By now, you're almost certainly familiar with the concept of slugging. Born from a Korean-favorite skin-protective technique that involves sealing up your skincare routine with a moisture-trapping occlusive, the viral practice is now a near-nightly one for many dealing with everything from product-induced irritation to general dry skin.
You might have also heard that we're living in an era of skincare-ified haircare—and so-called "hair slugging" is all the proof you need. Based on the same principles as regular ol' skin slugging, hair slugging is gaining serious traction online (and especially on TikTok) thanks to the shiny, moisturized hair in the "after" shots, touted as the inevitable result of loading hair up with oils and hydrating agents before going to bed.
As is the case with any viral claim, though, it's helpful to have the pros myth-bust before hitting confirm purchase on your shopping cart full of slugging essentials. Plus, this practice isn't new—it has a long beauty history in many cultures. To get to the bottom of the hair slugging technique, Byrdie tapped two top haircare experts to give us the skinny on all things slugging.
What Is Hair Slugging?
As the delightfully descriptive name would suggest, hair slugging involves shellacking hair in an extra coat of product (typically a leave-in hair oil) then carefully tucking all of it up into a fluffy sock before bed as protection. Black women and people of color have been wearing silk wraps, bonnets, and scarves as hair protection for centuries, and hair oiling on its own has a long and rich cultural history in South Asia, too.
Despite having a long and storied history in many cultures, the practice is currently trending on TikTok with clips tagging hair slugging racking up millions of views. While the results are stunning, the professionals warn there are a few things to be aware of when trying it out at home.
"As a woman of Caribbean descent, this beauty secret of oiling skin and hair has been around so long my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother have been doing this as part of their healthy hair regimen," shares Stefanie François, a top stylist at Bergdorf Goodman's Salon Yoshiko. That said, both François and Luis Perez, a sought-after colorist at Salon Yoshiko, agree it's a solid move for those with dry hair—but not without a few adjustments.
What Does Hair Slugging Actually Do?
"It can make a difference for hair that is dry," Perez confirms, explaining that the temporary boost in moisture levels eliminates frizz and adds shine to the hair. But while the original video claims hair slugging can get rid of split ends, François says to not believe the hype. "I’ll tell you how to combat split ends," she explains. "Get a haircut (or a trim) to keep hair healthy. Split ends will keep splitting. Cut those awful dead ends already and do it as often as needed—trust me, you won’t be sorry." Despite the fact that hair slugging can't do much about actual split ends, there are still plenty of positives to working it into your regular haircare routine.
"Where there is a concerted effort to nourish and lock moisture in the hair and prevent friction, it’s always going to contribute to better hair health," says Michelle O'Connor, Matrix Artistic Director. "Oils and serums help lock in moisture, so while it won’t permanently repair split ends, it will prevent future ones." Additionally, all three experts confirm that hair slugging is a suitable practice for all hair types, lengths, and textures, though you'll want to adjust product types and frequency of application accordingly (more on that in a sec, though).
How to Slug Your Hair
First thing's first: It's time to assemble your hair slugging products. While traditionally the practice calls for oil, serum, or thicker cream can be used depending on your hair type. "For example, fine hair would do well with a serum or lightweight oil like Matrix's A Curl Can Dream Lightweight Oil ($24)," O'Connor explains. "Coarser and curlier hair types can use thicker oils that have a heavier coating effect. The heavier the oil though, the less apt you are to be able to restyle the next day as the hair may be weighted down," she warns. "The ideal solution is an oil or serum that is lightweight and has both penetrative as well as coating abilities."
Perez calls Shu Uemura's Essence Absolue ($69) a personal favorite that "protects the hair and also is great to add before styling." François lists marula, argan, jojoba, and coconut oil as key ingredients to look out for when you're shopping. "Also castor oil," she adds, "which is a bit heavy and odorous but works wonders."
Another professional consensus? Go ahead and ditch the sock method. Socks will just absorb all that moisture you just added in, according to all three experts, and a silk bonnet or wrap is a better alternative that also helps with friction-induced frizz. O'Connor suggests weaving hair into a single braid if possible before tucking it into a silk wrap and adds that a silk pillowcase is a solid option if you'd rather not wear a cap.
François says it's wise to be cautious of just how often you're slugging—and where those products are being placed. "You don’t want to drench the hair, you just want to feel like there’s product in it," she explains. "Make sure not to apply too much oil to the scalp if your scalp is already oily. You can mostly apply the oil from the ponytail down." She also recommends ensuring that you shampoo your hair thoroughly to get all of that oil out afterward, "and rinse, rinse, rinse before adding conditioner."
In fact, that's why she personally prefers to "slug" as a pre-shampoo mask rather than at bedtime. O'Connor and Perez agree that slugging can be implemented on an ad hoc basis, with Perez adding that is indeed possible to overdo it on slugging frequency. "For someone that has fine hair, you have to be careful," he says. "If your hair is coarse or wavy, you can do the treatment more frequently."