Can Expensive Beauty Treatments Save You in the Long Run?

Cost over time is something we often factor in when we’re weighing big-ticket purchases like appliances and cars. But beauty products?

Before you scoff, consider this. Over our lifetimes, we’re likely to spend more on our appearance than on appliances and cars combined–as much as $450,000, according to one estimate, if you include everything from blow-outs to Botox. Even on the lower end of the maintenance scale, a YWCA report estimates women spend an average of about $1,200 a year on basic beauty products and services.

The Price We Pay

The Price We Pay

Cost over time is something we often factor in when we’re weighing big-ticket purchases like appliances and cars. But beauty products?

Before you scoff, consider this. Over our lifetimes, we’re likely to spend more on our appearance than on appliances and cars combined–as much as $450,000, according to one estimate, if you include everything from blow-outs to Botox. Even on the lower end of the maintenance scale, a YWCA report estimates women spend an average of about $1,200 a year on basic beauty products and services.

Given those numbers, it makes financial sense to look at the long-term ROI you’ll get from each product or procedure. The question of whether we should be spending that much money on beauty maintenance at all is a debate we’ll leave to the comments section. But if you’re debating between DIY teeth-whitening strips and a dental whitening treatment, say, a store-bought conditioner versus a salon keratin treatment, or whether to seek wrinkle remedies at the drugstore or the dermatologist’s office, read on. We’ve got the cost-over-time breakdown for more than 20 different beauty products and procedures.

Prices can vary by location, and we realize every reader has different needs and responds differently to treatments. But these costs should provide a baseline for your beauty budget–and maybe a new perspective.

Go to the next slide to read more on the pros, cons, and long-term costs for popular hair removal products and treatments.

The Cost of Hair Removal

The Cost of Hair Removal

More than 90 percent of American women shave their legs and underarms. Costs below reflect what’s required for keeping them smooth. (What you do to your bikini area is up to you!) 

Average cost per month: About $22 (can of shaving cream: $3.24; eight razor cartridges $18.32)
Lasts: One to three days
Pros: Easy to do in the shower; shaving also exfoliates your skin.
Cons: Takes time; requires frequent treatment; may cause nicks and razor burn.

Average cost per treatment: $65 ($50 for legs, $15 for underarms) (source: national chain)
Lasts: Two to six weeks, depending on frequency of treatments
Pros: Super-smooth results that last longer than shaving; continued waxing can reduce hair growth over time. 
Cons: Painful treatments; must wait for some visible hair regrowth before re-treatment. 

Laser Hair Removal
Average cost per treatment: $540 ($371 for legs, $169 for underarms)
Lasts: Six to eight weeks
Pros: Usually less painful than waxing; requires no regrowth between treatments; may result in permanent hair removal.
Cons: Requires three to six sessions; some women report mild pain during treatment; may not result in permanent removal; works best on women with light skin and dark hair.

Cost over one year:
Shaving: $264
Waxing: $845 (session every 4 weeks or 13 times per year)
Laser: $3,240 (for 6 treatments)

Cost over five years:
Shaving: $1,320
Waxing: $3,098 (session every 6 weeks after first year
Laser: $3,240

Cost over ten years:
Shaving: $2,640
Waxing: $5,915
Laser: $3,240

Bottom Line:
If you think you’ll want smooth legs and underarms for at least the next decade, consider laser treatment. While you’ll have to put up more money upfront (look for cost-saving package deals), you’ll not only save money over time, but also a lot of time. If you spend 5 minutes every other day shaving your legs and underarms, that’s 15 hours a year spent shaving.

Next: Teeth Whitening.

The Cost of Teeth Whitening

The Cost of Teeth Whitening

A set of yellow teeth can offset a fortune’s worth of otherwise effective beauty treatments; but, regardless of what method you choose, your lifestyle will ultimately determine how long any whitening treatment will last. Coffee and red wine drinkers, for instance, will dull their pearly whites more quickly than abstainers. Costs below reflect four treatments a year for strips and lightening kits, and once per year for professional whitening.

Whitening Strips
Average cost per treatment: $30 for a 14-count box of Crest White Strips
Pros: Convenient; discreet; can be done at home or in the office
Cons: Treatment can take up to two weeks; strips can be unwieldy; can cause tooth sensitivity; only lightens up to five shades.

At-Home Optic Lightening Kits
Average cost per treatment: An optic lightening system like Glo has a one-time equipment purchase of $199; each treatment refill is $45.
Pros: Users report less sensitivity than strips; can lighten up to eight shades.
Cons: Requires four sessions per day for at least five days; trays may not fit properly.

