Slugging is just okay. What's better?

Posted by Jackie Kim on


Hi! Welcome to Maelove.

Today we address the question, does slugging work and is there something better?

The short answer is that slugging probably is way better than using nothing at all, especially if you have dry skin. But there actually is a study that suggests niacinamide combined with a simple, less sticky moisturizer works much better.

Click here for Maelove NIA 10 Calming Niacinamide Serum 

So first, slugging as you probably have seen and heard about, is where you apply a lot of petroleum jelly, commonly Vaseline, on your face to lock in moisture and keep it protected during harsh conditions like winter and when your skin is dry.

Petroleum jelly is what’s called an occlusive. Occlusives are basically ingredients that seal up the skin and keep water from evaporating. Common occlusives used in skincare are oil-derived like petroleum jelly or mineral oil, waxes like beeswax, as well as silicones, and lanolin.

Occlusives work by forming a waterproof barrier over your skin when you slather it on. The outer surface of your skin, the stratum corneum, normally functions as a waterproof barrier to keep water in. However, when you have dry skin, this barrier is compromised or is just not up to the task, such as in cold winter, so petroleum jelly reinforces this barrier.

I tried some slugging myself. And I noticed 2 major drawbacks.
First it feels greasy and sticky and just gross.
Second, it caused pimples. For those with acne-prone skin, slugging is not even an option as it will clog pores and cause skin breakouts. By the way, I actually don’t even have acne-prone skin but very very dry skin, and yet it caused me to break out a little bit.

That’s why I was excited when my team came across a paper published by Soma and colleagues, in the International Journal of Dermatology in 2005. Because in this paper there was a direct comparison between petroleum jelly and niacinamide based moisturization.

This study was conducted in patients with atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. So these patients have a very compromised skin barrier and consequently, very dry skin. Those of you who don’t have eczema but have sensitive skin or dry skin likely also have a compromised skin barrier but to a lesser degree.

In this study, over the course of 8 weeks, skin treated with a niacinamide moisturizer showed decreasing transepidermal water loss or TEWL, which is a measure of how well your skin is holding onto water.
So a decreasing TEWL represents a strengthening skin barrier.

On the other hand, skin treated with petroleum jelly showed no such changes in TEWL.

Though both improved immediate skin dryness, as time went on, the niacinamide moisturization was much better at hydration than petroleum jelly. And This suggests a lighter weight niacinamide moisturizer is superior to a heavy occlusive like white petroleum jelly like vaseline in terms of keeping skin hydrated even if you have very dry skin and a damaged skin barrier. How does that work?

This is because Niacinamide, though it is a vitamin, will increase ceramide, fatty acid, and cholesterol production in your skin.

Ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol are the natural lipids that form your natural skin barrier and so niacinamide strengthens your skin barrier from the inside out.

You can also apply a moisturizer that has these natural lipids onto your skin. These natural lipids are called occlusive emollients since your skin can absorb these ingredients into your skin barrier to fortify it and so they are also a better alternative to petroleum jelly.

So “slugging” might be a decent quick fix, but if you want to improve, repair, and fortify your natural skin barrier and have longer lasting results, then you might see much better results with niacinamide-infused products.

You could try a Niacinamide serum followed by a lightweight cream that has ingredients with both occlusive and emollient properties, or a lightweight cream that has niacinamide listed as an ingredient. These options are better for your skin and likely also feels much better than slathering Vaseline all over your face.

Sources mentioned:

Soma Y, Kashima M, Imaizumi A, Takahama H, Kawakami T, Mizoguchi M (2005) “Moisturizing effects of topical nicotinamide on atopic dry skin.” Int J Dermatol 44:197–202.

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