TikTok ‘skinfluencers’ rediscover an old beauty secret that is perfect for slugging

A hand dips into a tin of Vermont’s Original Bag Balm skin moisturizer (Vermont’s Original Bag Balm)
A hand dips into a tin of Vermont’s Original Bag Balm skin moisturizer (Vermont’s Original Bag Balm)

Rural beauty hack Bag Balm has entered the skincare mainstream thanks to TikTok.

A widely known secret within rural communities, Bag Balm has gone viral after content creators and “skinfluencers” alike have begun to tout its effects as an alternative to Vaseline for “slugging,” the act of covering your entire face before going to bed to seal in moisture.

From actor Raquel Welch to country superstar Shania Twain, celebrities have long credited Bag Balm as the beauty hack that helps them weather long days on set and on the big stage. Back in 1999, the latter spiked sales of the product when she told London’s Telegraph newspaper, “When I’ve been flying a lot and my skin is really dry, I’ll rub it over my face and on my hair and leave it there all day.”

But with influencers like Alix Earle telling her millions of TikTok followers that she swears by the product to help with dry skin and lips, new, younger audiences are turning to the product in droves.

Made in Lyndonville, Vermont for 125 years, the concoction is made of petroleum jelly and lanolin. It was created primarily for cows when their utters become dry during the state’s harsh winters. The square green tin’s label is explicit that it’s for veterinary use only: “For sore teats and hard milkers, apply the Balm one hour before the night milking and immediately after the morning milking.”

Dairy farmer John L Norris first bought the rights to the formula from a druggist in Wells River and began selling it as Bag Balm through his Dairy Association Company in 1899. The company also marketed farm animal products such as horse hoof softener, cow teat dilator, and Tackmaster, a leather cleaner, and conditioner.

By the time Norris’ son began to run the company in the 1960s, the company ran ads that marketed Bag Balm for at-home use “for cuts, chaps, and burns.”

People at the time were finding all sorts of uses for the balm, with a 1969 Wall Street Journal article reporting its myriad of talents. From a Marine in Vietnam using Bag Balm to lubricate a 105-millimeter howitzer to a dentist in Texas claiming it healed his psoriasis, Bag Balm’s multi-purpose nature is far from a brand new discovery.

Libby Parent - the 36-year-old president of the company, now known as Vermont’s Original Bag Balm - explained to The New York Times that after the Norris family sold the company to private equity investors in 2014, new management wanted to re-brand the product.

“Our whole brand ethos is simplicity and versatility,” Parent said, noting their goal to shift the company’s focus to marketing how the product can benefit human customers. “We needed to define the product for people.”

A hand dips into a tin of Vermont’s Original Bag Balm skin moisturizer (Vermont’s Original Bag Balm)
A hand dips into a tin of Vermont’s Original Bag Balm skin moisturizer (Vermont’s Original Bag Balm)

The company has since introduced a line of human-specific products including a lip moisturizer, soap, and exfoliating body wash. They’ve also begun to offer its iconic salve in a travel-friendly plastic tube besides its classic green tin. The product can also now be found at your local Walmart, which began selling Bag Balm in 2015.

However, the product still receives ten per cent of its sales from farmers, with Bag Balm becoming a traditional household item for many rural families.

“It really is a household staple for many families,” Nebraska farmer Mindy McGrew told the outlet. She noted that she uses Bag Balm on her cows’ udders in winter to protect them from frostbite and on their tails in summer to soothe fly bites. “Grandma had it at her house, then Mom had it at her house.”

With the brand’s loyal cult following in rural communities, Parent says Bag Balm won’t drastically change its strategy anytime soon, despite going recently viral via TikTok “slugging” videos. She explained, “We have something unique — why disrupt it?”

By focusing on its traditional roots yet appealing to the masses with more human-friendly products, Bag Balm hopes to straddle the line between the past and the future to market a product meant to last.