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The moment has come. You’ve traveled a long way to get here. This time five years ago you were fingering Cheeto dust at the bottom of the bag, trying to scrape out those last crumbs as you finished binge-watching reruns of Friends. (Alright, that was also you last weekend. Some things will never change, okay?) You were numbing your feelings with junk food and the wrong people, completely cut off from your own mind. You were at a job you hated, just trying to make it to the end of every day because sleep. You couldn’t remember when you’d last taken the time to look closely at your own body in the shower.
Now, things are falling into place. You’re going to therapy and doing the internal work. You have a 401k and supportive coworkers. You’re brushing your teeth the recommended number of times a day and sleeping on a regular schedule and eating spinach most days. Crucially, you believe in your ability to live differently.
One thing you have always thought would be fun to be—not as a necessity for value, but as the kind of cherry on top of a rich inner world, a fulfilling job, and healthy relationships—is A Polished Lady. You know at least one of these women already. They’re handy and scrappy and effortlessly pretty. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of life and beauty hacks. Their nails and their homes are always clean. They carry healthy snacks with them and can tell you exactly what to order at Starbucks that will keep you within your macronutrient goals for the day and they give great restaurant recommendations and their white shirts stay so, so white. They know how to sort laundry!
“Effortlessly” is an illusion, of course. That is the trick! These women work incredibly hard. Either that or they have, over time, mastered a way of incorporating these routine investments in maintenance tasks (tasks that you’ve routinely ignored, because you like to spend as little time as possible in the shower, doing laundry, or staring at your own toes) so that they become effortless. Once you realize this, you can stop A) beating yourself up for being the lovable, beautiful slob that you are and B) telling yourself that you could never be like them even if you tried, so why bother?
Now that you are meeting your most basic needs with regularity and are interested in this pursuit of polishedness, read on for 40 recommendations that may help you master the process.
1. Rub some dirt on your face.
Part of looking polished means keeping the largest organ of your body—your skin—healthy and clear. It’s interesting to think about who might’ve been the first human to say, “Let me rub this mud on my face and wait for half an hour while my pores get smaller.” We are glad someone did, though. Since our skin is of the oily, acne-prone variety, one of our skincare favorites is this Dead Sea mud mask, which is supposed to remove dead skin cells, improve acne scarring, stimulate circulation, and unclog pores.
Made from mineral Dead Sea mud, shea butter, and aloe vera, this mask should be used only once a week and left on for 10-15 minutes (though we have definitely left it on for upwards of an hour). The scent is hard to pin down, but the words “floral,” “earthy,” “magical,” and “forest” come to mind.
2. Peel off blemishes.
This resurfacing Korean beauty product uses green tea extracts to brighten skin and tighten pores. Centella extract is supposed to help heal wounds, fight wrinkles, and improve skin elasticity.
The product—comprised of 30 solution-soaked cotton pads—acts as both a chemical and mechanical exfoliant. Use it anywhere from twice a week to twice a day, depending on what your skin handles best.
3. Patch your pimples.
Beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton swears by Cosrx Pimple Patches, calling them “the Holy Grail.” We all know that you aren’t supposed to pick at your pimples or pop them, but if you do, these patches—which come in varying sizes to help you find the perfect fit—can do serious damage control.
Just put them on before bed and by morning your acne will be flattened and less inflamed.
4. Shrink and prevent painful bumps.
All bodies manifest stress in different ways. Ours tells us is it is unhappy—because of too little sleep, not eating well, or PMS—by sprouting swollen, angry bumps that scar our delicate skin, making that fresh-faced, makeup-free look kind of an impossibility.
This cystic acne spot treatment uses bentonite clay to draw out impurities and calm irritated skin, making it the perfect balm for an inflamed face. It also employs pink grapefruit, lemon, spearmint, and peppermint, meaning it smells absolutely delicious.
5. Acupressure your pressure away.
Speaking of stress, it’s best dealt with early. If at all possible, you want to manage your tension before it shows up in your body as a strange skin ailment. Enter the acupressure mat, a treatment you can administer to yourself whenever and wherever you need it. While the scientific literature suggests that acupuncture and acupressure benefits are only placebo effects, these can still be powerful—even equal to the positive effects offered by traditional treatments, according to Harvard Health—particularly in scenarios where your brain is controlling the symptoms, as with pain perception.
Even if you don’t reap the desired benefits, if you have a flexible spending account, you should be able to use it to buy your mat, tax-free, meaning it can’t hurt to give it a try, right? This mat and pillow set comes with a vinyl carry bag for storage and travel, and claims to relieve stress, back, neck, and sciatic pain. The reviews are glowing, with the product receiving a 4.4-star rating out of 5 from 2,593 consumers. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Guess the placebo effect is strong with this one.
