Looking good pays off. That's the overwhelming conclusion of research conducted by noted economist Daniel S. Hamermesh, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, whose book Beauty Pays found that attractive people earn on average as much as 4 percent more annually than their unattractive colleagues. So consider your appearance one of your most important assets—and invest in it. We've picked the best worth-every-penny products and procedures designed to keep you on track.
TOTALLY WORTH IT: A TRANSFORMATIONAL HAIRCUT
What you're aiming for is a style that's polished, sophisticated, and, most important, easy to replicate. Think of it this way: All the time you spend taming your locks each morning could be spent courting new business. Famed hairstylist Ted Gibson, who works with Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, charges $1,200 for a cut (you read that right), yet his eponymous salons in New York City and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are consistently booked with new clients from all over the country willing to pony up. Why? "They come to me for a makeover like the ones they've seen me do on What Not to Wear, and it can be a life-changer," says Gibson, who also educates his clients about the products and styling techniques that will help maintain the cut at home.
WHERE TO CUT CORNERS: MAINTENANCE
Don't be shy about asking your stylist for recommendations on more affordable pros to handle your hair's upkeep. "It is possible to get a good basic haircut for $20," Gibson says.
DITCH IT: A SIMPLE TRIM IN LIEU OF A REAL CUT
If you've had the same style forever, lopping off a couple of inches won't be enough to achieve a commanding or signature look. In fact, stubbornly sticking with your dated 'do suggests you're skimping on your appearance. And if you won't go the distance for yourself, why should your client or boss expect you'd do it for her
TOTALLY WORTH IT: HAIR COLOR DAMAGE CONTROL
Few things look as unprofessional as a botched DIY dye job. But the MacGyver-esque fixes you undertake yourself could prove even worse. Hair color mishaps require serious expertise to undo—hiring a well-regarded pro will be the best money you ever spent. "I'd have to first lift the orange tone or dark dye from the hair before I could even correct the shade," explains Kyle White, senior colorist at the Oscar Blandi Salon in New York City, who charges $150 for a single process and upwards of $550 for a full head of highlights. (Mariah Carey and Maria Menounos are his regulars.) "I factor in everything from skin tone and eye color to a person's lifestyle." Do you do that? Didn't think so.
WHERE TO CUT CORNERS: TOUCH-UPS
Book White for the initial visit, and for quick touch-ups he'll pass his color formula on to a more affordable junior colorist whom he's personally trained.
DITCH IT: A PRICEY SALON VISIT TO MASK A FEW GRAYS
The fact is, a quick and easy rinse in a shade or two darker than your own will do the trick.
TOTALLY WORTH IT: HIGH-END FOUNDATIONS AND CONCEALERS
"More expensive formulas contain refined pigments that give you a flawless-looking complexion but appear invisible on the skin," says makeup artist Pati Dubroff. "They're also less likely to cause irritation and breakouts." Dubroff uses Chanel Vitalumière foundation ($55) and the holy grail of concealers: Clé de Peau Beauté ($70). "They blend easily and don't slide or fade. I end up using less of both products because a little goes a long way," she says.
WHERE TO CUT CORNERS: BLUSHES AND EYESHADOWS
Put your money toward makeup that makes your skin look youthful and luminous, and skimp on the latest fun color trends, advises Dubroff.
DITCH IT: ANTIAGING MAKEUP
Don't bother with cosmetics infused with antiaging ingredients (including sunscreen) that you intend to use instead of skincare products. "You can't rely on makeup for that, and you'd have to pile it on to get the benefits," says Dubroff. "Good skincare gives you a great complexion that allows you to wear less makeup."
TOTALLY WORTH IT: PRESCRIPTION TRETINOIN
Pull enough late-nighters at the office and your skin will inevitably begin to look as haggard as you feel. Ensure that you always appear rested and ready with tretinoin (prescription-strength retinoic acid, which costs roughly $300 without insurance), clinically proven to stimulate the production of collagen. Considered the gold standard of topical antiagers by dermatologists, it hastens skin cell production and is ideal for eliminating brown spots and fine lines.
WHERE TO CUT CORNERS: THE COST OF YOUR PRESCRIPTION
Washington, D.C.–based dermatologist Dr. Noelle Sherber tells her patients to check a pharmaceutical brand's website for discount codes and coupons. "This functions like supplemental insurance," she says. Over-the-counter retinols like RoC's and Neutrogena's are also an option, though they are less potent (and therefore less effective) than their prescription-grade counterparts.
DITCH IT: "MIRACLE" ANTIAGERS
Scientific research has yet to show that ingredients like plant stem cells or growth factors make any long-term difference to the skin," says Sherber. "They have been studied 'in vitro,' meaning in a petri dish, not on human skin."
TOTALLY WORTH IT: INJECTABLES LIKE BOTOX AND DYSPORT
Consider this popular wrinkle-reducing procedure (upwards of $500, recommended every six to eight months) an early intervention. "When visible lines start to form, subduing the muscle movement with neurotoxin injections can soften them and stop more severe wrinkling from happening," explains Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Garth Fisher.
WHERE TO CUT CORNERS: FOLLOW-UP VISITS
Dermatologists agree that there's not much that you or they can do to make the effects of Botox last longer (saving you additional treatments), but two stealth line-camouflaging techniques can buy you a month or two. Applying a makeup primer with silicone smooths and retouches fine lines (until you wash it off). And then there's always the tried-and-true Rx for masking wrinkles: bangs.
DITCH IT: TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
While neurotoxin injections can prevent wrinkles from getting worse—and even from forming in the first place—it's tempting to go overboard, Fisher cautions. "A paralyzed face is not the goal. You want to look natural."
TOTALLY WORTH IT: FRACTIONAL LASER RESURFACING
"As we age, skin tissue starts to sag because collagen isn't as plentiful as it once was. A face-lift won't change the quality and appearance of the skin's surface like a laser can," says Fisher, who recommends Palomar 1540 or Fraxel Restore treatments that cost up to $1,400 per session. (He suggests a series of three for best results.) "It contracts tissue and stimulates collagen production, which definitely helps delay the need for plastic surgery." It also acts like a chemical peel (minus the red, flaking side effects), improving pore size, pigmentation, wrinkles, and texture.
WHERE TO CUT CORNERS: DAY-TO-DAY SKINCARE
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," says Sherber, who tells her patients to maintain an at-home regimen that includes proven collagen-stimulating ingredients like retinoids and glycolic acid, in addition to collagen-protecting antioxidants and daily sun protection in order to ensure and prolong the rejuvenating results of laser treatments.
DITCH IT: NONINVASIVE TISSUE-TIGHTENING PROCEDURES
The jury is still out on ultrasound therapy like Ulthera and radiofrequency treatments like Evolastin and Thermage. "The results have been variable to disappointing," says Sherber. "They are so expensive [$1,500 to $3,000 per treatment, and more than one is necessary] and painful, and some people don't respond at all. That's a major investment for that sort of uncertainty."