woman getting bangs cut
Photo: Donna Trope
Pssst! We've got a secret—actually, 21 of them—insider information we coaxed from hairstylists, colorists, makeup artists, and manicurists—to help you get the most bang for your beauty-service bucks. Read on for all the savvy it takes to get satisfaction guaranteed.

The Best Haircut
1. Do some reconnaissance.
Most salons will allow you a free consultation before you schedule a haircut. But an even better way to suss out a new stylist is to get a blow-out. "You'll see how she actually handles your hair," says Eva Scrivo, owner of the Eva Scrivo Salon in New York City. "Plus, you'll get a sense of whether the two of you have chemistry, and if she understands your aesthetic."

2. Skip the flatiron.
Go to the salon with your hair in its natural state so the stylist can give you a cut that's appropriate for your texture, says Patrick Melville, co-owner of the Patrick Melville Salon & Spa in New York City. For the same reason, you should never be shampooed before the stylist has assessed your hair while it's dry.

3. Fess up.
Whether you take only five minutes to style your hair or typically spend 20, say so. This affects how the stylist determines the best cut for you. "If you never blow-dry, that's a deal breaker for some styles," says Jet Rhys, owner of the Jet Rhys salons in San Diego and Solana Beach, California.

4. Show, don't tell.
When you're talking to a stylist about length, have him point to exactly where the longest layers will be—your collarbone? Shoulders? Chin? One stylist's "trim" can be another's six-inch chop. Make sure you're on the same page before the scissors emerge.

5. Minimize the chitchat.
The more your stylist can focus on the task at hand, the better the results. "A great haircut is about matching the previously cut section to a new section, and it's impossible for a stylist to maintain her train of thought while she's talking," says Scrivo. "It's a myth that haircutting is this crazy flurry of creative expression. It's technical, a methodical patterning." So if you have to catch up, save it for your blow-out.

6. Don't be shy.
If you think your cut is getting off track, step in—the sooner the better. Say, "Can I ask you a question?" "The stylist will probably be disarmed, and she'll lower her scissors," says Scrivo. Then you can say: "I'm concerned that you're giving me too many layers" or "My bangs are getting too short" (or whatever). You might also speak to the stylist eye-to-eye, instead of through the mirror. "This will emphasize that your concerns are serious," says Scrivo.

Next: 4 tips on how to get the perfect haircolor

closeup of woman getting hair colored
Photo: Thinkstock
7. Be a little dolled up.
Arrive wearing your usual makeup. "Your everyday blush or bronzer may change the tone of your complexion, and that will affect the haircolor that's best for you," says Marie Robinson, owner of the Marie Robinson Salon in New York City.

8. Talk time (and money).
"If you only want to come back every four months, speak up," says Sharon Dorram, cofounder of Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger salon in New York City. "A colorist can find a shade that works with your skin tone and your schedule."

9. Raise the subject of your brows.
If you're making a dramatic change, ask the colorist if your brows need attention, too, says Laura Coleman, color director for the Red Door Spa in Chicago. A shade tweak—usually a subtle lightening—can be done at the salon in minutes.

10. Offer full disclosure.
Give your colorist as much information as possible about your hair, says Robinson. A few things worth addressing:

Have you had a relaxer or a perm? Even if it was two years ago, it could affect the way your hair responds to color.

How often do you change your haircolor?

Does your hair tend to break?

Have you experienced any hair loss?

Have you ever had an allergic reaction to haircolor, or do you have sensitive skin?

Next: What you need to know to get a knockout department store makeover

woman getting a makeover
Photo: Thinkstock
11. Stroll. 
Don't sit down at the first counter you see; walk around the store and decide which brand you're most drawn to. Like a natural approach? You'll probably feel comfortable at Bobbi Brown. Looking to experiment with color? Consider MAC. Even more important than the brand's aesthetic, though, is the makeup artist. Look for someone whose own makeup is beautifully applied. "But ask her who did it!" says makeup artist Rebecca Restrepo, who worked behind Lancôme and MAC counters before becoming a free agent. "If it was one of her colleagues, go to that person." And if you really want to do your research—or are considering a (probably bare-faced) male makeup artist—take a few minutes to observe the candidate working on someone else.