6. Blot your shine.
There’s nothing that can ruin a lovely face of makeup quite like looking as if you’ve dunked your face in oil. For those of you who have naturally dry skin, this sounds like a strange concept, but please believe us when we say that many of us confront the daily reality of makeup melting off our faces because of a naturally oilier disposition.
Rather than layering powder on your nose and cheeks several times a day, you can use blotting papers to get that cleaner T-zone look you crave.
7. Screen the sun.
Another way to stay looking fresh is to protect your skin from UV rays. How? Get into the habit of wearing sunscreen every single day, rain or shine, summer or winter. Ideally you would do this with all parts of your exposed skin, but if you do it nowhere else, at least protect your face and neck.
We’re fans of this hypoallergenic, noncomedogenic, fragrance-free, and oil-free daily facial moisturizer with broad-spectrum SPF 35 sunscreen, which moisturizes without looking greasy.
8. Shield yourself.
Because the importance of sun protection cannot be overstated, we’re going to also recommend mechanically screening the sunlight with a big, luscious hat—one of those floppy, wide-brimmed numbers that make you look classy as all get-out.
9. Shave with the right blades.
In order to get the best shave, experts recommend choosing a razor with a soothing strip and more than one blade. If you’re going to invest, might as well hit two birds with one stone and go for this Schick Hydro Silk TrimStyle Moisturizing Razor for Women with Bikini Trimmer, so that you can address all your different shaving needs with one razor.
This comes with a built-in waterproof trimmer, an adjustable comb, five “curv-sensing” blades, and a soothing strip with hypoallergenic moisturizing serum. To soften the skin and make hair removal easier, be sure to let yourself warm up in the water for about 10 minutes before putting these blades to work.
10. Try a man’s razor.
For years we have been a devotee of the Schick Hydro Silk TrimStyle Moisturizing Razor for Women, so we feel pretty confident about this recommendation. But, let’s say you’ve been using that for a while and you’re looking to switch things up, perhaps to see if the grass is a little greener—and better trimmed—on the other, more masculine side of the fence.
If there is one issue we are more inclined to defer to men on, it’s shaving, since the hair they’re removing is literally all across their faces, and it’s coarse. Certainly they’ve had incentive to master the art of shaving coarse hair well. Plus, their products are usually cheaper. GQ recommends sticking to three or fewer blades, as the fourth or fifth blade’s pass over sensitive skin may be too much.
11. Use a pre-shave oil.
This luxe pre-shave oil contains grapeseed oil, organic olive oil, sandalwood oil, meadowfoam oil, vitamin E, wheat germ oil, cranberry oil, red raspberry oil, rosemary extract, and neem oil. It is formulated especially “for men with tough beards, ingrown hairs and sensitive skin prone to razor burn.”
What is a woman’s underbrush if not a small beard? We’re taking a page from the men’s grooming book and buying some for our new shave routine as A Polished Lady.
12. Exfoliate down there to prevent ingrown hair.
To prevent irritation, stick to shaving your nether regions only once every third day, using a disinfected razor that is still sharp. (A razor is officially too old to use once you notice rusting, dulling, tugging of the hair, or nicking of the skin. To prolong your razor’s life, you can cut down your shaves to once or twice a week and store your razor in a dry place instead of in the shower, where it’s more likely to rust or accumulate bacteria.)
Before these shaves, you can exfoliate the skin with these colorful washcloths to prevent those painful bumps where your hair curls back into your body like a terrible magic trick. Unclog those pores before it’s too late!
13. Nix razor bumps.
In addition to choosing the right razor, letting your skin warm up, and exfoliating, you’ll want to use an after-shave solution to minimize irritation.
After splashing skin with cold water to close up pores and drying the skin, you can apply this solution—made up of organic coconut oil, unrefined African shea butter, vitamins A and E, jojoba oil, olive oil, and willow bark extract—to help with redness, ingrown hairs, and razor bumps.
14. Catch strays.
If you thought all you had to worry about was your bikini zone, well, maybe you are right! It is your body, wonderful however you choose to keep it. But, for many of us, feeling put together means making sure we have the means to get rid of some random stray hair, however unlikely a place it might pop up.
Sometimes there are hairs on our faces that catch us by surprise, and for this, we have precision trimmers. If your eyebrows, nose hairs, or delicate ladystache are giving you grief, mow ‘em down with a handy gadget like this one, which comes with multiple attachments to fit your needs.
