All images by Sam Woolley.

This year on my mom’s birthday, I gave her and ultimately myself the best gift ever; I quit smoking cigarettes. Smoking was part of me for—gasp—almost half of my life. My grandmother smoked two packs a day, my grandfather died on a horse while smoking, my aunt, uncle and cousins smoked so much they collected enough promotional Marlboro Miles to get the pool table.

My mother, the golden (or rebel) child of the family, didn’t smoke and got her Masters of Science with a thesis on the dangers of smoking, which in turn was used for a government study course. Needless to say she was delighted when I quit, birthday or not. You know those anti-smoking PSAs that show a dude with half a jaw dangling down, with the voicebox narrative about how smoking kills? I would shrug those off, saying “I’ll never lose my jaw, suckers,” puff puff. What I didn’t realize until I quit was how jacked the years of siphoning hot tar and smoke was fucking up my beauty. Vanity is a powerful drug.

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Good Morning, Precious

Every morning I have two alarms set: one for 8 a.m. and another at 8:01. I generally wake up before both alarms, which is the fucking worst, doing that math in your head, trying to figure out how how much more time you have before the alarms go off. Eventually I get out of bed and the first thing do is… MAKE MY BED, which makes me extremely happy when I come home exhausted. It’s the little things.

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The first part of my beauty regimen is drinking eight ounces of Amazing Grass Green SuperFood Multi-Vitamin Pineapple Lemon Grass mixed with water. Look, I love fruits and veggies, but let’s be real, if something comes with a side of fries, I’m definitely not saying to my server, “Yeah, I’ll take the steamed broccoli.” Fuck outta here. After testing a few different flavors from this brand, the pineapple/lemongrass one tastes the least like lawn clippings. According to the website, this drink “is a powerful blend of nutritious greens, phytonutrient-packed fruits, veggies and cereal grasses, digestive enzymes and probiotics with a delicious added infusion of vitamins to help you achieve your recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.” I mean, it’s on the website, it must be true. Side note: this product is absolutely incredible if you’re hungover and need to refuel, or so “my friend” who drinks waaaaay too much told me.

Bed made, veggies drank, I work my way to the bathroom. There I have to drink/gargle water to remove the pulpy remnants of the green stuff, and then it’s time to floss. DON’T SLEEP ON FLOSSING. I use those dual action sticks with floss on one side and pokey/jabby thing on the other, which are excellent and don’t seem as gross as regular floss. After flossing, I hop in the shower for two songs on this playlist, as I have a scheduled train to catch at 8:48 to the “big city.” Until recently, I would buy any ol’ green bar soap at my local deli (it’s not a bodega) and use a washcloth, but I’ve now matured to using a loofah with Dr. Bronner’s Hemp Lavender Pure-Castile soap. The scent of this is very mild compared to all the other Bronner’s products and the loofah does a wonderful job of exfoliating skin. Just make sure to either clean or replace your loofah occasionally, cause that shit can get funky.

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For hair, I cycle through two products: T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo and Dove Men+Care Fortifying Shampoo and Conditioner. While I wouldn’t say I have dry/flaky hair, winters in New York are shitty. A quick tangent about hair: My old friend Moises, who had the most luscious thick beautiful hair, told me one time that he washed his hair maybe once a week, and that stuck with me, giving me hope that my hair would eventually morph into his Dominican Rapunzel locks. It did not, but I still only wash it once to twice a week. Mo’s hair was such a sight that one time, an elderly white couple once walked up to him as he was eating in a public place. The wife caressed his thick hair and proclaimed, “Honey, you have to feel this, it’s like a sheep.” The point of this story is twofold. One: shampoo your hair every other day at maximum. Two: for the love of Solange, don’t touch someone else’s hair.

Alright, now where were we? The T-Gel has to sit for a minute or two, so while this process is going on I do the most important part of any grooming routine: CLEANING MY NAILS WITH A NAIL BRUSH. I cannot stress this shit enough. Dirty nails are fucking gross. If you’re someone who works with their hands like an auto mechanic or construction worker, I get it, you’ll have oil or some sort of debris under your nail beds. But if you’re a manager at IHOP, you have no excuse not to spend literally 30 seconds scrubbing your nails. People look at that shit. Or at least I do. And I’m judging you.

