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Stephen Mihm

The Rise, Fall and Curious Revival of Vaseline

The gelatinous oil-sludge byproduct emerged in the 19th century as a strangely popular women’s beauty treatment. And yup, it’s emerged again.

Everything old is new again.

Everything old is new again.

Photo illustration by Jessica Karl. 

If TikTok videos are any indicator of what’s trending, the unusual beauty trend known as “slugging” has gone mainstream. Over 100 million viewers have watched clips describing the practice, which involves going to bed at night with your face slathered in Vaseline. When you wake up and remove the ointment, your skin supposedly looks shiny.

Somewhere in the great beyond, the chemist Robert Augustus Chesebrough is nodding in approval, pleased to see that yet another generation has rediscovered the wonder-working powers of Vaseline, his beloved invention. For upward of a century and a half, this gelatinous substance has been a staple in a range of beauty treatments.