Women are paying more than men for big name fragrances in the UK, proving that what has been dubbed the pink tax still exists on our high streets. Female fragrances cost an average of 6p more per ml than male fragrances from the same brands, while some brands charge close to £20 more for perfumes made for women (compared to the male equivalent fragrances).
Fragrances in the UK marketed towards women cost 53p per ml, compared to men's 47p, according to data from price comparison site Idealo, which analysed the price of over 100 perfumes and aftershaves during January 2019. It found a pink tax of £16.12 on a 50ml bottle of Yves Saint Laurent Opium Eau de Toilette for Women compared to the men’s version, for instance; and an £18.27 gulf between Lancôme Hypnôse Homme Eau de Toilette (£23.87 for 50ml) and the women's equivalent scent, Lancôme Hypnôse Eau de Toilette (£42.14 for 50ml).
Public anger over the pink tax, which sees women charged more than men for "feminine" versions of the same items, blew up in 2016 and it has since been widely condemned alongside the sexist marketing of everyday products including pens, crisps and toiletries. Research last July on gender-based price discrepancies for basic toiletries found that the average 50ml facial moisturiser aimed at women costs £10.77 – a third more (£8.02) than the same product aimed at men. And if the new fragrance data are anything to go by, nothing much has changed.
Refinery29 visited Boots at London's Liverpool Street station to compare price points. In that one branch, Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau de Toilette (£56 for 50 ml) for women works out at £112 per 100 ml, while the brand's equivalent male fragrance, Light Blue Pour Homme Eau de Toilette (£41 for 40 ml), comes to £102.50 per 100 ml.
Similarly, the Dolce & Gabbana women's scent The One Eau de Parfum (50 ml) was priced at £60, while Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men Eau de Parfum (50 ml) was £58.
It was a similar story for some Gucci fragrances – Gucci Guilty Black pour Femme Eau de Toilette (sold out in store but £58 for 50 ml online) was priced at £116 per 100 ml, a significant amount more than the £104 per 100 ml of Gucci Guilty Black pour Homme Eau de Toilette (£52 for 50 ml).
Refinery29 reached out to Boots UK for an explanation – is there a qualitative difference between men's and women's fragrances that justifies the price disparity? Or is it just plain and simple gender discrimination? A company spokesperson told us that it has "never operated a pricing system that discriminates gender".
They continued: "All of our products are priced individually based on a range of factors such as formulation and ingredients and we have clear principles that ensure all of our products are priced individually." We cited one example – the £2 difference between Dolce & Gabbana’s The One Eau de Parfum for men and women – to which the spokesperson said they were "different scents with different ingredients, making them not directly comparable."
We are seeing more and more perfume houses creating unisex perfumes and this is definitely a move that we support
Spokesperson for The Perfume Shop
The Perfume Shop also told us it "never price[s] exactly the same products differently based on gender," and that some scents from the same brand which are labelled "for her" and "for him" can "often have the same name but very different ingredients to give scents with different nuances, and the cost of these ingredients can vary enormously."
The spokesperson added: "We are seeing more and more perfume houses creating unisex and gender-neutral perfumes and this is definitely a move that we support as our customers choose fragrances by the notes, and scent, not based on gender labels."
Refinery29 contacted L’Oréal, which creates fragrances for the likes of Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren and Viktor & Rolf. A spokesperson told us that while, ultimately, "the shelf price of any product is at the discretion of that specific retailer," fragrance pricing "is not based on the gender of the consumer".
Instead, L’Oréal's spokesperson continued, it's based on factors including: "the concentration of ingredients, Eau de Parfum vs Eau de Toilette, the newness of the ingredients, the technology used, packaging design, quantity manufactured and the brand’s overall market position." Does this mean men's fragrances are therefore inferior to the equivalent women's fragrances? Absolutely not, they said.
The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA), which represents the industry in the UK, also told us that the price at which a product is sold is set by the retailer, not the manufacturer or distributor, which a spokesperson said was in keeping with UK and EU law. "Other factors such as distribution costs, packaging, advertising, service elements, etc will all be considered within the pricing structure."
If what the retailers, manufacturers and industry body are saying is indeed the case, the only option for women wanting to bypass the surcharge is to wear unisex fragrances or those aimed at men. Britney Spears' Prerogative, anyone?