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Scott Pruitt’s Ritz-Carlton moisturizing lotion scandal, explained

No doubt he had his reasons.

Scott Pruitt
Scott Pruitt’s security detail drove him around Washington to find his favorite luxury lotion.
Javier Zarracina

The never-ending series of scandals swirling around Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has developed an amusing new dimension with the revelation from the Washington Post’s team of Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey, and Brady Dennis that Pruitt has been using his security detail to, among other things, go shopping for a special moisturizer available at Ritz-Carlton hotels.

It’s difficult to know exactly how to classify the severity of various different Pruitt scandals at this point.

Misusing government funds in a minor way seems in many respects less serious than the original scandal, which involved essentially accepting free rent from a lobbyist. And while President Trump and most congressional Republicans appreciate Pruitt for his policy work, arguably it’s the policy work — which has included everything from keeping a pesticide legal even though it poisons children’s brains to undermining efforts to avert potentially catastrophic climate change — that is the real scandal.

Moisturegate does, however, have some potency as a potential Pruitt-killer if only because it undermines his political survival strategy of mirroring Trump. The scandal involves luxury moisturizer, something a real manly man wouldn’t mess with.

What went on here, exactly?

The basic story appears to be a sequel to an earlier Pruitt saga in which he claimed that security needs required him to travel first-class at taxpayer expense when, obviously, the real reason he wanted to fly first-class was because he likes fancy stuff.

By the same token, it’s long been unclear why exactly Pruitt wanted a security detail whose $3.5 million a year in costs was roughly triple what his predecessors spent. What’s become clear this week is that Pruitt sees the security detail as a kind of all-purpose group of errand boys whom he can dispatch on weird tasks like tracking down a used Trump hotel mattress.

The latest revelation is, however, about lotion:

While EPA security agents are required to protect Pruitt at all times — while he is working and during his off hours — the two individuals said the administrator had asked members of the detail to perform tasks that go beyond their primary function. In one instance, they said, he directed agents to drive him to multiple locations in search of a particular lotion on offer at Ritz-Carlton hotels.

One other occasions, they added, he asked agents to pick up his dry cleaning without him.

The top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), reiterated his call that Pruitt step down.

“Americans deserve an EPA administrator who will work to carry out the agency’s mission to protect the public’s health and our environment,” Carper said Thursday. “Instead, Mr. Pruitt is using this critical agency to do his personal bidding on the taxpayers’ dime. Americans are fed up. Enough is enough.”

Misuse of official staff to pick up dry cleaning is a perennial Washington scandal. Indeed, Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA) resigned two weeks ago over a set of staff abuse allegations that included the dry-cleaning beef. I use Rinse to get my dry cleaning picked up and dropped off without scandal, which is probably something that more of official Washington should look into.

The moisturizing lotion thing is, however, kind of a new one. It’s also not clear why exactly Pruitt would order staffers to drive him to multiple hotels rather than simply calling in advance. That said, for context, there’s a Ritz-Carlton in downtown DC, another one in Georgetown, and another one in the inner-ring suburb of Pentagon City, so it wouldn’t necessarily take all that long to hit multiple Ritz-Carltons — though if they went all the way out to the Tysons Corner Ritz-Carlton, that would be really egregious.

What’s the deal with this lotion?

I can’t say for sure, never having tried it personally.

But Ritz-Carlton does proudly sell the Ritz-Carlton Moisturizer on its online store for $27.20 a bottle.

Those who are really committed to keeping their hands soft can even save $90 with an annual subscription. The lotion is said to feature “sweet notes of ylang ylang, jasmine and uplifting bergamot,” and no, I do not know what ylang ylang is.

At any rate, skin care has never been hotter than it is in 2018, so on one level, it’s hard to fault Pruitt for getting in on the trend. On the other hand, skin care is a very specifically female-coded activity. Indeed, some analysts, such as the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino, have specifically identified the skin care craze as part and parcel of the women-dominated anti-Trump backlash; Tolentino wrote last December that “over the summer, in one of many small, ridiculous attempts to affirm to myself that I will outlive the Trump Administration, I decided to incorporate both retinol and sunscreen into my daily skin-care routine.”

Whether or not one fully buys the notion of skin care as an act of #resistance, however, it’s indisputably true that moisturizing is somewhat effeminate and also that the Ritz-Carlton Moisturizer, with its “uplifting bergamot,” isn’t even some kind of special lotion for men. Do the avatars of working-class cultural backlash politics really need a “luxuriously soothing lotion”?

Okay, but why is moisturizing effeminate?

Look, obviously there’s a whole thing about norms and social construction and beauty standards and double standards and all the rest going on.

But not to go entirely “Intellectual Dark Web,” science does appear to indicate that there are significant differences, on average, between men’s skin and women’s skin. According to Dr. Diana Howard of the International Dermal Institute, there are a number of sex-linked differences in skin characteristics — women’s skin is thinner, contains less collagen, has fewer sebaceous glands, and is less acidic. Women also tend to sweat less.

Most importantly, Howard writes, “male skin appears to be better hydrated than women’s, which is fortunate, as men are less likely to apply a hydrating moisturizer to their body or face.”

Turning it around, men are less likely to moisturize because men are, on average, genuinely less likely to have dry skin.

As ever in life, however, there are exceptions. Men are, on average, taller than women, but there are certainly men who are shorter than the average woman. And by the same token, just because men on average have well-hydrated skin doesn’t make it impossible that Pruitt’s skin is legitimately quite dry and in need of moisturizing lotion. Whether that justifies dispatching an expensive security detail to hunt it down is, however, another matter.