Professional Dental Whitening
Average cost per treatment: $350 for a treatment like Zoom (though can be as much as $600)
Pros: Treatment only takes one hour; professionals ensure minimal gum irritation; lightens up to eight shades.
Cons: Expensive

Cost over one year:
Strips: $120
Kits: $334
Professional Treatment: $375

Cost over three years:
Strips: $360
Kits: $694
Professional Treatment: $1,125

Bottom Line:
Unless you’re an on-screen personality, the whitening that strips can provide should be all that you need. The amount of money you’ll save is well worth the inconvenience of trying to keep the slippery things in place for 30 minutes twice a day.

Next: Hair treatments

The Cost of Hair Treatments

The Cost of Hair Treatments

Who doesn’t want a head of glossy locks? While regular conditioning is usually enough for healthy hair, sometimes those strands need some extra oomph–especially if your hair is colored, straightened or permed (and it’s 90 degrees and humid outside).

At Home Conditioning
Cost per treatment: $1.40, assuming 5 treatments from a $6.99 tube of L’Oreal EverSleek Smoothing Conditioner
Lasts: One week
Pros: Can be done at home; inexpensive
Cons: Treatment cannot penetrate hair as deeply as heat treatments; requires frequent re-treatment; may not be sufficient for very damaged hair.

Salon Conditioning Treatment
Average cost per treatment: $45
Lasts: About a month, depending on hair
Pros: Applied by professional; easier for very long hair; customized for hair type; usually accompanied with heat treatment to optimize penetration.
Cons: Requires salon appointment.

Keratin Conditioning Treatment*
Average cost per treatment: $350
Lasts: Three months
Pros: Seals protein into the hair shaft, reducing frizz and curl; adds significant shine; reduces drying time.
Cons: Treatment can take several hours and may involve irritating fumes*; often cannot wash hair for 72 hours after treatment; special shampoo and conditioner may be required (or recommended); chlorine and/or salt water will strip treated hair.

*Keratin treatments involve formaldehyde; make sure you choose a low-formaldehyde treatment like the Coppola Keratin Treatment.

Cost over one year:
At-home: $72.70 (assuming one tube per 5 weeks)
Salon: $540
Keratin: $1,400

Cost over three years:
At-home: $218
Salon: $1,620
Keratin: $4,200

Bottom Line:
It’s completely up to you and your hair: If you love the results you get with an at-home treatment, there’s no reason to spend more. If you agonize over unruly, frizzy hair, waste tons of money on hair products and find yourself spending too much time in the bathroom trying to tame your locks, you may want to consider upping the ante with a salon conditioning or keratin treatment.

Next: Lovely lashes

The Cost of Eyelash Maintenance

The Cost of Eyelash Maintenance

If there’s one makeup product that women are likely to use before leaving the house, it’s mascara. A great set of lashes opens your eyes and makes you look younger and more alert. The question is: how far are you willing to go for a luxuriously dark, curly set?

Cost: $28.50 for a tube of upscale volumizing and curling mascara like Diorshow
Lasts: One tube lasts approximately 3 months
Pros: Easy to use and remove; customize the effect with additional coats.
Cons: Can flake or smudge; must be removed every night.

Eyelash Perming
Average cost per treatment: $50
Lasts: Four to six weeks
Pros: Gives your lashes a dramatic eye-opening, semi-permanent curl; can use with mascara.
Cons: Treatment is not FDA approved; must keep lashes dry for 24 hours after treatment.

Lash Extensions
Average cost per treatment: $250 for initial treatment, $50 for follow-up fills
Lasts: Three to four weeks
Pros: Can provide incredibly dramatic, full-lash look.
Cons: Treatment can take several hours, must keep lashes dry for 24 hours after treatment; may need to avoid oil-based removers and creams.

Cost over one year:
Mascara: $114
Perming: $520 (based on repeating every 5 weeks)
Extensions: $800 (based on one per month)

Cost over three years:
Mascara: $342
Perming: $1,560
Extensions: $2,000

Bottom Line:
Unless you’re planning a starring role on a Kardashian show, save an eyelash perm or set of extensions for the occasional special event. An eyelash perm, for instance, may be perfect for batting your eyes on a tropical getaway, while a set of lavish extensions may be the perfect accessory for that once-in-a-lifetime black tie gala.

Next: Nails

The Cost of Doing Your Nails

The Cost of Doing Your Nails

If you live in a major metropolitan area, you might be spoiled by inexpensive nail salons that you can drop into on a moment’s notice. For the rest of us, keeping our hands and feet in professional shape may require more money and/or effort.

At-home manicure
Cost per treatment: $2.89, assuming you’ll get two months out of a bottle each of nail polish ($8.95), base coat ($6.05), top coat ($4.79), and polish remover ($2.29) as well as an emery board ($1.00)
Lasts: One week
Pros: Can be done at your convenience.
Cons: May lack the precision or endurance of a professional mani/pedi.

