Is Using Lotion a Black Thing?

Race Manners: We’re unlikely to get real data on this ashiness-inspired topic. But there’s something fascinating about race-related differences that make us ask each other, “For what?!”

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Dear Race Manners:

Genuine question: Is lotion a black thing (especially for guys)? A random white dude at the gym asked me why I use all these “products” (basically face lotion and body lotion). I asked, “Don’t you use lotion?” He said, “For what!?” I know lotion is marketed mostly to women (if advertising is correct), but I just remember from the time I was young, my mom would scold me if I tried to walk out the door with ashy knees.

Do white people get ashy knees? Or is the invisibility of dry skin a light-skin privilege? And furthermore (here is the academic side to this), I’m now wondering about how race and gender intersect to produce different grooming practices for men of color that do not fit white constructions of masculinity. —Confused about Creams, Color and Culture

This is a fun question, because discussions of perceived racial differences that are completely free of any serious implications are so rare. We’re not talking about health disparities or education or practices related to child rearing, or even dress or hair (which are seemingly superficial but can actually have their own consequences when it comes to how we judge each other).

It’s just lotion.

So your inquiry falls into the category of things like the (made-up?) racial washcloth divide. And black-vs.-white (or are they regional?) preferences for pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie. On topics like these, opinions are passionate, if totally anecdotal, but the consequences don’t run very deep.

The flip side of that point is that few people are likely to attempt any serious inquiry into the question, “Is lotion a black thing?”

I did stumble upon a study whose content seems to support your hunch that, while we’re all at risk for parched skin, it simply shows a lot more on darker complexions than on lighter ones: “In people with darkly pigmented skin, classified as Fitzpatrick type IV, V, or VI skin, xerosis or dry skin can be associated with a whitish coloring and a reduction in skin shininess known as ‘ashiness.’”

Look at that—the science of ashiness. But in searching for data on race and the lotion lifestyle (or lack thereof), I came up—forgive the pun—dry.

But that’s what social media are there for, right? In a Facebook thread about this topic, responses that seemed to validate your theory poured in.