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I Tried TikTok’s High Maintenance Beauty Routines. Are They Worth It?

Photo: Courtesy of L'Oréal Blackett.
Haven’t you heard? The future of luxury beauty is Black. Beauty & The Bag is a guide that keeps a close eye on high-value skin, hair and makeup trends aimed at Black consumers and questions whether it’s always worth spending your hard-earned coins. With the help of experts and influencers, ‘Beauty & The Bag’ explores the best and worst of a changing beauty landscape, whilst reminding you that you are, and always have been, the beauty standard.
I miss the shabbiness of the early-2010s. In my old Facebook photo albums, I went to the club with over-tweezed eyebrows, my hair extension tracks showing, and an unmatched foundation shade that can only be described as “ghost-brown.” At the time, I believed that I was the height of sex appeal and sophistication. And back then, I probably was. Yet it’s obvious that in the years since, there are far more elevated expectations for makeup, hair, and skin, thanks in part to emerging (and at times ridiculous) social media beauty trends. As more invasive ways to change and “improve” our appearance are popularised — whether that’s fillers, laser treatment or buccal fat surgery — regular and sustained beauty maintenance routines are increasingly expensive and have become a luxury many feel we have to afford, even if we can’t.

How Beauty Maintenance Routines Became A Black Luxury Trend

On TikTok having a high-maintenance beauty routine — costing more than £1500 (around $1800) for monthly or quarterly upkeep  —  has become something of a status brag. Last year, Black Twitter was up in arms when UK influencer Marissa Banks claimed in a deleted video, that “females will not want to be seen if their nails, lashes and hair are not done” and after stating that monthly maintenance routines should cost £1.5k, she added: “Why would you put yourself in a predicament to be seen as a tramp, an ogre, basically a pest to society?” 
Banks was publicly blasted for her “belittling” comments and widely criticized for feeding into the insidious idea that Black women need to be immaculately presented to be considered beautiful, professional or successful (read: fit into European beauty standards). It seemed the internet collectively agreed that when it comes to something as subjective, and varied, as paying for beauty upkeep, no one should be watching our pockets.
And yet, the trend of sharing high-maintenance beauty routines and the cost has yet to slow down on social media. In a video with more than 800,000 views, content creator Courtney Michelle took us through her current beauty regime alongside prices; it included manicures and pedicures over $175, lash extensions, weave installments, quarterly botox and filler top-ups, and laser treatment packages — and, to my calculations, the entirety of her treatments would cost over $4000. In the same video, and to her audience's dismay, Courtney claimed that she was “naturally ugly” and “keeping herself together” was a necessity and “not cheap.” In the caption she wrote, “Beauty is pain and my wallet is hurting.” 
While I’ve never subscribed to the idea that beauty is pain, nor is it solely a means to “keep up” with an impossible standard, I am under no illusion that beauty and self-care as we know it in 2023 can require a lot of time and money — if we allow it. As a former “pest to society”, I can’t help but pull my own beauty routine into question; my nail appointments are scheduled, my waxer and I are on a first-name basis, I’m no stranger to a facial, and modern-day weave technology has certainly improved my overall image. But I don’t tend to spend more than £200 a month on beauty treatments and services — unless I'm getting a hair treatment. Am I missing something?

Are High Maintenance Beauty Routines Worth It?

The more I scroll through the aesthetic feeds of uber-polished beauty influencers, the more I find myself experiencing beauty FOMO. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to at least sample an expensive, pampered princess approach to taking care of my appearance (*whispers* it’s what I deserve). Influencers like Jaz Turner have almost convinced me that a high-maintenance beauty schedule is actually a clever way to stay “low-maintenance” on a daily basis — it's the beauty version of the phrase "you have to stay ready or get ready." In a viral video, Rahman Sheikh swore by her ‘high maintenance to be low maintenance routine’, which included weekly blow-outs, brow lamination, monthly facials, and manicures, to take the stress and time out of looking "put together". In short: she’s never caught slipping. 
So, taking their lead, over the past month, alongside my regular appointments, I’ve indulged:
Mani-pedicure: £60 ($75) (biab in-fill, french gel polish)
Massage: £99 ($125) (gifted)
Lycon Bikini wax: £35 (approx $45)
Facial wax: £15 (approx $19)
Booked in for a new weave installation: £600 (approx $750)
Brow Lamination: £50 ($62)
LVL: £50 ($62)
= £909 (approx $1138)
I’ve loved being pampered so far; flitting between salons like a stay-at-home girlfriend, being taken care of by experts, and participating in a me-time in this way has felt so indulgent but very right at the same time. I like this. I look really good. With everything done, I finally understand what it's like to be "that girl" and the "main character" (Ok, I'm being facetious but you get the point). I’ve recently spoken about how having ADHD can make beauty maintenance hard, especially when doing my hair, skincare, and treatments by myself, so approaching beauty in this ritualistic way does have its benefits. 
But… as I tapped my weary card to pay for yet another treatment this past month, I wasn’t able to shake the feeling that this isn’t financially sustainable. I will need to pay for this all again or else this shiny new version of myself will fade — and so I am trapped in a very expensive cycle. While I can understand how this commitment to booking appointments saves time and effort overall, it certainly did not feel like I saved money. And, even as I type, I just realized I will need another nail in-fill soon.

Are People Really Spending $1500 On Beauty Services Each Month?

I probably don’t need to remind you that we’re wading in the thick of a cost of living crisis and recession, so these conversations can feel uniquely tone-deaf — who really has £1.5K to spend on beauty every month, especially now? Well, it depends on who you ask. In a survey by a beauty booking app, 900 UK hair and beauty salons confirmed women are spending £1000 (approx $1252) a month on treatments; with clients spending £150–£160 ($190-$200) per month on nails, £150–£300 ($190-$380) on hair appointments, £400–£500 ($500-$600) on aesthetics, and £200–£250 ($250-$300) per month on other beauty treatments. 
I also pried into the pockets of my friends on Instagram, and I wasn’t shocked to find that no one claimed to spend more than £400 on beauty treatments every month. “On average [I spend] £120 ($150) and I do my hair and that saves a lot,” replied one friend. “Max £50 ($63) on an average month. [I do my] nails and hair at home,” said another. Most people I know mainly take care of themselves by themselves; by investing in at-home gel nail kits, learning how to braid their own hair, and even waxing their own bikini lines, they choose to invest time rather than money to groom themselves. A hybrid approach to beauty treatments (eg: dyeing hair in a salon, or doing nails at home) feels like the way most beauty lovers keep up.
Last year, I reported that Black women are struggling to afford natural hair care as costs rise — especially since products aimed at Afro-textured hair tend to be considerably more expensive. And still, the Black women I spoke to considered their hair care as an integral expense no matter what. As Mainoo told me last year, "For me personally, I class my hair as a necessity. In my head, I automatically just calculate [my hair] into my bills: electricity, gas and then my braids. I just think, as Black women, we are held to a higher standard of what we need to look like."
Right now, the pressure to keep up with beauty is really strong — the use of injectables are on the rise and Black women are increasingly represented in these numbers. As Jackie Adedeji explained in her article 'Black Women Get Fillers Too...' for Unbothered, "Beauty is a social currency allowing many to leverage their image for access, influence and yes, success." She added, "How can we blame Black women for wanting to look and feel better?"
Beauty is a social currency, and for those who choose to access it, the societal benefits appear to outweigh the huge financial investment. Truthfully, I remain in a tug-of-war between my capitalistic beauty desires and the very stark reality of my bank account.
This article was originally published to Unbothered UK

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