What Is Slugging Skincare and Is It Actually Good?

What Is Slugging Skincare and Is It Actually Good?

My goal as an esthetician is to provide informed, well-researched advice about what works for every skin type — and what doesn’t. 

“I recommend using high-quality skincare products that are backed by science rather than following skincare trends.” 

— Shani Darden, esthetician

Part of that assignment is covering the latest and greatest skincare trends. There’s always a new one, and there’s always a reason why it’s popular — even if that reason doesn’t agree with the science behind it

Skin slugging might seem like a trend to you because of social media outlets like TikTok and Instagram, but it’s actually a K-beauty trend that has been around for hundreds of years. I’ll explain what it is, how it works, and whether there are benefits, as well as help you decide if it’s a good solution for your skin.

What Is Slugging?

Slugging isn’t a very appealing term, especially when you consider it as a skincare technique. The term refers to how it makes your skin feel: slippery and slimy, like a slug. 

The process of slugging is pretty straightforward. After your nighttime skin routine, you apply a thin layer of an occlusive product (I’ll explain what that is in a moment) and go to bed.

When you wake up, you’ll allegedly have seriously hydrated skin and may even notice a difference in clarity, brightness, and tone. But does this actually work?

Skincare trends can often overpromise and underdeliver. To better understand how this trend is supposed to work, let’s talk about the differences between emollients, humectants, and occlusives.

What Are the Different Types of Moisturizers?

Moisturizers are skincare products that can help your skin stay hydrated. However, different moisturizer formulations use different types of moisturizing ingredients. 

As with all skincare, it’s important to look for products and ingredients that will support your unique skin. So, here is a breakdown of the three types of moisturizing ingredients.


Dry skin can lose moisture through the pores. This means that when you’re in a particularly hot or dry climate, you may lose even more of your skin’s hydration. For instance, your skin might be particularly dry in the winter because the air is drier and also because commercial heating systems can leach the moisture out of the air. 

Occlusives are high-lipid ingredients designed for dry skin. They work as skin protectants by sitting on top of the skin to create a protective barrier between the skin and the external world, minimizing moisture loss. 

Popular occlusives include petroleum jelly and ceramides — but those aren’t the only ones available. Aloe vera, shea butter, and coconut oil are examples of plant-based, non-petrolatum options. 


Unlike occlusives, humectantsdraw moisture into the skin. Humectants work by pulling moisture from deeper layers of skin up to the surface, soothing irritated skin and restoring moisture.

One of the most popular and effective humectants available is hyaluronic acid. I recommend adding a hyaluronic acid product to your skincare regimen, no matter what your skin type is. Another common humectant is glycerin.

Products high in humectants include cleansers, some serums, lotions, and lightweight moisturizers.


Emollients are moisturizing ingredients that can help soften rough, scaly skin and soothe irritation in dry skin. They can also help relieve discomfort that sometimes arises from dry skin, like itching, burning, or feelings of tightness.

Many occlusives are also emollients due to their protective properties. Popular emollients include aloe vera, cocoa butter, shea butter, squalene, and mineral oil.

Why Should You Avoid Slugging?

The process of applying thick occlusives to your skin before bedtime has some merit. The skin naturally heals, restores, and rejuvenates when you sleep, which is why nighttime serums and creams are important. Applying nourishing ingredients before bed can help support your skin through this natural process.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the purported benefits of slugging and break down what’s real and what’s just a trend.

It Can Strengthen the Side Effects of Retinol

While retinol and slugging can both offer benefits, it’s often not a good idea to combine the two. Actually, slugging with retinol can lead to results that are contrary to what was intended. 

Rather than enhancing the skin barrier and providing extra moisture, the effects of retinol, along with its potential side effects, can intensify when combined with a thick occlusive layer. This combination almost ensures that irritation and dryness will occur.

It Can Cause Breakouts

Slathering on a thick layer of Vaseline or Aquaphor likely won’t solve all of your skincare concerns. For instance, if you have oily skin that is easily clogged, that could result in some serious morning breakouts. 

