When it comes to beauty, the cost of makeup, and general “appearance maintenance,” it can sometimes feel like there’s no limit to how much a woman can spend. There is always some miracle product that promises to give you clear skin, shiny hair, or full lashes. And even just a walk through a drugstore is fraught with temptation to pick up a new lipstick or nail polish because, why not, it’s not even 10 dollars?
And aside from the (obviously) gendered and emotional aspects of all of this — in the fact that we feel we are always a “work in progress,” something that can be improved upon constantly through spending money on the right products — there’s also a huge financial toll that comes with the cost of beauty. Some women spend hundreds of dollars a month on products and treatments to get them closer to the vision of themselves in their head, and consider it a part of their normal routine.
Still other women spend almost nothing on beauty products, aside from the very basics to maintain things like clean hair and moisturized skin. And this leads us to have all the more distorted vision of what is an “average” amount for a woman to spend on beauty. So I decided to speak to 11 women in my life about what they spend on beauty and upkeep, and where that money really goes. Where do they save? Where do they splurge? Do they feel any regrets about the amount they’re spending?
I gathered honest (and sometimes surprising) answers about money spent on cosmetics below.
“I barely spend anything on makeup (I wear the same five-ish drug store products and never really change my routine), but I spend a good amount on all things hair. I get frequent cuts/colors, waxes, threading, etc. All told, I spend probably at least $100 every month just messing with my hair. Patriarchy!” -Noelle, 25
“The one area where I really spend a ton of money is skincare. I wear a very basic amount of makeup (I buy the same stuff approx. once every few months, and it costs me about $100 for all of it), but I have a lot of monthly skincare costs. I have acne and rosacea as well as really sensitive, pale skin, so between my sunscreen, my expensive moisturizer, my skin creams, my cleansing products, and my dermo visits, skin stuff alone averages out to about $100 a month. It’s very frustrating, too, because I don’t really want to be spending this money, and it doesn’t make me look or feel ‘prettier,’ per se, just ‘more normal.’ I sometimes feel resentful that I have to spend all of this money just to get to a level that nice-skinned women have every day.” -Anna, 26
“I don’t really spend too much on beauty, tbh — I don’t get my hair done, I do my nails at home, I don’t really buy new makeup, and my creams last me a long time. The only thing I really do for myself is get waxes, which I get once a month at $50/each. I get my hair cut twice per year (I like to keep it really long), which is about $75 each time.” -Cristina, 27
“I definitely admit that I’m a beauty addict, especially when it comes to all things colorful. For example, I have one foundation and one face moisturizer that lasts me an entire season, and I don’t mess around with primers or highlight or whatever. But lipsticks, nail polish, eyeshadow, eyeliner, everything where I can have a range of colors, I’m addicted. I love collecting all different shades of things (even when I know they’re going to be unflattering), and I now have a makeup shelf at home with literally probably 200 shades of things. Between that and my regular beauty stuff (bath stuff, hair stuff, skin care stuff), I end up spending about $150/month. Which feels like a lot.” -Natalie, 23
“I actually spend more on beauty stuff quarterly than monthly, because I order things online and use the same things repeatedly, which usually get replaced every three months. I get a case of my shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel for about $60. I get a big thing of my moisturizer (one body, one face) for $70. I buy mascara, eyeliner, foundation, bronzer, lip stain, and a neutral eyeshadow (I wear literally the same face of makeup basically every day), and that is about $130 every 2-3 months. Then I get a haircut 3-4 times a year for $100 each. I pluck my own eyebrows and bikini waxing. Buying everything in bulk forces me to be thriftier, because I feel the hit. When I used to just pick up things as I went, and make a run to Sephora here and there, I spent way more (even though it felt like I was spending less).” -Maddie, 27
“I’d say my monthly spend on makeup is pretty low compared to most (or what I imagine most women have to spend).
I’ve never been the type to have a full-blown beauty regimen. I’ve always (thankfully) had pretty clear skin and freckles so I never had to delve into the world of foundation/concealer/powders/
Where I really spend my money is on all the other non-makeup categories.
Because I have super curly/wavy/thick hair, I always go to the same woman at the same salon in Soho. I won’t trust anyone else. Unfortunately her pricing has gone up over the years, so I have to shell out about $120 ($100 + tax & tip) every time I go (once every 3-4 months). I also buy my shampoo and conditioner there, which racks up another $40 bucks. But it’s concentrated, works great, and lasts a long time, so I feel ok about it.
