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Why Celebrities Keep Calling Hotel Toiletries Racist

Gabrielle Union, Mindy Kaling, and Halsey have dragged hotel lotion and shampoo.

Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union, Mindy Kaling, and Halsey are not fans of hotel toiletries.
Photo: Getty Images for New York & Comp

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You know the stale peanuts at the bar that no one eats unless they’re utterly wasted? That’s about how appealing most people of color find hotel toiletries, and celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Mindy Kaling, and Halsey have all recently sounded off about it.

If you’re white (or, um, a kleptomaniac), checking out with a pilfered stash of toiletries may be the highlight of a nice hotel stay. But more often than not, the watery, slippery concoctions that your average hotel passes off as moisturizer and shampoo don’t pass muster with black and brown folks. We basically react the same way to even fancy hotel toiletries as beer snobs do to Natural Light — with unadulterated disgust.

Skeptical? Consider that just a four-word tweet about the issue went viral: “Hotel lotion is racist.”

In the age of 280 characters, that’s quite the feat. But it managed to get the attention of both Gabrielle Union and Mindy Kaling.

Union jokingly accused hotel lotion of conspiring to sabotage her greatness, and Kaling responded that she travels with an economy-size bottle of Eucerin precisely because hotel lotion is trash.

Before anyone with no sense of humor gets the wrong idea, no, these celebrities don’t actually believe hotel lotion is racist. It’s just that darker complexions require emollient-rich moisturizers to prevent skin from looking ashen. And a common complaint about hotel lotions is that they’re just too watery. People of color, of course, don’t have a monopoly on dry skin. But when those with pale skin have dry patches, their lighter complexions can prevent them from looking noticeably ashy.

In the black community, though, there’s arguably no aesthetic sin greater than having parched skin. It’s why black Twitter has taken to calling the wrongheaded men in their ranks “ashy Larrys” as an insult. It’s why in Danzy Senna’s award-winning novel Caucasia, about a biracial girl’s coming of age, there are whole paragraphs about lotion.

The Eucerin brand itself has recognized the cultural implications around ashiness. Its intensive repair formula now even includes the word “ashy.” It states that it “repairs and gently exfoliates very dry, flaky, ashy skin,” a change from its previous description.

If there’s an appearance-related faux pas that a black person can make of equal weight to having ashy skin, it’s having dry, unkempt-looking hair. This is why many African Americans also side-eye the shampoos and conditioners that hotels provide.

In April, the singer Halsey, who is biracial, blasted hotels for their lack of moisturizing shampoos. In a since-deleted tweet, she wrote, “I’ve been traveling for years now, and it’s been so frustrating that the hotel toiletry industry entirely alienates people of color. I can’t use this perfumed watered down white people shampoo. Neither can 50% of ur customers. Annoying.” The idea that black people and white people need different hair care products was apparently news to some of her followers.

Her observation about hotel shampoo brought out the haters, who told her she should just buy her own toiletries. As Kaling’s tweet about her economy-size Eucerin revealed, that’s what many people of color already do. Used to being marginalized practically everywhere else, black and brown hotel guests expect that the toiletries on hand will not cater to them. But that doesn’t mean hotels shouldn’t be expected to make efforts to be more inclusive. After all, their guests include people with a variety of hair and skin types. It would be nice if they started to recognize that fact.