The Truth About Salon Upcharging

Aly Walansky
Salon chair

Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty

Sometimes it feels like we live in a world of constant upsells and upcharges. The salon with the affordable blowout will actually charge you more based on the length and thickness of your hair. Your nail salon will try to get you to add on services ranging from razor (don’t do it!) to a quick-dry. Everywhere you go, the price advertised isn’t actually the price things end up being. It’s uncomfortable and it’s annoying, but when are these expenses worth the cost? And when should you be saying no?

The strategy of upcharging clients is not new, but it has become very prevalent in today’s beauty world, often because salons and spas are forced into offering discounts and deals because that is what consumers are clamoring for. We’ve come to accept that most coffee shops will charge extra for soy milk, but yet it feels weird when we can’t visit the nail salon without being told we really should add on an eyebrow wax.

“Once they get you in the door, it is only natural that they will want to add on other services/products to get your actual cost of the treatment to be at a price that is actually profitable for the establishment. It is not exactly misleading, it’s just business. If you want to avoid feeling uncomfortable being nickel and dimed to death, choose a salon or spa that offers value for money, rather than rock bottom prices,” says Wendy Lewis of

Necessary Evil
Adding an appetizer or dessert to your meal at a restaurant or paying for wifi on your flight are both common examples of businesses making more money off of upselling. It is more efficient for a business to make more money off of an existing customer than trying to gain a new one, says Melissa Chandler, co-owner of Atomic House of Hair in Louisville, Kentucky.  In the salon industry, upselling specialized or higher end products, selling retail products, and adding extra, unscheduled services is a way for the stylists and the business to make more money off of your visit. Does your affordable blowout have an extra fee if you want to use a flat iron or curling iron? It might, and it’s the stylist’s job to inform you ahead of time rather than surprising you with a bunch of extra charges at the end.

For many of us, our weekly or monthly visits to the salon are a well-planned splurge. Both you and your stylist need to be comfortable talking about budget restrictions and any extra costs that may be incurred. If during your shampoo, someone offers you an extra deep conditioning, a quick gloss, or anything that feels “extra,” ask if there are costs involved.  There’ll be a lot less awkwardness than waiting until the bill arrives.

When to Say “No”
Any guest should be able to decide what options to choose, and any guest should be able to differentiate between a standard and a premium service or package. “Once the upgrades are laid upon the client for $1 here, $5 there, it becomes a less attractive service and you immediately want to question, ‘Well, what am I really paying for, exactly?’ I find it to be unfair and unnecessary,” says Liliana Aranda, owner of FACES Mobile Spa and SPArty! Mobile Spa Parties.

When the cashier at Starbucks asks you whether you want a muffin with your coffee, you say no and move on. You should treat a stylist pushing services the same way. Simply say, “Maybe next time.” Point made, issue avoided.

“A guest should refuse if she/he feels uncomfortable. I offer the menu and let the guest choose. If my spa guest is unsure, I ask questions to help guide him/her in the right direction. What’s best for my client doesn’t mean I have to up-sell, it means my client should get what makes him/her happy and satisfied,” says Aranda.

When to Say “Yes”
Some added services, however, are worth every penny. If you just spent hundreds of dollars on a keratin treatment, using keratin-safe shampoo is a good idea. If you are getting your hair done for a special event and a blowout turns out not to be included with that cut and color, you may want to splurge. Having a razor used during your pedicure, on the other hand, is not a good idea when it’s free, let alone for an upcharge.

How do you decide which add-ons are offered in your best interest and which are just seen as dollar signs by your salon? The answer is to find a salon that you trust. Building a relationship with a great salon is like building a relationship with a great life partner. It will give you peace of mind to talk about what they offer and how it matches with what you actually need.

Read more: What Not to Do When You Visit the Salon