Hey, TikTok, What Is Slugging?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: @dihanfc, @aliciamrry, @thecitrinebeauty.co/TikTok

On TikTok, suddenly everyone is dousing their face in Vaseline. Although the jelly might seem like an unlikely choice for some, it has been in Black women’s skin-care routines for generations — we just call it “greasing up.”

“Don’t you love when white people discover some basic shit that black people have been doing for years?” tweeted Jemele Hill, a writer and podcast host.

According to Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, slugging is when someone applies a petroleum-heavy emollient, like Aquaphor, CeraVe, or Vaseline, to the face after completing a skin-care routine and rinse it off with a gentle cleanser the following day. This step is meant to seal the top layer of skin. In doing so, it seals in moisture and your skin-care products. The term slugging is used to describe the shiny and slimy way skin appears once the product is applied.

According to TikTok, this “trend” is being recognized as a Korean-beauty trick and has been a topic of discussion on Reddit for the past several years. Black people have been using this method for generations — actually, Vaseline advertisements in the ’60s and ’70s specifically targeted Black people. Founder of Buttah Skin, Dorion Renaud, recalls growing up watching his grandmother use Vaseline on her face. JoAni Johnson, a 67-year-old model, grew up watching her mother use Vaseline on her skin, and she still uses it to this day.

Michaela Angela Davis, a writer, activist, and fashion-industry veteran, has written for publications like Gasoline and vibes and is the executive producer of the forthcoming docuseries The Hair Tales. She said when she was interviewed by a major outlet with a predominantly white target audience and was asked that if she were stranded on an island and could only have one product, what that would be, “I said ‘Vaseline,’ and the editor was called,” she said.

“As is, and was, the case for most Black people, Vaseline was a staple in every Black household I’d ever been in,” she said. “Back when nobody was making products for Black people, this is one of the OG products that worked for us. It speaks to the ingenuity of how Black people have operated and made something out of nothing — or out of something that people disregard that’s only in their garage.

“Not only is Vaseline so efficient — we grow up using it on our scalp, new pierced earrings, knees, elbows, cuts, burns, and the face — there’s memory attached to it. It’s a ritual, and there’s a passing down of process when it comes to it,” she said. “My 84-year-old mother uses Vaseline, I use Vaseline, my 30-year-old daughter uses Vaseline, and I’m sure she’ll use it on her children.” Although it isn’t part of Davis’s current skin-care routine for her face, she says that her mother still uses it. “To this day, my mother has her Chanel and, right beside it, her Vaseline. And her skin looks fabulous.”

Ashley White, who goes by @dihanfc on TikTok, says, “Trends are cool; erasure isn’t.” Alicia, aka @aliciamrry, agreed: “Not the whites acting like they invented slugging when Black people have been greasing their skin with Vaseline for generations.” Student esthetician Janine, @thecitrinebeauty.co on TikTok, spoke to how despite its growing popularity on social media, slugging has been done for generations.

There is a reason why it’s dermatologist-recommended: For many people, it works. Lindsey Zubritsky, a Pittsburgh-based dermatologist, made a step-by-step TikTok tutorial with the caption “Slug away my friends.” Vaseline is safe enough to use on sensitive baby skin, and it’s noncomedogenic — meaning it doesn’t clog pores — so the risks are low. However, some dermatologists recommend that those with oily or acne-prone skin avoid the method.

If you can’t get into using a petroleum-based product on your face, stick to a moisturizing cream. The goal is to seal in moisture whichever way works best for your skin.

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