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The Smackdown Checklist

By Amalah

Hi Amy!
I decided, somewhat randomly, at the beginning of July to start a program of Improving Myself, with a goal of adding one new thing to my routine every two weeks that is good for me in some way. First it was flossing (surprisingly successful!), then eating breakfast in the morning, and I’m currently in the midst of my exercise routine re-vamp. I have loads of ideas for changes I can make, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of my ideas (a lot of which come from this column!). I know if I try to start a full skincare routine, improve my haircare routine, improve my makeup choices, whiten my teeth, etc., all at once I will 1) go broke from the cost of it all, and 2) fail.
My question is, what do you see as the MOST IMPORTANT beauty tips, things I should do FIRST to take care of myself long-term? I’m not talking about diet and exercise, I’ve got that. Right now I wash my face once a day (in the shower, with Neutrogena acne something or other as I’ve still got some zits, though not a ton), I use a Neutrogena SPF-15 facial moisturizer a couple times a week when I remember, and no makeup. Drugstore shampoo and conditioner (Dove), little cheap mousse (Suave?) in my naturally curly hair (which I blow dry with a diffuser in the winter so it doesn’t freeze outside, and let air dry the rest of the year), and I’m out the door. That’s…pretty much it. I’ve read loads of your columns, and I know the products, but where should I start? Cleanser? Moisturizer? Eye cream? Better shampoo/conditioner? Better mousse (does that even matter?)? I’m nearing my 27th birthday, and I’d like to work such things into my routine now.
I just need a checklist

Then I will give you a checklist! Right now! It won’t be fancy with little electronic check boxes or anything, because I don’t know how to do that. But you can print this out and cross things off with a pen, all old-skool styleeee. Oh! And then you can do what I do, if you accomplish something not on the list, write it down and then cross it off right away.
First, though, before I start prioritizing products and problems, I have to ask…is there anything about your hair/skin/body routine that is making you actively unhappy right now? When you look in the mirror, are you pleased with what you see, or are your eyes immediately drawn to zits/dry patches/frizzy hair/yellow teeth/something else you don’t like? If so, make that your first priority, checklist be damned.
If there isn’t something specific that bugs you, and you’re just after long-term benefits or a slow transformation from “pretty good” to “damn hot girl,” then here’s the order of things I’d do:
1) Skin! Face skin. It’s going to be there, right on your face, for the rest of your life. Hair and nails can be cut and regrown, but I really believe the way we treat our face during our youth will determine what we’ll be dealing with later in life. Depending on what products you decide to use, I think a gift set sort of thing is always great to start with, rather than adding full-size (and full-price) products one by one. Get the benefits of the full routine right from the start. And if you don’t like it and want to try something else, you’re only out $50 or so instead of $100. (P.S. to the 400 people who have emailed regarding pore/blackhead woes recently — it’s an epidemic! a national crisis! — I’m testing out a line that promises to save all of our lives. Stay tuned.)
Go for a gentle cleanser and a moisturizer first, and use them in the morning and night. If you decide to keep your SPF moisturizer, get a non-SPF version for nighttime. If your new moisturizer doesn’t have SPF, get a stand-alone sunscreen for morning.
2) Eyes! The eyes on your face. At the very very least, use a little Vaseline at night and occasionally do the teabag/cucumber thing. Then when your budget allows for it, go for the anti-wrinkle moisturizing cream.
3) Hair! A good shampoo, conditioner and a really good haircut. Products are at the bottom of the list, and only if you NEED them, not because you’ve randomly decided that grown-ups use expensive hair products. (I go whole weeks without touching mine, probably thanks to the good shampoo, conditioner and haircut.) If you’re happy with your cheap mousse, then keep using the cheap mousse! I mean, honestly and for the millionth time, I have no problem with drugstore products because they are drugstore products. I have a problem with products that don’t work. Which is why I love my Curel and Neutrogena sunscreen but hate Garnier Fructis.
4) Skin! Again! The skin on your body. Elbows, knees, hands and feet. All seriously under-appreciated body parts that take a lot of wear and tear. Your body routine can be as simple as a bottle of Curel or include specific lotions for specific areas. (Hint! Need a gift for a tough-to-shop-for lady? A really nice hand or foot cream might be one of those things she doesn’t often buy for herself.)
Now, I know you said you didn’t wear makeup, and oh wow, I am envious of all you people who can get away without makeup. But I’m going to recap my checklist below, and include makeup, which I’m putting after hair and before body. For no other reason besides VANITY. I’ll wear long sleeves to hide ashy elbows before I’ll go outside without my foundation. Am stupid like that.
I’m also including all the fun extra stuff I like to yak on about here…as optional steps once you’ve gotten the essential products down and want to circle back around for more.
Step One: Face
1) Cleanser
2) Moisturizer
3) Sunscreen
(AND THEN: weekly mask, peel or other exfoliating treatment; blemish spot treatment)
Step Two: Eyes
1) Eye cream. Duh.
Step Three: Hair
1) Shampoo
2) Conditioner
3) Professional haircut
(AND THEN: products as your stylist recommends them, deep conditioning treatment if needed, and very very lastly, upgrade to professional-type tools) (I’m stuck on this step, since I still like my cheap-ass brushes and Conair dryer and am broke from the rest of the stuff on this list, but what a pretty and frizz-free broke it is!)
Step Four: Makeup
1) Foundation
2) Neutral eye shadow shades
3) Mascara/eyeliner
4) Lips
5) Blush or bronzer
(AND THEN: tweezers, good makeup brushes, evening shadow shades, foundation primer, eyelash curler)
Step Five: Body
1) All-over body lotion am and pm
2) Hand cream
3) Foot cream
(AND THEN: salt scrubs, gradual tanning lotion, occasional mani and pedicures)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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This is a fabulous list! I think I knew all of these things, and I’m doing a surprisingly large number of them already, but I know that I would not have been able to list it all so succinctly. I’m going to copy this for personal reference (and use it)!


