Slugging: Is Covering Your Face In Vaseline Worth It?

UPDATED: 9/4/20

What is simultaneously wonderful and terrifying about the renewed interest in skincare is that international hoomans are taking matters into their own hands and coming up with their own methods - sometimes based on traditional and respected techniques and sometimes it's just things that they believe may work in theory.

"Slugging", aka smothering your skin in Vaseline to trap all of your products onto the skin at night, is a bit of both.

Why is anyone doing this, you may ask? These DIY skincare gurus are using a thick layer of petroleum jelly as an occlusive and keeping it on all night long. An occlusive in skincare is something that forms a film across the skin for the purpose of protecting it and locking in moisture or hydration.

Occlusives aren't a new concept... Realistically, if you are dry-skinned, dehydrated or mature, you already have an occlusive at the end of your routine. Petroleum jelly is an occlusive actually found in a lot of skincare but other common occlusive agents are lanolin (sheep wool wax), zinc oxide (a mineral used as a physical filter in sunscreen and found in mineral makeup) and mineral oil (which is okay in skincare when it is pharmaceutical grade, like in Environ).

Due to the "trapping" nature of occlusives, they are often thought to be comedogenic but not everyone will find that all occlusive agents clog their pores... I find myself that silicone and silicone derivatives actually don't cause congestion for me and they are some of the ingredients that many find to be the MOST comedogenic.

What are the possible benefits of "slugging"?

Locks in the skin's moisture and your products

"Sluggers" often apply their occlusive, (primarily Vaseline) soon after cleansing and after they've applied their serums and moisturiser. The idea is that the Vaseline will form a protective "casing" on the skin to keep their products on their face (and not on just their pillow) and will trap all pre-existing moisture on the skin. If your skin's acid mantle (protective barrier) is healthy and functioning properly, it will work like a Tupperware lid to keep the skin's own moisture in the skin.

This is one of its natural purposes. My qualm would be that a thick occlusive barrier like Vaseline, which has no alternative benefits to the skin in that it doesn't provide hydration or pull it up from the lower layers as a humectant would, will also prevent the skin from excreting sebum and lock sebum onto the skin. Our sebum does a phenomenal job at moisturising our skin naturally - clink your drinks for sebum - but all of the oily and spot-prone like moiself know that leaving an excess of sebum on the skin for a large period of time may lead to dozens of pustules.

Protects the skin from dust and bacteria

This is my own thought - it is possible that slugging may protect the skin from dust particles which would be particularly important to those with reactive skin or congested skin, as dust particles can sit on the skin and irritate it. Dust is eeeeveerryywhere, even if you are as meticulous with your cleaning schedule as I am - I cannot COPE with dust, it must be eradicated at all costs.

I'm not sure how good Vaseline would be at protecting the skin from dust but arguably, any thick cream that doesn't quite "set". Not in that way that a night masque like IMAGE Vital C Hydrating Overnight Masque would do the same job without the possibility of clogged pores.

Helps the preceding skincare products to penetrate into the skin

This is a common reason that many partake in the slug life. The theory is that the weight (?) of the Vaseline pushes the products further into the pore... or prevents them from coming off before they fully penetrate. A good product should penetrate the skin easily, within one or two minutes, meaning that it will have penetrated enough to not come off before you've even climbed under the covers.

I find this a little bit counter-intuitive. Essentially, when it comes to product penetration, you want to make the skin more receptive to the product, not trap the product on and pray that it penetrates.  It makes much more sense to aid the product in getting into the skin by using a penetrant enhancer PRIOR to applying one's serums but more on that later. The nerdie verdict on slugging with Vaseline is that it may pose more issues than it does benefits and there simply HAS to be a better way of doing it.

Skin-friendly alternatives to slugging with Vaseline

Now, it isn't the act of popping an occlusive onto the skin that poses an issue... Sure, don't we all use sheet masks and barrier creams for that particular reason?! It is the petroleum jelly that irks me as it doesn't provide any benefits to the skin itself (ie. it isn't emollient, doesn't contain any skingredients like vitamins). Here are some alternatives to those who want to get slugging without skin bugging...

Use a barrier cream or overnight masque for the same effect

The aforementioned IMAGE Vital C Hydrating Overnight Masque much beloved by Team Nerd. It actually has a very light texture for an overnight masque and contains vitamin C, vitamin E and hyaluronic acid. Now, it is not truly occlusive in nature but it does indeed provide an extra layer of hydration and will keep your other products locked in underneath. I wouldn't recommend using it every night so maybe it isn't the ideal petroleum jelly slugging substitute but it definitely brings up hydration levels with each use.   

You could also try Skingredients Skin Good Fats as a night cream to be applied post-serum, pre-pillow. It has a rich texture and plenty of ceramides to help repair your skin barrier and shea-butter glycerides to soothe those skin-cells, too. 


Stock up on lots of pillowcases

If dust and bacteria is what scares you, invest in a big stack of pillowcases from a big Swedish budget retailer or the big Irish budget retailer and then change them daily. Keep them in your drawer and change them right before you sleep to limit the amount of dust that can get on them.

Is Slugging Worth It?

As you can probably tell, I don't think so. Rubbing yourself in a thick layer of petroleum jelly doesn't hydrate the skin, it mostly gives the illusion of true hydration due to the softness of the upper layers after you "slug". If you're using good skincare products, they should penetrate into your skin quickly, so I don't see why you'd really NEED a barrier over your products.

If you want to enhance the penetration of your other skincare, you should be going to the source and not "weighing down" from the top - your pores ain't doors but they should certainly accept skingredients without them being weighted. Skip the slugging if you were thinking of it...

Just imagine your sticky Vaseliney pillow and visage in the morning - it's a no from me. Work on your skin being generally healthier so it's ALWAYS hydrated and is in a better position to have things penetrate into it.