Image retouching is here to stay. Deal with it.
Everyone from clients, models, brides and makeup artists ask for it. If you want the business you have to do exactly what the client is paying you for. That said, there is some crazy stuff taking place out there. Sometimes it seems like the wild wild west is back. Check out any magazine with a celebrity-of-the-moment on the cover and compare them to the real thing...shocking. Either someone has found the fountain of youth and selling it to the rich and famous or Adobe is making their own version of the magic elixer. Wait...they are, it's called Photoshop.
That said, there are good and bad examples of retouching. Poor use of "fix everything" filters right down to sloppy retouching practices.
My roadmap isn't quick. Sometimes it isn't easy. It get's the job done.
1) Exposure & White Balance
2) Skin Cleanup
3) Dodge & Burn
4) Hair & Eye Enhancement
5) Smoothing & Contouring
5) Cropping and Sharpening for output
To answer a few emailed questions:
Get a fast machine...anything less is like water torture. If your in a Windows 32 bit environment your limited to 4GB of RAM which should be adequate if you have a fast HDD with enough space for a scratch drive. I wouldn't run the latest PS CS5 on anything slower than 2 Ghz. A strong video card is also necessary to take advantage of some of the features in that program as well. Something you will appreciate when your rotating and image for example.
My setup is pretty tame by today's standards
i7 processor with 8GB of DDR3 RAM, SSD main drive for programs and windows OS (64 BIT). 1TB data drive, 1TB backup drive. nVidia gamer strength GPU, and external Drobo Adobe Lightroom storage system.
Peeps I look up to:
To name a few....Hope that helps.