Vaseline, Slugging and TikTok Docs
David J. Elpern
Keywords, Vaseline, Aquaphor, CeraVe, social media, TikToc, xerosis, social influencers
For 150 years, people been coating their faces and other body surfaces with Vaseline®, the ubiquitous, cheap, commonplace product that was awarded Patent No. 127,568, on June 4, 1872.1 It is such a useful product that, tongue-in-cheek, we call it Vitamin V.
In a parallel universe, great masses of people are hearing about expanded, anecdotal uses for Vaseline®. One, in particular, “slugging,” is being plugged on the video-focused social networking service TikTok.
Launched in 2017, TikTok hosts a variety of short-form user-videos for iOS and Android devices in most markets outside of mainland China. TikTok allows its users to view, share and create videos. It became a popular app in the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic as people were forced to stay home and practice social distancing. At first, mostly teenagers or those of “Gen Z” used this app to create short dance videos, however it quickly became more than that. Currently, the application has over a billion users and people of all ages are creating videos about different topics that interest them, ranging from cooking recipes to exercise advice to makeup tutorials. Many young people use this app not only for entertainment, but also to seek information and the latest news. Physicians have taken to the app to offer their own medical advice. Of all the fields of medicine perhaps the most popular trending on TikTok is dermatology. Many TikTok “derm-docs” use this app and their medical expertise to share their opinions on popular beauty trends such as “slugging.” They do this with humor for public education and personal profit.
We became interested in slugging after reading about it in the NY Times.3
“Slugging”® is a recently trending TikTok topic that may have started as Korean Beauty skincare craze.4 The word derives from the slimy trail left behind a moving terrestrial gastropod mollusk, the slug! Slugging involves coating one’s face, or other body parts with petrolatum, aka Vaseline or similar products such as Aquaphor® or CeraVe®. It is intended to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL), by keeping moisture in one’s skin and may be best for dry skin. “Slugging,” has catapulted Vaseline® into the forefront for massive numbers of TikTok users.
We checked out slugging on TikTok using the hashtag #slugging. (A “hashtag” is a tool used on social media platforms to link videos or pictures that have similar content together. By March 24, 2022, the hashtag “#slugging” had 237M views, #Vaseline 494M views and #sluggingwithvaseline 20M views. These numbers are increasing daily and the posts feature mostly young people of various genders and ethnicities sharing their personal schmering experiences using these products as well as instructions for how to apply them.
Many young dermatologists appear on the TikTok app inserting their own videos and sharing their opinions about this popular trend. These professionals are known as influencers and are a self-proclaimed category Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). Curiously, Vaseline® and similar products such as CeraVe® and Aquaphor® are now being touted as having miraculous skin-protecting attributes rivaling other popular, pricier beauty aids. This trend is baffling to some older dermatologists while others have created their own TikTok slugging videos.
The vast appeal of the TikTok platform has opened the field to influencer marketing: a form of social media promotion involving endorsements and product placement from KOLs (influencers) and the public. These are people and organizations that have an often self-asserted expert level of knowledge or social influence in their fields. Influencers aim to shape the buying habits and behaviors of TikTok’s vast target audience aim by uploading often-unvetted content.
There’s an old saying about new medications: First it’s a panacea, next it’s a poison, and finally it’s pedestrian. What we didn’t realize was how, phoenix-like, some products may be reborn and repurposed to achieve, for a short while at least, panacea status. Will some products continue to cycle from cure-all to poison only to be rediscovered and unscientifically hyped with a boost from social media platforms like TikTok? Are there dark merchandising forces behind this, or is it just spontaneous combustion in the marketplace?
In its short tenure, TikTok has become a platform that facilitates the marketing of products such as Vaseline® and promotes “celeb” dermatologists, As dermatologists, in our offices, we routinely recommend Vaseline® for post-operative wounds, dry skin and even, tongue-in-cheek, have taken to calling it Vitamin V because it seems so universally useful. While it is safe for even sensitive skin and prevents xerosis should its use be encouraged to billions of people so casually?
The accolades for slugging and Vaseline® on TikTok are amusing, but lack reference to any evidence-based studies. Yet they are reaching hundreds of millions of viewers, mostly in a young demographic. If people hear these testimonials often enough, many will accept them as truth, especially when some of them come from dermatologist influencers.
We could find no evidenced-based studies of Vaseline’s® efficacy and this has opened the door for unempirical, often half-baked, perhaps self-serving commentary. As dermatologists, when patients ask us about Vaseline® we can tell them that the American Academy of Dermatology states that Vaseline® can be used to:5
· Relieve dry skin,
including your lips and eyelids
· Help injured skin heal
· Prevent chafing
· Treat diaper rash
· Rehydrate nails
Be careful when using it:
- On acne prone skin (anecdotal experience only)6
We could find no serious side-effects from topical application of Vaseline® and the few articles on comedogenicity were anecdotal.
At the time of this writing, PubMed has no references on the slugging.
There do not appear to be any rigorous randomized controlled trials comparing Vaseline® to either placebo or no treatment for any indication; yet, hundreds of millions of viewers are currently being bombarded with information about it on social media platforms. We hope this essay will be helpful when patients mention, or ask about, slugging and Vaseline®.
In 1881, John Shaw Billings the creator of Index Medicus
presciently wrote: “There is a vast amount of this effete and worthless
material in the literature of medicine, and it is increasing rapidly.”7 This certainly applies to much (most?)
of the medical information and advice to be found on TikTok and other social
media sites. Videntium cave (viewers beware)!
1. U.S. Patent for Vaseline https://patents.google.com/patent/US127568A/en (accessed 2/27.2022Z)
2. TikTok Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TikTok (accessed March 25, 2022)
3. Cramer M. A Staple of Grandma’s Medicine Cabinet Gets Hot on TikTok. New York Times. February 11, 2022.
4. Khatib H. Why slugging is the new K-beauty trend everyone is talking about. Vogue, December 11, 2020
5. American Academy of Dermatology website: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/routine/petroleum-jelly (accessed March 25, 2022)
5. Frankel EB. Acne secondary to white petrolatum use Arch Dermatol. 1985 May;121(5):589-90.
7. Billings JS, An Address on Our Medical Literature
Br Med J 1881 Aug 13;2(1076):262-8. P. 265