15. Wax on, wax off.
There comes a time in every lady’s life when she considers the pros and cons of waxing. For those of you unwilling to brave the salon (or spend all your money there), you may be interested in at-home options.
According to many, waxing is painful and not worth all the effort—but sometimes the promise of a few extra hairless-without-having-to-shave days is worth it, especially if you’ve got a vacation planned. This waxing kit includes four packs of hard wax (lavender and honey!), a professional-style variety that adheres to the hair instead of the skin.
16. Make your hair removal portable by always carrying a pair of tweezers.
Never know when you might need to pluck out a lone black hair that you only just now noticed in this particular lighting. Buy two—one for your purse, and one for home. Doubles as a weapon!
17. Find a glam anti-dandruff shampoo.
Now that we’ve covered the bases as far as body hair goes, let’s consider the hair on our heads. Flakes in the ’do will not do, so if you suffer from regular dandruff, make sure to have a few shampoos in your lineup to rotate between that make your hair feel luxurious and not sad.
This hypoallergenic shampoo from Maple Holistics is gentle and contains no sulfates or parabens. After 4,484 customer reviews, the product has received a rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars.
18. Hot oil treatment yourself.
Your hair needs some hot, hot lovin’ to keep it shiny, strong, and soft. Treat yourself by giving it a weekly hot oil soak.
We like this hemp variety. Don’t forget to massage your scalp!
19. De-funk your dogs.
Whether you suffer from stankfeet, calluses, toenail fungus, or athlete’s foot, regularly dunking your dogs in this tea tree oil foot soak should be your salvation, according to 3,352 reviewers who gave this product a 4.7-out-of-5-stars rating.
20. Peel your way from Baby Dino to baby toes.
Before you begin a regimen of regular soaks, you may want to take on the task of watching your stompers molt like two desert lizards.
Truly, during the treatment, they will seem as exotic to you as two rainforest insects during metamorphosis. You will barely recognize your feet by the end, because, friend, they will be the feet of an infant human, as is promised by the brand name, Baby Foot.
21. File your feet.
If you want to be A Polished Lady while not also becoming A Broke Lady, you will want to invest in the kinds of items that you’d be treated to during a professional pedicure so that you don’t have to spend a big chunk o’ cash on them several times a month.
A foot file is the callus remover you’ll need to make your DIY pedi a reality.
22. Choose a go-to nail color that’s clean and versatile.
Nude, white, and light pink are all good options for a nail color that will match almost anything while resembling the color of your actual nail or nail bed.
23. Tend to your cuticles, carefully.
Even if you don’t have time to paint your nails, a little cuticle work and clear polish can go a long way. This stainless steel cuticle trimmer and cuticle pusher are easy to hold because of an ergonomic non-slip rubber-coated handle design. Experts recommend not cutting your cuticles because of the increased risk for nail damage and infection.
The point is this: Your cuticle is your last line of defense against bacteria entering the nail, and live skin should not be cut. Instead, use the cuticle pusher to push back the cuticle skin, only using the trimmer to nip away dead skin and hangnails.
24. Or keep your cuticles completely intact and condition them.
If you don’t want to do anything at all to your cuticles and are more concerned with making your nails strong and healthy, you can still look polished by keeping your nails filed or trimmed and throwing on some cuticle oil with healing properties, like this option with lavender, lemon, and antifungal tea tree essential oils.
25. Scrub your paws with a little nail brush.
Your long, gorgeous, pristine nails will only stay that way until you eat lunch, or a chocolate donut, or dig into a bag of Cheetos. Then it’s gunk city.
Even if your nails are painted and you can’t readily see the grime underneath them, it’s just unsanitary. Invest in some nail brushes and keep them around your home and in your purses so that they’re always available when you need them.
26. Find a tailor and a sewing kit.
One of the surest ways to look put together is to wear well-made clothing that fits you properly. Choose fabrics that are high quality rather than the kind of cheap threads that are designed to fall apart after a single wash. One of the easiest ways to test a material’s durability while you’re shopping is to take a handful of it and ball it up in your fist; if when you let go it stays crinkled rather than returning to its original shape, you should probably pass. Find a good tailor and cherish them.
Then, get a sewing kit for yourself so you can do the simple stuff—like replacing buttons or patching up holes—by yourself.
27. Get a couple of travel makeup bags and fill them with the same items to keep in different places.
Once you’ve mastered a shorthand version of your makeup routine—something quick and dirty that you’d be able to do in a mirror the size of the palm of your hand in little more than five minutes—buy those items in sets of two or three so that you can make a few different mini makeup bags to travel with you anywhere.
