I Tried ‘Nail Slugging,’ and My Once-Brittle Nails Have Never Been Healthier

Getty Images/Fiordaliso
Whether you're opting for regular manicures, gels, acrylics, or press-ons, your nails are exposed to a slew of different chemicals (think: polish, glue, and remover) that weaken them and compromise their health. Cue the latest viral TikTok trend: “nail slugging.” If you’re new to the slug life, let us show you the slimy, moisturizing light.

What is nail slugging?

Similar to other popular TikTok hacks like “skin slugging” and “hair slugging,” nail slugging involves massaging your nails and cuticles with a petroleum jelly product, like Vaseline or Aquaphor. “We all know acrylates can be harsh and damage nails,” said Charles Puza, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in a recent TikTok video. “Slugging the nail cuticle can strengthen nails and protect them from water damage.”

Experts In This Article

As someone who doesn’t often wear acrylics and who hates when her natural nails break off, I was excited to give this trend a try to see if it lived up to the hype. Because if your natural nails aren't thriving, even the best mani-pedis aren't going to look as fresh and healthy as they should.

@drcharlesmd1 Slug your nails?! Yes. #slugging#nails#nailart#drcharlesmd#dermatology#nailtech#nailhack#skincare#lotion#nailsartvideos#fyp#needtoknow#slug♬ Envolver - Anitta

The benefits of nail slugging

Petroleum jelly is an occlusive, which means it seals in moisture and prevents water from evaporating. When you apply petroleum for nails, it hydrates your cuticles to leave them soft and supple.“Nail cuticles are crucial for our overall nail health. It’s the layer of dead skin cells that form a barrier on our nail plate to prevent dirt, bacteria, and anything foreign from getting into our nail bed to cause an infection,” says Brittney Boyce, celebrity nail artist and founder of NAILS OF LA.

Healthy cuticles protect and thicken the nail plate to allow your nails to grow thicker and stronger. When they’re well-fortified, they act as your body’s natural moisture barrier—but when they’re dry and cracking, it means the barrier is compromised and foreign objects can get in.

According to Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology based in Los Angeles, occlusive ointments give our nails the moisture they need so that they don't become brittle. It also helps protect the nail fold, the thick skin at the bottom of your nail, from water damage.

What are the best products for nail slugging?

While there are plenty of pricy moisturizing products you can use to achieve similarly hydrating results, many experts suggest that using Vaseline for cuticles and nails is really the best bet. It’s affordable, too.

Vaseline, Original Petroleum Jelly Original (Pack of 4) — $6.00

“People think they need fancy products or serums or tools for their nails, but most of the time, simple is better, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get good results,” Vivian Nguyen, a manicurist at Nail Lounge of La Jolla in La Jolla, CA, previously told Well+Good. “Vaseline works so well for so many things—I use it literally all the time.”

Aquaphor, Healing Ointment — $20.00

“Aquaphor, CeraVe Ointment, and shea butter are nice, affordable alternatives if Vaseline isn’t for you,” says Dr. Lee.

How to slug your nails

To properly slug your nails, Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Dermatology of Boca recommends soaking your fingertips in warm water for a few minutes to hydrate the skin and nails, drying your hands, and applying Vaseline on nails (or another occlusive) to add in further moisture and lock it in.

Since it can be kind of messy and sticky, ideally you should slug your nails at night before bed. That way, your hands have plenty of time to soak in all of the moisture while you catch some Z’s.

How often should you slug your nails?

Dr. Lee notes that there are no real side effects of nail slugging, so you can do it as often as you’d like. “If your cuticles and nails are routinely subjected to the trauma of manicures or water/chemical exposure, then nail slugging can be integrated into a regular self-care routine,” she says. “If your cuticles and nails are not subject to regular manipulation, then nail slugging or masking can be used on an intermittent, as-needed basis.”

How should you care for your cuticles and nails?

Beyond routine slugging, Dr. Lee says, “A well-balanced diet and plenty of water will help keep your nails and cuticles strong. What is good for your overall health is good for your skin health.” Keep acrylic manicures to a minimum and be sure to properly remove press-on and gel nails. If you’re a gel manicure enthusiast, consider the gel cycling trend, which is similar to “hair cycling” and “skin cycling.” Essentially, you swap out your gel manis in favor of natural nail care products—or nothing at all.

And if you give nail slugging a shot and it’s too messy for you, try adding in a cuticle cream. We love the Butter London oil and balm as it comes in mess-free packaging for precise application.

Butter London, QuickFix Moisturizing Cuticle Balm — $18.00

Formulated with antioxidants and mega-hydrators like coconut and avocado oils and vitamin E, this travel-friendly cuticle cream quenches dry nails and cuticles in a pinch.

Does nail slugging work?

I began the nail slugging process by removing my nail polish so that I would have a clean canvas to apply the petroleum jelly on top of. Per Dr. Fromowitz’s advice, I then washed my hands and soaked them in water for three minutes before slathering Vaseline onto my cuticles. I had globs of Vaseline left over so I massaged my hands with the excess—which brought back memories of the Vaseline-and-shea-butter hand massages my mom used to give me when I was little.

When I woke up in the morning, my nails and cuticles were not only moisturized, but they also had a natural shine and enhanced color that made them look far healthier than they did the night before. They were also strong (I hadn't seen them this fortified since the last time I applied nail hardener!) and felt exceptionally smooth. I have a few cracks on my nails, but post-slugging they were barely noticeable and blended in with the rest of my nails.

All in all, this particular trend really *is* as good as TikTok says it is, and it will be a part of my routine for the foreseeable future.

Tags: Nail Care
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