Salon Mani/Pedi
Average cost per treatment: $35
Lasts: One to two weeks
Pros: Professional application (and, if you’re lucky, includes a leg massage or massaging chair). Cons: Requires a salon appointment.

UV Gel Nails:
Average cost per treatment: $85 ($75 plus $10 removal)
Lasts: Two to four weeks
Pros: Polish is cured with a UV light, resulting in extremely durable, shiny finish.
Cons: Requires soaking nails in acetone for 10-20 minutes to remove polish; removal can damage and dry out nails; skin is exposed to powerful UV light.

Cost over one year:
At home: $150.28
Salon: $910 (assuming bi-weekly visits)
UV Gel: $1,020 (assuming monthly treatments)

Cost over three years:
At home: $450.84
Salon: $2,730
UV Gel: $3,060

Bottom Line:
Nothing beats that quiet bit of pampering you get with a salon mani/pedi, but it’s better for your budget to try and extend your treatment with a bit of at-home upkeep. UV Gel treatments may make you feel like you’re spending less time in the salon, but you may be spending more money in the long run–and damaging your nails too.

Next: Wrinkle remedies

The Cost of Fighting Wrinkles

The Cost of Fighting Wrinkles

Fortunately, today there are plenty of options for fighting the signs of aging, including time-tested treatments that involve retinol and Botox. What you spend depends on how early you start, and how determined you are to ward off every wrinkle.

Drugstore Retinol
Average cost: $15.79
Lasts: 2 months
Pros: Mild retinol concentration is less likely to irritate skin while reducing the appearance of fine lines.
Cons: That same mild concentration means it takes longer to see results—in some cases 12 weeks or more.

Prescription Retinol
Average cost: $75
Lasts: 9 months
Pros: Prescription ingredients are more powerful than over-the-counter retinoids; results can be seen in as little as 4 weeks.
Cons: requires a dermatologist visit; cost is usually not covered by insurance; treatment may irritate skin.

Average cost per treatment: $350
Lasts: Four to six months
Pros: Visible effect within 48 hours; line reduction can be dramatic, no skin irritation.
Cons: Involves needles; may reduce facial expression, improper administration may result in temporary droopiness or paralysis.

Cost over one year:
Drugstore: $94.74
Prescription: $100
Botox: $875

Cost over three years:
Drugstore: $284.22
Prescription: $300
Botox: $2,625

Bottom Line:
Prescription-strength retinols can be significantly more powerful in reducing fine lines than over-the-counter products. So, if you’re ready to take the retinol plunge, take the time to see a dermatologist and spend a little more money. Your dermatologist should also be able to help you determine whether your concerns can be addressed with retinol or if Botox is more appropriate.

Next: Bronzed skin

The Cost of Tanning

The Cost of Tanning

A little year-round color gives a lift to most complexions. The trick: how to get a realistic-looking tan without the damaging rays of the sun.

Average cost: $14.25
Lasts: About a month when used two times a week
Pros: Can be done in the convenience of your home; provides realistic color when done correctly.
Cons: Can streak and smell; must wait 4-8 hours before showering; easily removed with exfoliation.

Salon Spray Tan
Average cost per treatment: $35
Lasts: Between 10 days and two weeks
Pros: Immediately visible results, consistent coverage in hard-to-reach areas, lasts longer than self-tanning.
Cons: Involves getting at least partially naked in front of provider; must wait six hours before showering; exfoliation and swimming can decrease color.

Tanning Bed
Costs: $15-$25 session
Lasts: A base tan can require 8-10 sessions, with upkeep once or more per week, depending on your skin (not that we are recommending this). The results last, on average, about 26-30 days.
Pros: A realistic-looking tan.
Cons: Premature aging, skin spots, sun burns, and skin cancer. Need we say more?

Cost over one year:
Self-tanning: $171 (assuming a bottle lasts a month)
Spray Tan: $840 (assuming twice-monthly visits)
Tanning Bed: $1,040 (assuming weekly visits)

Cost over three years:
Self-tanning: $513
Spray Tan: $2,520
Tanning Bed: $3,120 (not including the anti-aging treatments and skin cancer screenings–and, potentially, treatment–you’ll need)

Bottom Line:
If you haven’t used a self-tanner in a while, you’ll be amazed at how less streaky and stinky they’ve become. A quality self-tanner should have you covered in a good glow for most purposes; if you’re ready to bare it all, the occasional spray tan will ensure the perfect coverage. If the physical cost of a tanning bed doesn’t turn you off, the price certainly should.

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