Save Save

How To Stop Paying The ‘Pink Tax’

Bev O'Shea  |  January 23, 2023

Products targeted to women should cost the same as similar products marketed to men. Here are ways for women to avoid paying the pink tax.

There’s a new law in California aimed at saving women and teens thousands of dollars on the so-called “pink tax” — the premium we sometimes pay as women for socks, shampoo, lotions and salon services, among other things. New York already has a similar law. It’s a good start, but shoppers still need to be vigilant; there are plenty of loopholes. 

Stores in New York and California can’t charge different prices for goods that are “substantially similar” but are marketed to different genders and made by the same company. That means that razors differing primarily in color, marketed to men and to women, can’t carry different price tags. 

But shampoos with scents? That’s a whole different ball game. Fragrance formulas are proprietary, and manufacturers are not required to list their ingredients, as they do for active ingredients. 

SUBSCRIBE: For your weekly dose of money tips, advice, opinions and more, subscribe to the HerMoney newsletter today!


So, is your lemongrass and ginger strengthening shampoo superior to men’s “citrus rush”  3-in-1 shampoo-conditioner-body wash made by the same company? Hard to tell. But it’s easy to tell marketers try to steer women toward three products when men can presumably trust one to serve three functions. 

Stephanie Gonzalez Guittar, an assistant professor of sociology at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, co-authored a paper on gender-based prices. The research showed women pay more than $1 an ounce more than men for lotion (but their lotions don’t claim to melt cellulite, make you look tan or smell like tea tree and peppermint). Women seem to be more willing to pay a premium for certain fragrances and to buy different products for different body parts. Men are more likely to use multipurpose products for hair and skin. 

New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs found, in its 2015 study “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer,” that, overall, products designed for female consumers cost 7% more across nearly 800 products in 35 categories. Women’s and girls’ products weren’t always more expensive, but 52% of the time they were. Men’s or boys’ products were more expensive 18% of the time. In many cases, differences were small, but they add up. The smallest difference (4%) was in clothes, and the largest (13%) was for personal care products. 


So how can you buy what you need without paying the up charge for being female? We asked shopping expert Trae Bodge and budgeting expert Andrea Woroch for tips. Here are some strategies they use: 

Buy your socks in the men’s department. There are few differences, though one of them might be price. For athletic socks, Bodge heads to the men’s department. (You can buy other socks there too. It’s not all black, navy and beige; you can also find colorful, fun patterns, and even cashmere.) 

Stick with store brands if you can. Woroch suggests Target’s Up & Up, Walmart’s Equate and Costco’s Kirkland. She says those save you about 30%, helping to trim the price. Waiting for sales and buying in bulk can save even more.

Favor gender-neutral clothes for children over those marketed to girls. Also check the boys’ department. Guittar says her daughter has requested boys’ shorts before, because she didn’t want her underwear to show when she rode her bike. You may be able to save even more if you buy gently used children’s clothes. 

Check the soap, shampoo or conditioners (or combos) marketed to men. Consider the men’s products if you don’t mind the scent—or look for unscented. Bodge likes to look for gender-neutral products: “You know you’re getting the same product and . . . I can pop it in my bathroom and know my husband can use it and won’t mind. The fragrances tend to be more gender-neutral as well, and then you’re not really worried about that pink tax happening.”

Consider the features you want when you shop for a razor, not the name or color. Sometimes you can save money with a less-girly name or color choice, Woroch says. Though when you compare prices, do take note of how many razors come in the package.

Check the price per ounce. Even if prices for a container seem to be about equal, double-check the weight. Lotion, in particular, tends to be far more expensive when marketed to women, Guittar says.

Look across the aisle. Retailers tend to organize personal care items by gender. If you are shopping for deodorant, don’t assume that Secret (remember the ad slogan ‘strong enough for a man, but made for a woman’?) and the ones with pink labels are best for you. You can ignore “formulated especially for women” on the label. Also know that “clinical strength” or “scientifically proven” don’t mean much. Instead, look for the active ingredient and percent. Remember that fragrance can be the only difference, and unscented versions are often available for “men’s” deodorant.

Check prices at hair salons and dry cleaners. You shouldn’t have to pay more for the same service. In other words, laundering a men’s oxford cloth shirt should cost the same as a women’s. The same should be true of salon services. “If you’re looking for a new salon, a lot of hair salons publish their pricing right on their websites,” says Bodge. “And so I think it’s worth taking a couple minutes to look around and see which salons are most reasonably priced.” 


“After doing this research and learning about how little FDA oversight there is on cosmetic products, it’s kind of made me question things and really avoid a lot of products that I don’t think are necessary,” says Guittar.

Bodge, who has a teenage daughter, encourages parents to take their kids shopping, despite the hassle: “There were so many teachable moments throughout my daughter’s younger years that I’m really glad that I brought her with me. Now she knows when she’s at the store not to necessarily only look at products that are at her eyeline, but below and above, comparing prices from generic to branded … and of course, looking for things like (the) pink tax.”  


Another type of pink tax is an actual tax — many states and municipalities charge sales tax for period products while making essentials like groceries and prescriptions tax-free. Since when are period products optional for menstruating women? 

If you live where these taxes are imposed, you can’t easily shop your way around it. The solution there is letting your lawmakers know how you feel and voting.


SUBSCRIBE: For your weekly dose of money tips, advice, opinions and more, subscribe to the HerMoney newsletter today!

Editor’s note: We maintain a strict editorial policy and a judgment-free zone for our community, and we also strive to remain transparent in everything we do. Posts may contain references and links to products from our partners. Learn more about how we make money.

Next Article: