Fashion & Beauty

Another Look at the Price of Beauty

January 24, 2016

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A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, MyLittleBird ran a story (reprinted below) about a Wall Street Journal article that revealed the high price of beauty these days as recounted by three women in their 40s. We encouraged our readers—you know, real people— to tell us how much they spend in a year on “maintenance.” We got a few comments, including a hilarious list from contributor Stephanie Cavanaugh, and incorporated them into our piece.

A few more comments have come in since then, so we’re updating our tallies and expanding the range of possibilities.

  • Fascinating! I added it up and I spend $4,200 on beauty each year. Sheesh. I’m certainly bringing up the rear here…..
  • I am embarrassed at how little I spend, and it shows.
  • I do each and every item listed, however, I get a lot of my services and products for free or at a discount since I am in the field.
  • Just looked…up [Infinity Call daily meditation; mentioned in original story, below]: You pay $25/month so that each day starting at 7 am you can access a recording in which a voice takes you through a guided meditation.  At 7 am that would put me right back to sleep.
  • I think my number would be embaressingly low, like $2,100 at the hair dresser and I buy my shampoo there, too. Don’t do creams and I don’t remember the last time I bought makeup. I think we spend more on cat food.
  • A naturally beautiful acquaintance from St. Louis weighed in:
Haircuts $480
Hair color None
Blow-outs  None
Hair extensions None
Hair vitamins None
Fancy (or not-so-fancy) shampoo and conditioner – Fancy – $180
Manicures $180
Pedicures $150
Facials $160
Chemical peels None
Light therapy None
Cosmetics – about $200/year
Moisturizers – $248 + 2 serums per year $200
Any newfangled “therapy” or “system” you try once Nope
Botox injection Never
Restylane (or Juvaderm or other filler) None
Eyebrow waxing (or other shaping) Not that either
Any other area waxing – Bikini $200
Eyelash tinting No
Eyelash extensions No
Massage – oh yeah! 12 per year @ $80 – $180 depending on location – low estimate $960
Yoga sessions No
Chiropractor or acupuncturist No
B-12 shots No
Directional non-force chiropractor – What the heck?
Energy healing – Nope (unless the love of my husband counts, and that is more or less free)
The Infinity Call daily meditation – No
Year’s supply of Jiva-Apoha oils for face and body – No, but maybe I’m missing something?
St. Louis has a low cost of living, our reader added, and that probably extends to these services [which added up to $2,958 for the year]. I am getting them at the high end of the range but anticipate they’d cost a lot more on the coasts. Also, in case it matters, I am sadly no longer in my 40s.
  • Heather Shaw Menis, a public relations consultant who has lifestyle clients and always has to look good sent the following:


    My spend totals $6,930:

    Haircuts  = $750
    Hair color  = $675
    Blow-outs = $150
    Hair extensions
    Hair vitamins
    Fancy (or not-so-fancy) shampoo and conditioner = $320
    Manicures /Pedicures = $900
    Facials = $300
    Chemical peels
    Light therapy
    Cosmetics = $500

    Sunless tanners (I’m pale and freckled so the occasional airbrush tan application in summer seems justified) = $330

    Moisturizers/toners/cleansers/masks (mostly Biologique Recherche and Alchimie Forever ) = $1,200
    Any newfangled “therapy” or “system” you try once = $500 is a probably a fair rainy day estimate
    Botox injection (might start this year but no basis for comparison)
    Restylane (or Juvaderm or other filler)
    Eyebrow waxing (or other shaping)
    Any other area waxing
    Eyelash tinting
    Eyelash extensions (don’t plan on it this year but was just becoming disillusioned with them at the start of last so I’ll say = $300
    Massage – hubby provides for free 🙂
    Yoga/spin/barre sessions = $2400
    Chiropractor or acupuncturist
    B-12 shots

    Detox fads (charcoal-infused water or pills, juice cleanses, pre-prepared healthy meals. On average, I try something new twice a year) = $130

