How to Get Beauty Services for Less

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Like many women, I like trying out new beauty services and products. So I was delighted when I came across Dry Bar, a salon that specializes in just blowouts, while walking the Fillmore shopping district in SF. Someone to do my hair for me before a date? No more failed attempts at following YouTube hair tutorials? Perfect!

But I’ll be honest, I did a double take when I looked at the services menu and price list. While I’d love to visit Dry Bar before attending a special event like a wedding, I can’t imagine frequenting the place on a regular basis. I realized that there must be more budget-friendly alternatives for hairstyling.

The best place I’ve found for reasonable hairstyling and other beauty services is student training salons AKA cosmetology or beauty schools. Cue up the song “Beauty School Dropout” in my head.

While some may frown at visiting a beauty school, I’ve found them to be fantastic for their customer service, results, and value. I’ve been to at least three schools in Seattle and San Francisco and have left happy or at least satisfied each time.

The main workspace at the Cinta Aveda Institute

The main workspace at the Cinta Aveda Institute

Most recently, I visited the Cinta Aveda Institute in San Francisco for a haircut and got stellar service. Here are some of the benefits of getting a haircut at a student training salon. The benefits vary by salon and student but are very good overall.

  • A complementary massage. All the salons I’ve visited have offered a massage before my haircut. This visit, I choose between a head, neck and shoulders, or hand massage. Massages last a few minutes and sometimes come with a choice of scented oils to use during the scalp massage. Some students are better than others with their massage skills, but you can always tell the student if you want it modified.

  • Haircuts come with a wash and conditioning prior to the cut.

  • Haircuts are followed by a blow dry and basic styling. Updos cost a little more.

  • You are offered tea or water upon arrival and during the session.

  • Random bonuses. At one visit, a student gave me a coupon for my next haircut free. On my latest visit, the student offered me a complementary makeup touch-up for the eyes, complexion, or something else. I also received a coupon for $5 off any new service I try on my next visit.

  • Services can be free. At the San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and Cosmetology (SFIEC), haircuts are free for adults over 55 years old on Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. At one school I visited, your haircut is free if you donate your hair (provided that it’s long enough to qualify).

  • Some experienced students. One of my best haircuts ever was by a student who had been doing hair for years but attended the school to get licensed. She even won a nationwide contest including a trip to New Orleans for her skills.

  • You’re introduced to the products that the students use on you but there’s no pressure to buy them.

Cinta Aveda Institute and SFIEC menu and info card

Cinta Aveda Institute and SFIEC menu and info card


I know what questions might be running through your head. Hopefully this Q&A will answer them.

Q: Why would I let a student cut my hair!?! What if he or she does a bad job?

A: First, the students are supervised by licensed instructors. Second, the student consults with you on the kind of haircut and blowout you want. The supervisor then comes over to confirm your preferences and discusses the plan of action with the student. The supervisor returns sometimes during the session and definitely at the end of the haircut to check the student’s work and ensure that you’re happy with the result. If you’re not, he or she will fix it for you.

If you’re concerned about who you will be assigned, you can request an advanced student when you make your appointment. They’ll set you up with someone who is further along in the program and has more hands-on experience. You can talk to the student throughout the haircut to ensure everything is moving along smoothly.

As with any service, whether at a student salon or a regular salon, sometimes you may end up with something you don’t like or that doesn’t fit what you envisioned for yourself. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I would ask a student’s supervisor to fix the issue if that were the case.


Q: What can I do to ensure that I get the haircut I want?

A: It helps to have an idea of what you want for a haircut and style. I’ve found the students to be pretty open to my preferences but hesitant to give recommendations of their own. Budget plenty of time for the appointment as things can move slower than at a regular salon.


Q: What other services do student training salons provide?

A: Each salon is different in their exact offerings. You’re guaranteed at least the basics of a haircut and styling, shampoo and styling, or an updo. The Cinta Aveda salon has a full range of hair services including coloring, perms, hair enhancements, and barbering. Besides hair, they provide facials, makeup application, massage, and waxing. I’ve only tried hair and massage services so far. I want to schedule makeup lesson or makeup application for my next visit.


Q: Is it really worth it to visit a student salon versus a regular salon?

A: Ultimately that’s up to you depending on how satisfied you are with your results and the extent of your budget. To give you a general price comparison, the Cinta Aveda salon offers a haircut and styling for $18-24 while the SFIEC ranges from $10-20. The price range is the same even for long hair. By comparison, Dry Bar is $45 for a blowout only (no washing). An updo is $25-35 at the Cinta Aveda salon, $20-30 at SFIEC, and $90 at Dry Bar.


Q: Are there any negatives to using a student salon?

A: A visit to a student training salon can be more time consuming than visiting a regular salon because students may be slower and need supervisors to check their work. My most recent trip took about two hours from start to finish for a hair washing, cut, and blow dry for long hair. The salon set-up for some services is not as fancy as a regular spa either. I received my massage in a quiet area but still could hear some noise including students conversing.


Q: Isn’t it more cost-effective to do your hair yourself?

Yes, it probably is best to do your hair yourself, but that can be a hassle and a headache. I know my fingers don’t twist correctly when trying to braid my hair while looking in the mirror. It’s also hard to see the back of your head to style your hair properly without strategically placed mirrors. Sometimes it’s just easier and nicer to have someone else do your hair for you.

My haircut (before & after)

My haircut (before & after)

Bottom line: For those who want the same beauty services as at a blowout bar but at a lower cost or for those who want to try out something new, a student salon may be the place for you. Give it a try and see what you think. You’ll feel pampered and pretty while softening the dent in your wallet!


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If you’ve visited a blowout bar, I’ve love to hear why you chose it and if you thought it was worth it. What budget-friendly alternatives would you recommend for beauty products and services?

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How to Get Beauty Services for Less