Even if you have dry skin or sensitive skin, slugging can contribute to irritation. While occlusive ingredients can seal in moisture, they can also seal it out. If your skin lacks moisture and you’re using slugging in place of a moisturizer, it may have the opposite effect by preventing your skin from taking in much-needed moisture. 

As your skin dries out and dead skin builds up on the surface of your skin, this debris may be forced into your pores, causing breakouts. This can also happen in sensitive skin that is prone to breakouts.

There are better ingredients for restoring a natural glow. For instance, AHAs like lactic acid which has natural exfoliating properties that work to restore dull, dry skin. 

It Doesn’t Actually Hydrate Your Skin

Slugging is supposed to help with the signs of aging by flooding your skin cells with moisture and making your skin appear plump and firm. Unfortunately, there’s no scientific backing for these claims. 

Remember, occlusive ingredients form a barrier on the skin. Their molecules are too large to penetrate your pores. On the other hand, many humectant molecules are small enough to enter your skin and attract moisture.

There are some moisturizers that combine occlusive ingredients with humectants. In this case, you’re effectively hydrating your skin and then sealing that hydration in with an occlusive barrier.

However, products like Vaseline are not designed with hydration in mind. They don’t contain humectants, and slugging with them may lead to increased dryness over time.

It Can Interact With Certain Ingredients

Proponents of slugging claim that applying a thick, petrolatum-based cream to your skin works to seal in skincare ingredients for maximum effect. This is true — but not in the way that they think.

Applying an occlusive layer over powerful active ingredients can intensify their effects, causing them to irritate your skin overnight and potentially harming your skin barrier. When your skin barrier is damaged, you can experience transepidermal water loss — essentially, you begin losing hydration through your skin.

For instance, slugging should not be used with retinoids like retinol. While retinol is one of my favorite anti-aging ingredients, it can also contribute to redness and dryness if it’s alongside slugging.

Additionally, your skin has a delicate pH balance and is home to a microbiome of healthy bacteria that protect your skin and keep it functioning properly. Slugging products create a barrier that could potentially trap harmful bacteria against the skin.

If you’re considering slugging, contact a board-certified dermatologist to find out if this trend works with your current skincare routine and skin type.

What Should You Do Instead of Slugging?

I find that using high-quality, research-backed skincare ingredients does a better job of delivering real results. Two ingredients I’ll always recommend are lactic acid and retinol. 

Retinol Reform® is my go-to solution for all skin types. Retinol is one of the most highly researched and evidence-based skincare ingredients available, and it works for all skin types. 

Retinol Reform is even safe for sensitive skin types because the encapsulated retinol is time-released, easing any sensitivities you might experience with a regular retinol serum. 

I recommend using Retinol Reform along with my Lactic Acid Serum. When used together, I’ve seen clients completely transform their skin. 

Instead of making the last step of your skincare routine a thick occlusive, try my Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer. For normal to dry skin types, opt for my Hydration Peptide Cream.

It’s great for all skin types and can help combat dryness with hyaluronic acid while simultaneously supporting collagen production with hydrolyzed collagen. Meanwhile, red algae gives your skin nutrients to support its natural restoration, all without leaving a massive grease spot on your pillowcase. 

The Bottom Line

There will always be new skincare trends. If they work, I’m here for them — but most of all, I’m here for my clients and for you. 

Sure, slugging your entire face may have some benefits — but for most skin types, using a daily moisturizer that has high-quality, effective ingredients is plenty to keep your skin hydrated and balanced. Plus, it may do more harm than good.

For lasting hydration, stick with moisturizers formulated with humectants that won’t clog your skin. To brighten your skin tone, try proven ingredients like retinol and lactic acid.

For more skin tips, visit my blog.


Emollients: Creams, Soaps, Moisturizers, Ointments, Benefits | My Cleveland Clinic.org

What is Slugging? | Geisinger

Cosmetics – Exploring humectants | Center for Research on Ingredient Safety


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