  • Then we heard from Catherine Clifford, one of our favorite contributors:
OMG! Are you effing kidding me? I know I’m crazy frugal but—are you effing kidding me?! And these were women in their forties, before the serious sagging and shifting and crinkling starts!
Anyway, too much detail below, but I feel compelled to explain the low numbers. General principle for hair/skin/cosmetics products: it’s virtually never anything but drugstore/supermarket/discount store, and at that only BOGOs, sales, closeouts, plus coupons, plus CVS bonus bucks, etc.—1/2 price is the most I end up paying for almost anything, often less.
Since many of these are not applicable, I bolded the things I do spend money on.
Haircuts -$100 maybe 3-4 a year, and using one of the more expensive years as an example, it might be one $80 ($65 plus tip), one Hair Cuttery, $20 ($14 plus tip), two trims or cuts by me. (Many years, it would have been $0 since I cut my own hair entirely.)
Color – $300 highlights twice a year @ $125 plus tip. Again, for many years I did none or did my own highlights, so $5 for whatever brand of hair color was on sale at the drugstore, one package was enough for a years’ worth of highlights. But last year I decided to hell with it, and paid, twice! (Aveda and Symmetry)–though a friend gets great highlights at Hair Cuttery, and I’ll undoubtedly check that out next.
Blow-outs – $0
Hair extensions –  $0
Hair vitamins – $0
Fancy (or not-so-fancy) shampoo and conditioner – $30 (just got almost a gallon of Tresemme shampoo for free, with a consequent $5 in CVS bonus bucks to spend on something else. After coupons et al., they paid me $5 to buy 4 large bottles of shampoo. But add in conditioner and amortize a bottle of Moroccan oil that’s lasted years…)
Manicures – $0
Pedicures – $0
Facials – $0
Chemical peels – $0
Light therapy – $0
Cosmetics – $25 (maybe a new bottle of foundation, an eye pencil, shadow, mascara, blush, lipstick–but I never need more than a couple of those items in a single year)
Moisturizers – $20 ($10 for moisturizer, $10 for eye cream)

Any newfangled “therapy” or “system” you try once: $0

Botox injection – $800 here’s the one big one–just for frown lines, but I have stuck with it, and paid $400 for it twice now, every 6 months or so

Restylane (or Juvaderm or other filler) – $0
Eyebrow waxing (or other shaping) – $0
Any other area waxing – $0
Eyelash tinting – $0
Eyelash extensions – $0
Massage – $0
Yoga sessions – $0
Chiropractor or acupuncturist – $0
B-12 shots – $0
To be thorough, I would include
Toner – $10
Cotton balls – $5
Facial soap/cleanser – $10
Sunscreen – $20
Chapstick – $10
Body moisturizer – $5
Impulse buys: –$50 every rare now and then I try something new, pick up a sample size, a scrub from a craft fair or something
and let’s add another $50 in case I lowballed or forgot anything.
So my annual total is $1,435–$800 for Botox, $635 for everything else. I’m shocked that I spend over $1,400 a year on my appearance. (I’ll have to cut back Emoji ) Though aside from hair and Botox, it’s only $235, which sounds about right, $20/month. I wonder how much better I would have to look to make me think it was worth a spending another another $19,000…….
Happily representing the thrifty for over 50 years, ever yours,
Here’s our original story:

THE “OFF DUTY” SECTION of the Saturday-Sunday Wall Street Journal this past weekend (January 9-10, 2016) ran the front-page feature “The Price of Beauty,” citing in part “the onslaught of new ways  to spend money on one’s looks.”

Haircuts, blow-dries, hair color, mani-pedi—i.e., the usual suspects—were soon joined by more exotic fare: eyelash extensions, Ultherapy and Fillerina Hyaluronic Acid among other things.


iStock image.

The arithmetic (and no doubt the amount of time spent) added up smartly when WSJ asked three women to “tally the big-ticket expenditures they make over the course of a year.” Even the Journal writer called the results, which included a directional non-force chiropractor and intravenous vitamin therapy, “eye-opening.” The women were all in their 40s: a jewelry designer, an actress and a “style expert” and founder of charity Glam4Good, which  provides makeovers for women “in need of a boost,” from veterans to  breast-cancer survivors. The three weren’t “typical” women, perhaps, but who’s typical?

One of them spent $18,491 for the year, another $20,110 and the third $20,395.20, a pretty tight range, I thought (love that 20 cents). One of the women (smart or extravagant, you decide) admitted to 25 sessions with a makeup artist / hair stylist during the year for a total of $6,250. My suspicion is that she looks a lot more together than I do.