I don’t wear makeup every day either, usually just when I am dressed up or going out. Because I am always running late, I often skip the eyeshadow and liner, and just go with the foundation, blush, mascara and lipstick. So I’d put the eyeshadows on the bottom of the make-up list and put blush just after the foundation.

Hot Librarian

Oooh, this is excellent advice. Like the questioner, I too am trying to do gradual things so I can, oh, I don’t know… NOT LOOK LIKE CRAP EVERYDAY so this helps.
I put eyelash curler above mascara though. Primarily because it is so freakin’ hard for me to remove my eye makeup so sometimes a curl is all my lashes get.

Kelly J
Kelly J

Okay, working my way through said list. Here’s my question for everyone – when using a separate sunscreen and moisturizer, which one goes on first?


Oooh, I LOVE this list, thank you Amy! I’ve been struggling with being All Growed Up for a few years now and trying to be serious about taking care of myself, but it’s all so…overwhelming. I have most of this stuff sorta sorted out, but I’d gotten lost again. So I have a new direction now! Thanks!


i must plug the face wash that amy has been touting for years now– the philosophy purity wash. i swear to you, worth every penny. get the small (cheapest) version from sephora ($8) to see if you like it. if you do (and i swear, i’ve never before wanted to make out with a facial product before) go to and get on the waiting list for the 32 ouncer. it’s a bargain and the cheapest price i’ve found!


I have the 32oz Purity Made Simple from QVC, and I couldn’t be happier with the value. I signed up for Auto Delivery so that I could lock in the $36 price, but I know that one bottle is a year’s supply for me. My plan was to cancel each shipment until I was ready for another, but if there’s anyone who would want to buy it from me, I’d be game. I don’t think I can change the shipping address, but I’d be happy to receive the package, remove the packing slip (with my billing info) and then send… Read more »

robin m
robin m

Vaseline – on eyes?

Amy Corbett Storch

Re: sunscreen and moisturizer. It doesn’t really matter which one goes on first. Personal preference. I put my sunscreen on first because I found I’m less shiny that way, but I bet even that varies with the products you use.
Re: Vaseline on eyes. Vaseline is very good for your under-eyes. Circles, lines, etc. It’s what my grandmother used instead of fancy moisturizers her entire life, and do you remember that INSANE clip of the Tyra Banks show where she gave everybody Vaseline for their faces and the audience acted like she’d just given them cars? No? Uh…yeah. It was funny.


No tooth whitener?
RE: the Vaseline. I’m wary, but I’ll give it a try. Is it icky in the morning? I don’t always wash my face everyday.


Meghan – I, too, love Purity Made Simple and had to comment on the $36 for the 32 oz bottle that lasts you a year. What a great deal! I know when I was using drugstore products I easily spent $36/year on face wash alone and I had many, MANY, more skin issues than I do today. My face still isn’t perfect, but I attribute a lot of that to stress related to working on my MBA while working full-time. But for anyone concerned about the high cost of some of the products Amy recommends, they need to stop and… Read more »


I may have missed this on a much older post, but Amy has said a couple of times recently that you should use a moisturizer without sunscreen at night.
Why? Is there something bad about sunscreen? I presently use Purpose moisturizer with SPF 15 day and night but wonder if there’s a reason for the no-SPF at night rule.


What is this with the no makeup? How do you do it?
I can’t wear mascara right now because I have THE PINKEYE and it is killing me. I feel naked! I have blonde lashes and brows and without mascara I look just tired and faded. Oh, and my eyeballs hurt but that’s THE PINKEYE. Sigh.