When I was a broke college student, I discovered a giant, money-saving secret in the aisles of Walgreens: gendered pricing. Women’s beauty products, like deodorant and razors, simply cost more than their identical, marketed-for-men counterparts. And according to Forbes and Marie Claire, this isn’t just a small marketing anomaly, in which manufacturers bank on a few extra pennies from the ladies–artificially inflated prices can cost females and female-identified individuals well over $1,000 per year in beauty products and health insurance.
You may recall an article on Blisstree a few months ago, in which Elizabeth deconstructed the model of gendered pricing within health insurance–a sad, upsetting practice in which preventative healthcare measures for women are priced higher than those of men for, it seems, no reason. That practice is slowly, state-by-state, being stopped by the Affordable Care Act…but what about every other way women are gouged, like at the drugstore, where formulas and construction (think shampoo or razors) across genders are similar or identical? Does it really cost more to make stuff for women?
First, let’s compare the ingredients in a men’s deodorant to a women’s, just to see if the formulas really are “totally different” like one source told Forbes. Here are the ingredients for Dove’s Men+Care Clean Comfort Deodorant/Antiperspirant:
Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex GLY, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearyl Alcohol, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, PPG-14 Butyl Ether, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Fragrance (Parfum), Dimethicone, Polyethylene, Steareth-100, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, BHT
And here’s the ingredient list for Dove’s Go Sleeveless Beauty Finish Deodorant:
Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex GLY, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearyl Alcohol, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, PPG-14 Butyl Ether, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, PEG-8, Fragrance (Parfum), Dimethicone, Silica, Polyethylene, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Steareth-100, BHT
When purchased online, they’re about the same price–around $5. When purchased in a store in my neighborhood, the women’s version was a good $1 more expensive. The women’s stick was also substantially smaller. So what gives?
One factor that Forbes points out is that the cost of importing women’s products tends to be higher, because tariff laws are weird and old and controlled by huge market forces and lobbyists. But that’s only part of the problem–if razor blades or ingredients are shipped independently and assembled in US factories, that doesn’t really apply.
What is really at play, it seems, is that manufacturers of health and beauty products know that they can get women to spend more on personal care items, and that by playing to women’s insecurities, they can also hawk more and different products. This is from an actual Datamonitor market research document:
…The increasing image consciousness of many women creates premiumization opportunities for manufacturers and retailers even during a recession
Yup. Making us more self-conscious gets us to pay more money for products.
Additionally, store placement is a big part of the equation. By keeping men’s and women’s products separated, vendors are able to thwart comparison shoppers. Few women actually go check to see what the men’s (or generic, non-gendered) razors, shampoo, or other products cost, and thus, they may not realize how much more they’re really spending for something that’s basically the same, but marketed toward them.
What can you do to save money on beauty products? First, you can consider–hear me out–actually spending a little more, by shopping for sustainable, responsible products. National chains like The Body Shop, which offer more eco-friendly (and way less gender-marketed), or artisan, local vendors may charge more, but it’s not because they’re gouging you–it’s because you’re getting a better product with less ooky stuff in it.
Or, if you’re really looking to pinch pennies, consider doing what I did in college (and still do): look for the products that are the least gendered. Take a stroll to the men’s section to check out the wares, and look for deodorants and other personal care items that seem less targeted toward women. Then compare price–items in yellow, green, blue or other more gender-neutral colors (one market study showed that women don’t actually prefer the color pink–it’s just that buy pink items because they’re in front of them) will likely be lower in price.
You can also, as Marie Claire recommends, reach out to your congressperson or representative and ask that gendered pricing, which is pointless except to make money for manufacturers, be curbed once and for all.
Image via Dove