I also now have a boyfriend who prefers (though to his credit, does not demand) me to keep things ahem Brazilian below the belt. Never having bothered get waxed until now, I was shocked that it cost so much. Nevertheless, once a month I pay a nice Ukrainian woman $50 ($40 + tax & tip) to rip out all of my hair.
Then there is the beauty ‘stuff.’ I’m talking the perfect face scrub I buy at Lush ($14), and the bath bombs I always pick up while I’m there ($6 each), and the Kiehl’s body polish ($11), the expensive Venus razors ($18), and the Essie nail polish ($8). I get the makeup removing wipes from Olay ($5), and Goodie hair clips ($6), and the Chloe perfume rollerballs ($25). For me, these are the things that I just grab and don’t really think too much about. And some of these things (like buying my own polish and doing my nails myself) end up saving me a lot — but then again, I’m sure I could find cheaper alternatives if I tried hard enough (or considered whether I really needed to exfoliate my legs every day).” -Liz, 25
“I spend as close to nothing on beauty as possible, honestly. I buy basic shower stuff and lotion, I cut my own hair, and my makeup bag consists of a few items from CVS that I put on when I’m feeling particularly energetic. It’s not a feminist statement or whatever, I actually like the feeling of getting super made-up occasionally, I’m just super lazy. And I find that when I wear a ton of makeup on a regular basis, my skin gets worse, which creates a vicious cycle (because I have to cover it with more makeup). Including shower stuff, I probably put $25/month towards my appearance. But I make it up with all the money I spend at bars and restaurants, haha.” -Amy, 30
“My summer and winter beauty spending are very different. In the winter, I buy a lot more makeup and skin products (always from Sephora or NARS), and it ends up being about $100 per month. In summer, I really only wear a few things: tinted vaseline on my lips and eyelids, good moisturizer, a bit of waterproof mascara if I’m going out, and maybe a touch of bronzer and eyeliner for a ‘done up’ look. In the summer, I probably spend a total of $20 a month, besides basic cleaning stuff. (I also get my hair chopped off at the beginning of summer and let it grow out as the summer goes along), so I really spend next to nothing during this time.” -Joanna, 29
“So I spend $10 on Ipsy. I’ve been super happy with it. I don’t use a lot of makeup, so when I was filling out their survey I really narrowed down what I was interested in getting. Mostly skincare products, lots of lip stuff, an eyeshadow here and there. The only makeup I wear everyday is mascara, concealer, powder, and a lip thing, so the other products last for a while. I get a manicure/pedicure once every two months (might as well not do it at all, but) so let’s say that’s 20 bucks per month. I spend something like $140 on my haircut/color, but I only get it done once every three or four months, so that’s $40 on average. I shave at home and have the same pack of razors from a year ago, when I moved into this apartment. Don’t think they’re worth the math. Same re: my moisturizer, I use a big ass jug of Pond’s that lasts at least four months.” -Stephanie, 28
“I spend an embarrassing amount of money on beauty. I get facials, balayage, manicures, and basically every other ‘bougie’ beauty treatment, on top of the stuff I buy for myself. I probably spend about $300 a month on my appearance, but to me it always feels worth it. I just like looking and feeling pretty, lol. I honestly think it makes me better at my job and at life, because I feel so confident.” -Alison, 30
“So I used to spend way, way less money on beauty than I do now. But since I got a job in a very high-pressure professional setting, I find myself spending a lot of money on beauty treatments to a) look a certain way and b) save myself a lot of valuable time. For example, I get twice-monthly gel manicures ($50 total) and weekly blowouts ($120 total) that I maintain for most of the work week, mostly so I can look “put together” without trying.
I don’t necessarily regret this money, especially because my actual makeup routine is a few things from NARS that I buy once every few months ($175 every 3-4 months), but I do resent that the men in my office never have to consider this stuff. We all have to look a certain way in front of the client, but only women are forced to go through a ton of unnecessary spending to get to that point. I think all the time of things I’d rather do with that money, but ultimately it’s more important to me to have that time to focus on things other than waking up super early to get my nails and hair perfect.” -Katie, 33