TikTok’s ‘hair slugging’ trend isn’t new but a centuries-old practice

By Erin Cook – July 6 2022

If you struggle to keep up with TikTok beauty trends you might want to take a seat because, while you were sleeping, #slugging was surpassed by a new viral hack that promises to overhaul the health of your hair.

Meet hair slugging. The trend can be traced back to TikTok user Monique Rapier (@moniquemrapier) who posted her hair slugging routine to the social media app earlier this year. Rapier’s video begins with “Everyone is obsessed with face slugging but…” before the glossy-haired brunette runs through her multi-step hair routine, which she aptly dubs “hair slugging”.

Hair oiling aka ‘hair slugging’ has long been practiced by Black women and people of colour across many cultures. 

Rapier’s take on hair slugging involves slathering oil (she used Ouai Hair Oil, but any lightweight hair oil will do) on your hair just before bed, working your way from the mid-lengths to ends, and then tucking your ponytail into a sock to protect your pillowcase while you sleep. According to the now-viral video, when you wash with your usual shampoo in the morning, your hair will be abundantly healthier and shinier than before, with results accumulating over time.

Rapier’s video contains the magic formula for a runaway TikTok beauty trend: a cute name, visible results and a conversation-starting quirk (which in this case is the sock and just how she threads her ponytail through it so elegantly). Rapier’s tutorial has amassed 6.4 million views and counting, and has inspired a legion of copycat creators to share their take on the trend. At last count, the hashtag #hairslugging has almost 13 million views in total.

But here’s the thing: hair slugging isn’t new. Hair oiling has long been practiced by Black women and people of colour across many cultures. And in Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine heavily practiced in South Asian countries, hair oiling has been passed down through generations for centuries.

Aside from a few variations, hair slugging and hair oiling are almost interchangeable, says Rochelle Currie, founder of haircare brand Nila Botanics. “The hair slugging trend is making hair oiling appealing to a new audience of young people,” says Currie. “In my opinion, starting these practices early will have longer-term effects on the hair and can help prevent or delay things like hair loss or greying.”

“Applying oil to the roots and leaving it overnight can really nourish your scalp and help with cellular turnover, which will have massive benefits for your hair.”

Currie, who is Sri Lankan-Australian, founded Nila Botanics in 2018 after experiencing postpartum hair loss following the birth of her daughter. When the new mum started to see noticeable hair thinning, she began researching ways to improve her hair and scalp health, and was reminded of the weekly hair oiling ritual she used to share with her grandmother.

“When I was a little girl in primary school, my grandmother would put alma oil in my hair on a Sunday night. She would really massage it into my head as she sang Sri Lankan nursery rhymes to me. It was a really special time.”

She decided to give hair oiling another crack but couldn’t find an oil that was lightweight enough for her hair yet nourishing enough for her scalp – so she took matters into her own hands and created the brand’s Bloom Vitality Hair Oil.

As Shrankhla Holecek, founder and CEO of Uma Oils points out, there is one key difference between Ayurvedic hair oiling and TikTok’s take on the practice. Hair slugging focuses on the mid-lengths and doesn’t get to the root of the issue, Holecek explains: “A lot of people doing hair slugging [on TikTok] are doing it for the immediate cosmetic benefits because the oiling procedure seals in shine by rounding out the cuticles.”

While added shine is a short-term gain, in Ayurveda, emphasis is placed on improved scalp health for long-term hair health: “Applying oil to the roots and leaving it overnight can really nourish your scalp and help with cellular turnover, which will have massive benefits for your hair.”

However, there’s a catch: massaging oil into your scalp can lead to build-up over time. So if you do take the oil all the way to the scalp, Holecek recommends following with a clarifying shampoo the next morning to remove excess oil. That or “you can literally rub a little bit of lemon onto your scalp”, which will do the same job – just “don’t go out into the sun as it will have a bleaching effect”.

Does every hair type stand to benefit from a weekly hair slugging ritual? Yes and no, says Sydney-based hairdresser Anthony Nader. This trend is best suited to “thirsty hair strands that are crying out for hydration such as frizzy, coarse, curly, bleached or colored hair that lacks shine,” especially if you’re guilty of using hot tools or spending long periods in the sun.

If your hair is particularly thirsty, Nader recommends following with a spritz of lightweight leave-in conditioner after shampooing your hair in the morning.

On the flip side, if you have fine hair, applying a heavy hair oil might prove to be too much. In this case, Holecek says it’s important not to overload the hair and to opt for an oil that has been specifically formulated for fine hair types.


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