Roam any drugstore and you'll see products that seem to be twins, except for one thing: One is for women, the other for men. We discovered that products directed at women—through packaging, description, or name—might cost up to 50 percent more than similar products for men.
We found Barbasol Original or Soothing Aloe for men at 15 cents per ounce, Barbasol's Pure Silk for women at 26 cents per ounce. "Pure Silk costs about 30 to 40 percent more to manufacture," says Jill Crumbacher, product manager for Perio, the company behind both. "Because 80 percent of women shave in the shower, we wanted to make a can with an aluminum bottom that wouldn't rust like the Barbasol container." The Pure Silk can also costs more to manufacture because it is "tall and thin rather than short and squatty," she says. And the women's product has more fragrance.
Degree men's and women's products have the same percentage of the same active ingredient, yet spokeswoman Gloria Delgadillo, of Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm for Degree, says, "They are completely different formulations." At the stores where we shopped, women paid a slight premium: For $3.59, they got 2.6 ounces; men got 2.7 ounces.
Each "express gel" of Excedrin Extra Strength and Excedrin Complete Menstrual contains 250 milligrams of aspirin, 250 mg of acetaminophen, and 65 mg of caffeine. But Excedrin Menstrual cost 50 cents more at Walgreens. Julie Masow, spokeswoman for Novartis Consumer Health, Excedrin's parent, says it was Walgreens' decision, noting the suggested retail price for the products was the same.
"Makes tired eyes look refreshed," reads the label on Neutrogena's Hydrating Eye Reviver for men. Its doppelganger, Ageless Essentials Continuous Hydration Eye, has some of the same key ingredients but takes a softer approach: "Refresh the delicate eye area to reveal healthy, luminous, younger-looking eyes." Asked why our eyes saw a $5 price difference, public relations director Leila Meresman downplayed any similarity. Ageless Essentials is a "water-in-oil" emulsion; Hydrating Eye Reviver is an "oil-in-water" emulsion. "These emulsion technologies have distinct skin feel attributes resulting in different aesthetics to satisfy demands of different consumers," Meresman says.
Nivea for men comes in mint or menthol. Bottles are labeled "Cool," "Energy," and such. Nivea women's washes include "Touch of Happiness" and sell for $2 more at Walgreens. "Our women's product," says Thurid Kahl, marketing manager for Nivea maker Beiersdorf, "has skin-sensation technology, which is costlier to make. Women told us they wanted a foaming action, and we developed a formula that nicely foams rather than clumping together."
The basic blades for both genders are virtually identical in performance and features, a customer service representative said. They should be priced similarly, says Jackie Burwitz, a spokeswoman for Energizer, Schick's parent. Still, we found a four-pack of replacement blades for women selling at CVS for 50 cents more than the same four-pack of blades for men.
Try ignoring gender labeling and buy the cheaper version. "You're paying for the perceived value of the package," says Allan Gorman, owner of Brandspa, a company that helps make brands more desirable. "Can you really tell the difference? Most of us can't."