Leave one at work and one at the gym, or one in every major bag you carry.
28. Choose multipurpose makeup.
One way you can cut down on the number of things you need to bring along in your travel makeup bag is by choosing multipurpose items, like a lip color that’s good for any occasion and that can be used as both a blush and a lip moisturizer.
This Lipstick Queen Lipstick in Medieval is a sheer red with moisturizing vitamin E, so it will offer a subtle lip color—modeled after the natural blush medieval women used to create on their lips by rubbing lemon on them—while preventing dryness. Smudge on the apples of your cheeks and you’ve got a quick blush!
In addition to the makeup, throw in something mouth-freshening—like toothpaste or mouthwash—and floss.
Floss might seem like overkill, but imagine the number of times you’ve been stuck in public having eaten something seedy or gristly or pulpy, with no way to clean between your teeth. You’ll thank us later.
30. Smell good.
In addition to a perfume that you keep at home, you can stash away a small bit of smell-good scent to slap on after the gym or before you go out for after-work festivities.
This fruit-forward rollerball from DKNY is described as “a modern feast for the senses.”
31. Remove your stains on the go.
Being A Polished Lady is a lot of work if you haven’t gathered that much yet. It means anticipating problems and already having the solution available. A common problem is STAINS, so another thing you’ll want to have around at all times is a travel-size stain remover since every stain is best dealt with early.
At home you can get to the specifics of how to best deal with the stain, but if you’re out you have to work with what you’ve got. (A quick warning: Don’t treat the stain with this stuff while the clothing is still on your body.)
32. Fit what you need into one or two big purses that will match anything you wear.
As we have established, looking polished is all about planning—and packing. When you’re going out for a long day—one that starts with work and ends in a night out with no time to go home and freshen up in between—you’ll want to rely on a large purse.
Buy a few that you like and at least one that will match with anything you wear and rotate between them.
33. Invest in a pair of earrings that won’t irritate your ears and that you can wear every day.
The point is to look put together but not to spend your life doing so. Hacks like choosing a pair of earrings that you don’t have to change out of every night can make things simpler for you. We love our tiny, endless hoop gold earrings because they are real gold, meaning they cause zero irritation, and they match with everything.
We literally haven’t taken them out a single time in over 7 months. There’s just something that feels glamorous about showering in jewelry!
34. Cheese with confidence—and charcoal.
Pearly whites feeling lackluster? The color of your teeth can have a huge impact on your overall appearance of health. Many (74 percent of 17,128 customers, at least) swear by the whitening powers of stain-sucking charcoal, specifically this Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal Powder.
The product is a natural alternative to peroxides, whitening teeth over time by removing marks from the big offenders like coffee, wine, and cigarettes. Be warned that you will look like your teeth are rotting out of your skull when you’re in the middle of this treatment.
35. Or whiten more traditionally.
If you’re a bit skeptical about rubbing something gritty on your teeth because you love your enamel VERY, VERY MUCH and don’t want to risk anything happening to it and are worried about the fact that dentists haven’t exactly given their seal of approval to the charcoal whitening method, you can always rely on the tried and true Crest Whitestrips.
36. Stop stuffing your workout clothes in your work bag.
Your sweaty, smelly sneakers do not belong right next to your expensive work laptop! Purchase a bag that’s intended specifically for the gym, like this sleek, breathable, and not-too-big option with a special compartment for shoes.
You’ll be a regular gym rat before you know it!
37. Weekend in style.
The days of lugging around your beat-up rolling suitcase from 2009 are over. No longer will you struggle to stuff your barely-meets-size-requirements suitcase into the overhead bin as annoyed passengers look on.
You are A Polished Lady now, and you will travel elegantly with this well-designed weekender bag, which holds three to five outfits and your toiletries while looking extremely pretty.
38. Buy a neutral-colored clutch as your backup purse.
While a big purse is a must-have for the woman on the go, she must also have something smaller to switch to when it’s not a good idea to lug around a giant bag, like at a club or party.
Carrying around a neutral-colored clutch inside your larger bag gives you the option of leaving your larger items at work or at a friend’s place and taking with you only what you need for the night out, without risking a huge mismatch.
39. Declutter your home and wardrobe.
Sometimes one of the most transformative things you can do is to simplify the space where you spend most of your time.
In this book, Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo gives a detailed guide on how to minimize the things that are junking up your home and stealing your joy.
40. Hoard some words that ground you.
As you’re making all the external changes, don’t neglect what’s inside. Heather Havrilesky’s weekly advice column, Ask Polly, is one of our go-to reads when despair is high and inspiration is low.
How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life is a compilation of some of her greatest hits.