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Finally, I wash my face in the shower using Clean & Clear Deep Action Exfoliating Scrub. When it comes to face wash/blackhead removers I have no idea what to get or what works well, but I usually tend to lean on products that have microbeads to exfoliate. This one not only has those beads but a peppy mint boost that tingles when said microbeads break down. Microbeads are this generation’s Retsyn, no one knows what it does, but are still convinced they work. Shit, I got sold on them. After drying off, I brush my teeth with Colgate Total Toothpaste and Sonic Care toothbrush that I scored from Kinja Deals (I expect my cut, Shep McAllister, if that’s even your real name).

Two points about dental care that need addressing:

1. Your lavender-bergamot-tea tree fancy ass toothpaste is the fucking worst. Toothpaste should not be floral, there are only two flavors of toothpaste I acknowledge; Mint and Extra Mint, everything else is garbage. If you disagree with me, it’s fine and I bet your nails are dirty.

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2. Brushing your teeth should take at least two minutes. For those people who use a traditional toothbrush, here’s a tip. Break up your teeth zone into four quadrants and brush while singing “happy birthday” for each quadrant. Time’s up, teeth clean, birthdays celebrated. One of the major reasons I bought a Sonic Care was due to the fact that it beeps when you should change quadrants. Also, I have a dreadful singing voice.

After the teeth are clean with their minty freshness, I apply Old Spice “Swagger” deodorant. I’ve used the Old Spice brand for a while now, but in the past few years only buy them based on their horribly douchey scented name because it cracks me up. Like this one is legitimately named “Swagger”—they must have been out of “Dab.” Old Spice has been around for years, doesn’t leave white residue and overall keeps me fresh and not horrible smelling all day.

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Once I’m dressed, I head back to the bathroom to finalize my routine. Generally I tend to quickly towel dry my hair after I get out of the shower and then apply hair stuff, which recently I learned is called “Product.. When my hair was shorter, I used a sea salt putty/pomade hybrid by Fatboy that gave me “beach hair.” I loved it, and not just because the name went with my douchey monikered Old Spice. It made my hair feel easy to manage and like I’d just left the beach.

Now that my hair is a wee bit longer, I’ve progressed to hair gel, which isn’t my favorite as it can get dry/sticky, but seems to do the trick. As for brands, I’m currently sticking with the douchey names and use AXE Spiked Up Look Hair Gel Extreme Hold, but they all do the same shit, minus the Extreme branding. I’m hitting a rather significant age this year, and I’ve noticed my once beautiful British/Jewish/Italian hair is now speckled with white and gray, and slowly starting to recede. Sexy, yes I know.

It wasn’t until this post that I admitted to myself that I had a problem and bought hair thickening cream. It isn’t Rogaine or one of those dumb expensive products—it’s “filler,” for lack of a better word. My godfather, who raised me, had a tube of the same stuff, Top Brass, in his medicine cabinet for years, and maybe I use it for sentimental reasons, a way to connect to him now that he’s moved. Oh, who the fuck am I kidding, I use it cause I’m vain as shit and it seems to work— giving my hair more volume and giving me a false sense of confidence that I’m not really slowly going bald. The downside of this product is that it fucking smells like a combination of burnt tires and an old Italian dude, like my godfather, so damn, maybe I am sentimental. It should be noted, my godfather was bald at like 16, so not sure if this is quite the ringing endorsement. Normally, I put a hat on right after this.

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Up next, I moisturize my face, thanks to Gawker alumni Rich Juzwiak’s piece on looking young in the face. Dickriding Rich here, this is a great post and combined with the previously linked Adequate Man piece, much less textual dribble and saying “fuck” every other word than this one. With that said, “Hey Rich, call me.” For moisturizer, I use Lather & Wood’s Luxurious Sophisticated Mens Moisturizer for the Man’s Man, being the manly man that I am. I did little to no research on this product and most likely bought it because it was the first option Amazon offered when I searched for “Manly Man Moisturizer.” If you quit smoking, currently smoke, or just want to have healthier skin, MOISTURIZE. I see a huge difference in my “glow” now. Keep in mind that, for 20 years, my face was a fucking tannery and is slowly regressing back to the tone it had pre-smoking.