12. Be explicit... 
A good makeup artist will pepper you with questions before he or she begins: Do you want a day or evening look? How much time do you spend on your makeup? What is your favorite feature? Are there certain products you want to avoid? If you aren't asked, offer up the information yourself. It seems obvious, but "the more you can articulate what you're looking for, the better the artist will know what to do for you," says makeup artist Pati Prema Dubroff.

13. ...But don't be rigid. 
"I've had people sit in my chair and say, 'I don't like concealer, lip gloss is icky, don't do blush, and no eyeliner,'" says makeup artist Ramy Gafni, who worked at a Bobbi Brown counter before launching his own line. This isn't the way to get a flattering new look; offer guidance, but leave some leeway. You might discover that you look gorgeous in rosy lip gloss, or that the right concealer can brighten your whole face.

14. Time it right. 
Try to head to the counter midweek—the earlier in the day the better, says Joan Poulton, vice president of education at Lancôme. You'll get more attention than you would on a hectic weekend afternoon. (Another bonus to showing up before lunch: Many counters give their makeup artists a sales goal for the day; they may exert more pressure to buy as the afternoon wears on.)

15. Be honest about your intentions.
If you're just window-shopping, say so, says Dubroff. Will you get the same time and attention you would have otherwise? If it's a busy day, probably not. But you won't feel sheepish when you walk away without a purchase. While there's no fee to sit down at a counter, "the unspoken agreement is that if you get a full makeover, you will buy something when it's over," says Gafni.

16. BYO makeup bag.
While you have a pro's attention, get input on the products you already use. "Even if it's makeup from other brands, we can show you how to use it more effectively," says Poulton. It can be especially helpful to bring your brushes: "We'll tell you which one is best for eyeliner, for blending, for lips," says Jenny Smith, a makeup artist at Nars.

17. Watch your steps...with a handheld mirror. 
You'll give up the thrill of a "ta-da!" moment, but following along with the makeup artist will help you re-create the look. And you'll be able to nip in the bud any heavy-handed application. More interested in a lesson than perfection? Most makeup artists will hand over the brush—she does one eye; you try the other.

18. Keep it clean. 
Insist on disposable sponges, Q-tips, and single-use mascara wands. Any nondisposable brush should be cleaned in front of you with an antibacterial spray. And lipstick should be spritzed with an alcohol solution and have the top layer scraped off—even when a one-use applicator is used.

Next: Read this advice before you get your next manicure

manicured hand holding a stopwatch
Photo: Donna Trope
19. Case the joint for spotlessness.
A less-than-immaculate nail salon can be a breeding ground for bacteria, says Jane Park, owner of Julep Nail Parlors in the Seattle area. Reusable implements (nail scissors and cuticle clippers) should be sterilized in a high-temperature autoclave (look for a rectangular metal box with a round, sealed door), and anything that can't be sterilized, like files and buffers, should be single-use and brand-new for each client. (To be really safe, bring your own tools: a clipper, cuticle pusher, hangnail nipper, and file.) And avoid whirlpool pedicure tubs, says Ji Baek, owner of Rescue Beauty Lounge in New York City. "The filter, where the bacteria resides, is supposed to be changed after every pedicure, but I've never been to a salon where that happens." If your favorite salon has whirlpools, ask them to switch out the filter before your pedicure.

20. Pay attention to the "free edge."
That's the front edge of your nail, the part that is clipped or filed. In addition to painting up and down, a manicurist should brush your base coat, colored polish, and top coat horizontally across the tip of the nail. This step can double the life of your manicure or pedicure, says Park.

21. Pick your polish wisely.
Many salons use nail polish thinners when their old polishes start to thicken with age. Thinners compromise both the color and integrity of the formula. If the bottle is less than three-quarters full, ask for a new one, says Park. A freshly opened bottle of polish can make your pedicure last weeks longer than an older, and potentially thinned-out, bottle.

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