Being too embarrassed to do my own piddling tally, I blasted out an email to everyone I could think of, asking them to take beauty stock. There were a lot of embarrassed demurrers; one “I’m scared to calculate my spend”; an ex-Washington Post reporter who found the challenge fascinating and added up $4,200 in beauty expenses for the previous  year; an arts journalist who wondered whether the total doubled by the decade; and a Washington writer who had already budgeted her expenses with a financial planner  because she was getting divorced. She came up with $10,860 in hair cuts, keratin treatments, pedicures, yoga and Pilates and Sculpt classes, and skincare products and treatments. She does a lot of public speaking, so she does need to look top-shelf, but in fact her financial planner said her expenses were low compared with some other women the planner had worked with.


iStock image.

Little Bird Janet ran up a tally of about $6,000, what with haircuts and coloring and blowouts, about $200 in makeup, $200 in moisturizers and $2,300 for a bit of filler (it really does work subtle wonders!). But Janet also noted that she often gets samples of creams and makeup from manufacturers who want her to try them.

Little Bird Mary clocked in at about $2,000 for the year. I forgot that our Well-Being columnist makes her own moisturizer(!) from lanolin, Vaseline or mineral oil and almond oil (maybe we can pry the recipe out of her; she thinks the ingredients come to maybe $100 for the year). A good chunk of her beauty budget was allocated to cuts and color (one-step and then low-lights several times a year). If yoga counts, she added later, take that number up to $3,000 a year.

Little Bird Kathy spent just over $3,600 on hair alone, with cuts and color and $450 worth of fancy shampoo. Gotta say, Kathy’s hair IS splendid!  The rest of her tally added a bit less than $1,000 for cosmetics and mani/pedi sessions.

The funniest, and most complete, response came from sometime MyLittleBird contributor Stephanie Cavanaugh. Here’s her list, as she sent it:

  • Haircuts x times a year =  2 professional prunings @ $100 = $200
  • Hair color / year =  6 bottles of do it myself gray cover-up @ $6 = $36
  • Blow-outs / year = We’re big on air drying
  • Hair extensions = see pruning, above
  • Hair vitamins + Ah ha! Costco’s hair, skin and Nails. Great stuff! See pruning! Husband buys it for us both though.
  • Fancy (or not-so-fancy) shampoo and conditioner – $36? ish?
  • Manicure & pedicure – summer kick-off! $50
  • Facials – 1 free. Work related.
  • Chemical peels – Not old enough yet.
  • Light therapy – Sun’s free.
  • Cosmetics –  1 Lancôme foundation every 2 years, so that’s $25? The rest is Wet n  Wild, when it’s 2 for one. So – $25? Total $50.
  • Moisturizers (including Creme de la Mer at $720/year) – My biggie. This and that = $250

Any newfangled “therapy” or “system” you try once.

  • Dermaroller! $12 Amazon. Plus alcohol for cleaning. Total $13. (I got a Clarisonic as a gift a few years ago, so does that count?)
  • Botox injection. Not in recent years
  • Restylane (or Juvaderm or other filler). Not in recent years
  • Eyebrow waxing (or other shaping) – Tweezer, my mom’s.
  • Any other area waxing – Razor, my husband’s.
  • Eyelash tinting – 5 year old cake mascara.
  • Eyelash extensions – Not since high school
  • Massage – I wish
  • Yoga sessions – too lazy
  • Chiropractor or acupuncturist – under consideration
  • B-12 shots – multi-mature vitamins, Costco. husband buys. He also buys laundry detergent.

here’s a good one:

  • Holistic doctor and intravenous vitamin therapy! – mumpf
  • Directional non-force chiropractor – ditto


  • Energy healing – My crystal on a string.
  • The Infinity Call daily meditation – Ahhhh … Open Focus when I remember, free (got the tapes in 1990)
  • Year’s supply of Jiva-Apoha oils for face and body – gonna go look that up

Grand Total = $625ish.  Say $700 — since I’m sure I blew $50 on something. Included in the tally: I picked up a tube of Retin-A in Rome ($18!) last fall and am reminded why it is the best (I last used it in my 40s), replacing everything else. I also bought, as an experiment, German Nivea, having read it’s as good as Creme de la Mer, which I rilly can’t say. Also a bottle of (cheap) Italian argan oil, which is MAGIC on my hair.

But hey, this is a game anyone can play! Take the categories above and then add or subtract from them. Make a list, add up your expenses and—if you’re not hiding behind the bed at that point—email it to Really! We’ll print them.

—Nancy McKeon

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