What is slugging and how is it done?

Presumably initially a K-Beauty trend, the term slugging seems to have first surfaced in the US in a 2014 post in a Reddit subgroup. But it didn’t go viral until Charlotte Palermino, a licensed beautician based in New York City and co-founder of skin care firm Dieux, introduced the concept to her followers on TikTok and Instagram in September 2020, saying them that had made her dry skin “juicy”. As of press time, the #slugging hashtag has 235.5 million views on TikTok.

Petroleum jelly, also known as petrolatum and first sold by petroleum jelly, is a white or yellowish semi-solid substance made up of a mixture of complex hydrocarbons by dewaxing crude oil. According to Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, it is an occlusive ingredient: “It forms a seal on the stratum corneum (outer skin layer or skin barrier) to protect the skin from the environment. preventing water loss.

By forming this seal – which keeps out dirt and bacteria and moisture inside – petroleum jelly creates the perfect environment for the skin to repair itself, Zeichner said. And, he and Palermino said, slugging doesn’t require a lot of petroleum jelly. You can use a pea-sized portion for your entire face, rather than what’s going on in the video below (you don’t want to ruin the underwear).

Although slugging is a new name for it, the act of applying petroleum jelly as a skin protector is nothing new. In the 15th century, members of the Seneca Native American tribe, who dug oil wells in northwestern Pennsylvania, used petroleum jelly on human and animal skin to protect wounds, stimulate healing, and keep skin moist. In the late 19th century, American chemist Robert Chesebrough, visiting oil fields in the same area of ​​northwestern Pennsylvania, observed oil workers applying residues from their oil drills to their wounds. Chesebrough took a sample back to his Brooklyn laboratory, purified it, tested it on self-inflicted wounds, and in 1870 branded his “miracle jelly” as petroleum jelly.

When Tiffany Clay, an Atlanta-based dermatologist, saw the slugging promoted on Instagram, she had fun. “I laughed because I’ve done it all my life.” Clay credits her to her “black grannies who smeared me and my cousins ​​with petroleum jelly when we got out of the bathroom.”

Now, Clay finds himself recommending petroleum jelly in his dermatology office “at least 10 times a day” – for dry skin, wound care, surgery and “especially my eczema patients who have a skin barrier. compromised and tend to stay dry. side. ” Signs of a compromised skin barrier can include redness, dryness, flaking, flaking, stinging, or stinging.

Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, agrees. “I tell parents to coat their babies with petroleum jelly when they first come out of the tub to seal in the moisture,” Hirsch said. “We use this as standard practice because petrolatum really works as a top coat, trapping moisture and preventing transepidermal water loss.” Research has shown that in addition to reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) by 99 percent, petrolatum has antimicrobial properties and accelerates skin healing.

Palermino recommends using petroleum jelly in a “moisture sandwich” to trap most of the hydration. “In beautician school, one of the first things you learn is to moisturize the skin, hydrate the skin and then trap it all with an occlusive.”

But due to the occlusive nature of petroleum jelly, Hirsch cautions against applying active ingredients, such as retinoids, exfoliants, or topical vitamin C before slugging, as you could damage the skin. “You can take a fairly delicate ingredient and turn it into something very powerful by sealing it with petroleum jelly.”

Although petroleum jelly is considered non-comedogenic (meaning it doesn’t clog pores) because its molecular size is too large to penetrate deep into the skin, Hirsch warned that slugging isn’t for everyone. “In general, I don’t tend to recommend it [slugging] for people prone to milia, oily or acne. I just find that stops are not a good match for them. Hirsch recommends patch testing first for these skin conditions and if you are prone to allergic reactions.

For severely dry skin, Susan Taylor, a Philadelphia dermatologist and founder of the Skin of Color Society, warns that petroleum jelly alone does not hydrate the skin. “I asked my patients to put petroleum jelly on a moisturizer that has humectant and emollient ingredients.” Taylor also tells patients to apply petroleum jelly when the skin is moist to “trap moisture.”

The Food and Drug Administration regulates petrolatum as an over-the-counter drug and considers it a safe and effective skin protector when the concentration range is between 30% and 100%. But the public has a couple of concerns about petroleum jelly. One is the concern about contamination by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in crude oil that have been thought to be likely human carcinogens.

The experts I spoke to said that while unrefined petroleum jelly (which is not allowed in the US) may be contaminated with IPA, the petroleum jelly you see on your pharmacy shelves has been highly refined. “Petrolatum is essentially a waste product of the petroleum industry that undergoes several rounds of refining until all impurities have been removed,” said Victoria Fu, science educator for skin care, cosmetic formulation chemistry and co. – founder of Chemist Confessions, a skin care line. “Petrolatum has been around for so long and controlled by regulators for so long that refined petrolatum has gone through the range of tests to ensure safety before it hits the shelves.”

Another concern raised by critics of slugging is that petroleum jelly, as a byproduct of crude oil, is not a sustainable product. But Anthony R. Kovscek, a Stanford University professor and researcher at the Precourt Institute for Energy, said eliminating sales of petroleum jelly would do little to reverse climate change. “Changing your driving and commuting behaviors, as well as driving the most fuel-efficient car you can afford, is much more likely to impact the fossil fuel industry than reduce petroleum sales.” .

There are many alternatives to petroleum jelly, such as mineral oils, vegetable oils, and animal waxes. While Hirsch and Zeichner recommend Waxelene, they cautioned that products other than petroleum jelly are not as occlusive, are more expensive, and present contamination risks.

“Plants are bioaccumulators, so something like shea butter needs to be highly refined before it hits the market,” Palermino said. And, he concluded, the refinement process creates a large carbon footprint.

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