Marketing

How slugging, the beauty trend of glopping on products like Vaseline, took off on TikTok and how brands got on board

Brands are hiring influencers, including dermatologists, to help slugging get under consumers’ skin.
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Vaseline/YouTube

· 5 min read

In an era when Allure’s top pick for a facial moisturizer, La Mer’s Crème de la Mer Moisturizer, costs $380 for a two-ounce jar, it may come as a surprise that one of the moisturizers at the center of a TikTok beauty trend, Vaseline petroleum jelly, costs $4.89 for 7.5 ounces.

But the 153-year-old product is featured in many videos about the trend, called slugging, on the platform, nearly half of whose users (47.4%) are under 30.

Slugging, the before-bed ritual of smearing a petroleum-jelly (aka petrolatum) product on the face, draws its name from users who slather on so much they resemble certain garden-dwelling gastropods.

Although the ritual “has been part of the Black community for decades,” according to Vaseline’s website, the “slugging” coinage—and broad popularity—are new:

  • Videos tagged #slugging have racked up 1.2 billion views on TikTok.
  • Google searches for “slugging” started surging in late 2021, and peaked the week ending July 15, according to Google Trends.

While many beauty trends on TikTok are blessedly short-lived (coffee grounds facial scrub, anyone?), slugging has been widely endorsed by dermatologists and unmistakably has legs. And even though, as is often the case with TikTok trends, brands had no idea it was coming, they’re now developing social media strategies to fuel the trend—and to establish their products as sluggers’ unguent of choice.

Smear campaign: Megan Ward, head of influencer and PR at Unilever for brands including Vaseline, told Retail Brew slugging first came to her attention in early 2022, after two popular “skinfluencers,” Sarah Palmyra and Charlotte Palermino (who’s also a co-founder and CEO of the Dieux Skin brand), both posted TikTok videos about the ritual.

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Ward noted that while Vaseline has partnered with both creators, those early slugging TikToks were made without the brand’s input, knowledge, or payment.

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While Vaseline didn’t get the ball rolling on slugging, in 2022, “we really started to say, ‘We’ve got to power this’” trend, Ward said. “We need to lean into the love that is already happening—and drive more as well.”

Ward noticed that after some early adopters applied copious amounts of Vaseline at bedtime, they complained on social media.

“When you really dive into the conversation that’s happening, people will say, ‘Oh, I used it and it got all over my pillow!’” she said.

Vaseline has partnered with content producers who are dermatologists, and one thing those dermatologists stress is that just a pea-sized amount of Vaseline is plenty.

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One TikTok video from a Vaseline partner, @dermdoctor, “Slugging with Vaseline 101,” had garnered 12.1 million views as of September 14.

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Along with reiterating that you don’t need much, he assures that Vaseline won’t clog pores, and warns against using products with retinoids under the Vaseline because it can cause irritation.

Face value: CeraVe, whose healing ointment also is popular for slugging, has partnered with TikTok influencers as well. In one CeraVe partner video, @mualesandro said he wanted to test the question, “Will slugging break out acne-prone skin?” by slugging every other night for two weeks. At the end, he declares, “My skin feels so hydrated, you guys! I’m literally glowing!” The video has 1.6 million views.

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While slugging is helping younger consumers discover established brands, one DTC brand that launched last November, Futurewise, is dedicated exclusively to the trend, with a three-step product line: Slug Boost, Slug Cream, and Slug Balm.

And because slugging is considered a final step in a nightly routine, helping to lock in the benefits of other products, brands like L’Oréal Paris are promoting their products for the early rounds.

The brand’s website, for instance, recommends its cleanser (Micellar Cleansing Water), serum (Revitalift Derm Intensives 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum), and moisturizer (Revitalift Triple Power Anti-Aging Overnight Mask) before glopping on petrolatum.

Skin in the game: Jenny Quigley-Jones, CEO of Digital Voices, an influencer marketing agency with offices in New York and London, said TikTok health and beauty trends often burn hot but fast.

“You’ll often see these trends take off really quickly,” Quigley-Jones told Retail Brew. “And then the reaction content comes out that is like, ‘The science behind this is bullshit. Don’t do it.’ And then the trend dies.”

Slugging represents the opposite, where the trend was given “an extra lease on life by dermatologists” who said the practice is beneficial for many people.

But Quigley-Jones said brands could be capitalizing on the trend more aggressively.

“Don’t just write an article about it. Get in front of everyone, start selling on TikTok Shop, sell a slugging kit,” she said. “If you do that, then you’re shaping consumer habits” which “builds that brand loyalty and those user habits for the next few years.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.