-epidermal water loss in dermatology.”

“Slugging is becoming popular because it makes skin look better and better overnight,” shares Dr. Kenneth Mark, a cosmetic dermatology expert. Mark shares that dermatologists have been “treating conditions like eczema and psoriasis with occlusive ointments for decades.”

And while slugging is commonly credited as a K-beauty trend originating in South Korea, it’s worth nothing that this process has been used by many communities — not just the medical field — for much longer. Most notably, this technique of applying an occlusive as the last step in one’s skin care regimen has been part of Black women’s beauty routines for decades — something that creators on social media are pointing out.

The primary benefit of slugging is to “improve the skin barrier function and prevent trans-epidermal water loss,” explains Mark. “By sealing the skin with an ointment, we can help prevent and minimize this water loss,” he shares. Locking in this moisture is what keeps your skin hydrated, which makes for a plump and more youthful appearance, explains King.

Generally, slugging is a technique best suited to those with dry skin. Especially if you’re prone to eczema, irritation, or chapping — slugging can help to alleviate some of those issues, explains Dr. Audrey Kunin, a board-certified dermatologist, founder of DERMAdoctor, and Chief Product Officer NovaBay Pharmaceuticals. Even if you don’t typically experience dry skin, dry environments can “exacerbate trans-epidermal water loss and dryness of the skin,” explains King — who notes that applying an occlusive ointment can help with this.

The occlusive barrier that these products create don’t just generally help your skin health. Slugging can also work to make your other skin care products more effective. As Zenovia explains, applying product beneath the occlusive barrier theoretically helps your other skin care products (like serums or creams) penetrate more deeply — since they won’t evaporate.

And while the benefits of slugging are many, it’s important to note that the trend may not be for everyone. “Anyone with oily skin or already struggling with blackheads, milia or blemishes should avoid slugging as it may exacerbate these conditions,” explains Kunin. King echoes this, adding that those with oily skin might not like the feeling of using petroleum. “It can help contribute to the trapping of oils or other comedogenic ingredients and potentially contribute to breakouts.”

One of the best parts about slugging is how easy it is to incorporate into your existing skin care routine. While you can slug during the day, it’s more commonly done at night — which is a great way to make sure all your products have hours to work without any other product application or exposure to environmental stressors.

Step 1: Cleanse and tone

Remove your makeup, cleanse your skin and gently pat your skin dry, shares Kunin. We’d recommend opting for a gentle cleanser that won’t further dry out your skin. If you’re using a toner, feel free to apply that at this point. Again, just make sure you’re using something that won’t dry out your skin — stay away from any options that include alcohol.

While emollients are commonly found in products like facial oils, you can also hone some of their benefits through your face wash. This cleanser features apricot kernel oil and squalane, two emollients that work to keep your skin smooth and soft. It also cleanses your skin without strpping it, and is pH-balanced to help maintain your skin’s natural balance.

This classic cleanser from La Roche-Posay is a great and affordable option for anyone with sensitive skin. The milky texture is gentle, while also effectively removing makeup and dirt. It also works to maintain your skin’s natural protective barrier — a huge benefit that’ll help your skin in all the same ways slugging can.

This jelly cleanser is great for washing away light makeup or sunscreen without feeling like you’re stripping your skin. You can tell it’s cleaning your skin effectively, but also allowing it to maintain its natural moisture. The gel-like texture also foams up really nicely into a lather, which is a huge plus.

If you’re looking for brighter and more radiant skin, you can opt for a toner with some of its own skin benefits. Zenovia recommends this vitamin C toner, which not only hydrates your skin but also helps to even out its tone and texture.

This alcohol free toner is full of natural ingredients, making it perfect for those with sensitive skin. Particularly if you suffer from redness or inflammation, the combination of the bacteria-inhibiting allantoin alongside the soothing calendula extract is super beneficial.

If you’re attempting slugging, chances are you’re trying to maximize hydration, moisturization and skin restoration. In this case, Mark recommends using a lightweight hyaluronic acid serum. Hyaluronic acid “binds water up to 10,000 times its molecular weight,” he explains, and can “help other products that are applied on top of the serum to be absorbed into the skin.”

King echoes this suggestion, noting that any serum with humectants (of which hyaluronic acid is one option) is a good idea, since they work well with occlusives and will help maximize hydration. But if you have a serum you enjoy that works for your skin, don’t feel like you need to switch it out.

