Being a woman can be hard… on the wallet. Women are paid significantly less than men for the same positions (we make an average of 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, studies show). Healthcare relating to sexual wellness, pregnancy, and having a female body can cost a fortune. And then there’s the so-called “Pink Tax,” which is the name for the phenomenon where women-specific products cost more than men’s products.
Obviously there are exceptions, but there have been studies published that prove women’s products do cost significantly more in multiple categories. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs’ 2015 study showed that women’s personal care products cost an average of 13% more than men’s. If that’s the case, I wonder when I see the figure, why not use men’s products myself and save a bit of cash?
That’s the experiment I propose to my editor: I’ll try men’s personal care items for one week and report back. Will I save money? Will the products dissolve my weak, womanly body with their raw, musk-scented masculinity? Will they make my hair super-soft?
“Only one way to find out,” I say to myself grimly, but with heroic resolve.
The shopping trip
I walk into the local pharmacy in high spirits. I’m not sure what to expect, but I don’t imagine the experience will be too different from shopping for women’s products.
Reader, I imagine wrong.
The brightly-lit aisles of shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and facial soaps are almost entirely marketed toward women or intended for unisex use. I find a few bottles of men’s shower products, but when I read the labels, I’m aghast. Every manly, pine-scented bottle is meant for a combination of uses. Sure, you could purchase separate bottles of shampoo and conditioner, but apparently the masculine thing to do is to buy them in combination. Separate soap for your face and body? Pfft. Apparently real men buy combination face and body wash.
With growing horror, I comb the aisle for any individual men’s shampoos, or a body wash that is not intended to double as a face wash, but instead stumble upon a few 3-in-1 products and stifle a yelp of despair.
I end up grabbing two products from Dove's Men+Care line—the Fresh and Clean Fortifying Shampoo and Conditioner combo and the Clean Comfort Body and Face Wash. If I were purchasing women’s products, I’d be clutching four bottles instead of two, and spending about twice as much. I assume I’m in for a week of bad skin and flat hair, but I put them gamely in my basket nonetheless.
If the men’s shower product options are limited, the deodorant aisle overfloweth. There are so many types and scents of deodorant that I don’t even know where to start and end up spending a good twenty minutes wandering the aisle. Everything is heavily perfumed and has a ridiculous, outdoorsy name. I typically wear Degree Motionsense deodorant in scents like “Classic Romance” and “Sexy Intrigue,” so I settle on the men’s Degree Motionsense deodorant. The scent is called “Adventure.” It does not smell like any adventure I’ve ever had, and costs the same as the women’s version, only it’s larger and therefore a better deal.
Razors, at least, seem pretty much the same for both men and women. I breathe a sigh of relief, but when I look more closely at disposable razors, I realize that Schick’s three-blade disposable razors cost the same amount for both sexes—except that the pack of men’s razors comes with two bonus razors, increasing the value.
I make my purchases. Tomorrow, I will shower like a man.
I stumble into the shower at 8:00 am. I am not a morning person. I can’t handle anything loud or overpowering to the senses until at least 11:00 am.
Men’s shower products don’t care. “I am MAN,” they yell in the form of too-strong fragrance. I hate it. I shave my legs with the men’s razor but I’m too sleepy to notice much besides the fact that I don’t nick myself with the blade.
Out of the shower, I swipe on some of that "Adventure"-scented deodorant. I smell like every boyfriend I’ve ever had, which is a little weird but not necessarily bad.
I’m prepared for the onslaught of Man Fragrance that comes with my morning shower today. I don’t like it, but I can live with it. The shampoo/conditioner says it’s “engineered specifically for men’s hair” but I notice that it actually makes my female hair really, really soft—a fact I confirm by requesting that a few friends touch my head.
"It's soft as heck," they agree.
This afternoon, I get my hair cut. I ask around the office and find out that my male colleagues tend to spend about $20 less than me on their haircuts—despite the fact that I too have short hair and don’t go to a particularly pricey salon.
I tell my stylist about the experiment, and specifically about the shampoo/conditioner combination I’m using this week.
“Your hair is gonna be so flat!” she laughs. I have fine hair that often doesn’t play nice with most conditioners. She knows this.
I shake my head emphatically, my soft, soft hair shifting from the motion. “You’d think,” I say, “but so far so good.”
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I actually use a men’s razor,” my roommate says. I realize for the first time that the men’s razor in our bathroom doesn’t actually belong to someone’s boyfriend.
She tells me that she’s found it does a better job and costs less money. I’m never in love with disposable razors, but the ones I’ve purchased seem different from women’s razors I’ve used in two major ways: color scheme, and the angle of the blade. I feel like the angle of the blade on the men’s razors actually helps me get a closer shave.
Who decided that woodsy fragrances should be male fragrances? Once I get over the weirdness of smelling like many of the dudes in my life, I’m super into the men’s Degree Motionsense deodorant. I’m never going back to the vaguely floral, powdery scent of the female version—this is it for me.
I announce this loudly to a porch full of strangers at a friend’s barbecue and a few people casually sniff me. “Two thumbs up,” someone says. I flash him a confident grin.
My skin is really variable. It’s often relatively clear, with occasional breakouts. Most face soaps dry me out, a phenomenon typically followed by a smattering of unsightly blemishes.
After six days washing my face with the Dove Men+Care Body and Face Wash, my skin actually looks… really good. I can hardly believe it. No dryness, and nary a pimple to be seen.
What did I learn this week?
Results will probably vary from person to person, but I’m pretty sure that everything I thought I knew about personal grooming boils down to marketing.
You might be able to use the same soap on your face and body. Your shampoo and conditioner don’t necessarily need to come from separate bottles. Men’s razors work just about the same as women’s razors, and the only reason to buy women’s deodorant is if you prefer the scent.
Most men I talked to did not use any of the combination products I used, but I guess what struck me is that it’s an option for them. If they want to spend less money on fewer products, they can. Whereas I’ve been told that combining face and body wash is barbaric and generally not okay.
I saved money using men's products, as well. I spent about half as much as I normally would on shampoo and conditioner. Body wash was priced similarly, but the women’s version doesn’t suggest use as a face wash, and separate face wash can get pretty expensive. The bigger men’s deodorant saved me 9 cents per ounce (which adds up over time!) and I saved 77 cents per razor, when compared with the women’s razors.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways in which it’s cheaper to shop like a man. When I tally the cost of being a woman over the past week in my head there are other expenses that immediately come to mind—the Uber I took because it was too late to safely walk home alone, the lipstick I bought in order to look appropriate at a nice event, the (taxed) box of tampons and the companion bottle of painkillers.
The Pink Tax can feel like a shallow injustice to focus on when held up beside other, weightier gendered statistics (like, one in three women will experience physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner) but we live in a world where cost matters. It can be hard to make ends meet, and spending more money on toiletries (or anything!) can make it even harder.
You shouldn't have to buy men's products to save money, but it's definitely an option.