This plumping serum contains copper peptides (which support collagen and elastin production) for firmer and more bouncy skin — qualities that are lacking especially when your skin is suffering from dryness. It also boasts a trio of hydrating ingredients which includes hyaluronic acid. It absorbs super quickly into your skin, leaving a perfect base for slugging.

This impressive hyaluronic serum is one of the most affordable on the market. It’s a great option for those who want to maintain a simple yet effective skin care routine, and the addition of vitamin B5 makes it perfect for those who just want to add moisture without a whole lot else back into their skin.

If you’re a fan of K-beauty, you’ve no doubt heard of the glass skin trend — which is all about a dewy, smooth, and luminous complexion. This serum is super lightweight, so you don’t run the risk of overloading your face with too much product. It also boasts a cocktail of peach extract, niacinamide, peptides and of course hyaluronic acid to help keep your skin radiant and hydrated.

While it’s not absolutely necessary ahead of slugging, moisturizing can be a great way to incorporate extra skin care ingredients into your routine that’ll work to maximize hydration and overall skin health. King suggests a moisturizer that include humectants, emollients and occlusives — three components that work in harmony to keep skin moisturized.

If you’re using facial oil, plan to apply it after your moisturizer. Why? Facial oils typically include emollients (which smooth the skin) along with occlusives. Similarly to how slugging with an occlusive will seal your skin in order to maximize the effects of hydrating products like serums and moisturizers, facial oils with emollients and occlusives will perform in a similar way. So if you’re concerned about clogged pores or breakouts, you can definitely skip this step.

If you’re on the hunt for a rich cream that can be used as a moisturizer and for slugging, King recommends this ceramide cream. Ingredients like ceramides in addition to lipids, squalane, and murumuru seed butter work “to support the skin barrier and lock in moisture,” she explains.

A cream moisturizer like this option from CeraVe “can help address an underlying loss of essential ceramides and free fatty acids,” explains Kunin. If it seems like your skin might be in need of some repair, she recommends using this in addition to slugging.

Maya Chia The Advanced Response Complex Face & Neck Cream

This face and neck cream is jam-packed with emollient ingredients like babassu oil, shea butter, chia seed oil, jojoba seed oil, sunflower seed oil and safflower seed oil. The formulation is particularly great at targeting fine lines and wrinkles, and regenerating the overall skin. It’s also a great choice for slugging, explains King.

Another recommendation by Kunin, this balm is perfect for giving your skin that much-needed moisture surge. Particularly for those struggling with eczema or more significant skin issues (like chapped or irritated skin), this moisturizer works to repair and replenish your skin all at once.

This moisturizer, recommended by Dr King, boasts ingredients like ceramides, triglycerides, and shea butter. It’s another great daily moisturizer option for those with dry skin, or something that you can layer up for a slugging effect. Plus, it’ll help address a range of skin issues from dullness and loss of firmness to fine lines and wrinkles.

For ultimate softness and hydration, King recommends using an emollient face oil. This option from Kiehl’s has long been one of our dry skin holy grail items, and has been recommended by experts as a beauty product worth every cent.

Another emollient facial oil, this option is particularly fast-absorbing and doesn’t feel greasy – which is always a huge plus. If you’re interested in incorporating a facial oil into your routine but are worried about it feeling too heavy, we’d recommend trying this one out.

Slugging should always be the final step in your skin care routine. Once you’re finished with moisturizing, dermatologists recommend applying a thin layer of your occlusive of choice to your skin, and letting the product do its work overnight. And because you’re sealing off your skin to lock in the benefits of all the skin care products in your routine, it wouldn’t make sense to apply anything on top of your slugging layer.

Mark shares that while you can use any occlusive ointment with ingredients like jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, or shea butter, “thicker-based ointment products like Aquaphor are generally best for slugging.” If you’re interested in slugging but don’t know if a thicker product is right for you, many occlusive creams or lotions can work to achieve similar results.

The most popular slugging recommendation by far, derms love Aquaphor for its proven results. It’s a classic petrolatum-based moisturizing ointment that’s perfect for slugging and for any other dry or damaged skin needs. It’s so effective that Mark recommends it to his patients after certain surgeries to help skin heal — so you can bet it’ll do your dry skin a world of good.

Vaseline is another popular option for slugging, as recommended by Kunin. The timeless product can be used in tons of different ways and on any part of your body that’s in need of repair and moisture.

CeraVe Healing Ointment

Another super popular slugging product, this healing ointment from CeraVe is all over TikTok. We love that it’s available in this squeeze-tube container, which is more sanitary and helps to control the amount of product you’re using.

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