I then tend to my unruly beard, by using Maestro’s Classic Beard Butter. It flattens your beard to your face, makes it softer, and makes your beard and chin divot smell nice. Continuing this good-scent routine, after years of smelling like smoke and general grossness, I have regained a somewhat decent sense of smell. I used to wear cologne to mask the scent of cancer on me, but now I use it because I want to be known as the “damn that guy smells good” guy. For scents, I stick to the Maison Margiela Replica perfume series. Each one smells of a certain era, with names like “jazz club,” “beach walk,” “brunching with the gals in Greenpoint on a Sunday and ‘I can’t even,’” and “by the fireplace.” My shit is called “At The Barber.” Take a wild guess what it smells like?

This is the most expensive toiletry I own and it’s worth it. Well not really, because I learned if you go into a Sephora and say “my girl/boyfriend told me about this scent and I can’t remember which one it was, but it was part of the Replica family, they will straight up GIVE you FREE samples of the cologne, which is much cheaper than buying it. I should say that the bottle I own was a Valentine’s gift from a girl I was seeing, so instead of tossing it, I keep it because every spray reminds me of her and how she made me so happ—daaaaamn, GOT ‘EM! Let’s be real, I keep it ‘cause that shit was expensive and I’ve since been banned from getting free samples in every Sephora in the tri-state area. Oh, if you happen to read this, can I get back my Pax charger I left at your house? Thanks, miss you, call me. Now I’m done with my morning routine and have maybe 10 minutes to catch my train.

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Work Work Work

The most calming part of my morning is my commute in to and out of Grand Central. Before I moved to “the country” (meaning 26 minutes away from Manhattan), I rode the G then the L to work every morning for five years. I’m convinced this lead to my premature graying and receding hairline. Now, I am able to get a somewhat comfortable seat and chill out for a little while. Once I arrive at Union Square, I grab a coffee at Dunkin Donuts, where I have befriended/charmed the staff over the course of time and now receive a a senior discount as well a free donut. One vital lesson my mother taught me, besides clean nails, is kindness. Treat people well and they will most likely treat you well. It really doesn’t hurt to smile and ask about the person who takes your coffee order. Everyone has a story they want to share. You will make them feel special and possibly get a free Boston Cream.

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After my daily banter with my baker friends, I go to work and for the next eight to nine hours, drink water. Lots and lots of water. This is good for the skin and ultimately bladder. Being completely transparent here, there’s another reason for my beauty routine besides trying to reverse years of cigarette damage: I sit in a room with a legitimate supermodel; a model/Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter; my under-30 art babies with their perfect hair and skin; the rest of The Root ladies with their perfect hair and skin; and Jim Cooke. My ego will not allow me to be the “schlubby” one in our pod. As previously stated, Vanity is a powerful drug. And you obviously agree or you still wouldn’t be reading this. Are you even reading this? Hello?

Night Moves

Work usually wraps around 6ish and I rush to Grand Central to catch my train home and my 26 minutes of calm, which I often shatter completely by reading Barf Bag and/or Axios. When arriving home, I work out for an hour, primarily to tell people “Hey, did you know I’ve been working out?” I’ll be honest, working out really really sucks, and I hate every minute of it, but… hashtag vanity. I’ve been lucky enough to be lean most of my life, albeit with a tiny bit of paunch, so to actually have A muscle now has motivated me to keep going. Additionally it’s the best and cheapest form of therapy, except Soul Cycle, which is a cult and none of those people are actually your friends. Also, I don’t have cable TV, but my building’s gym does, and Shark Tank is never not on. Once my workout is complete and I’m jacked as fuck from all those killer gainz, I mix protein powder with almond milk and have a generally light dinner. Alone. Cold. Sad.

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Winding down after dinner, I prepare myself for my night routine. Minus the horrible leathery skin, years of smoking abuse tarnished and yellowed my expensive once-braces laden teeth. I’ve pondered the Magic Smile light whitening, tried the Colgate whitening strips (which kinda really hurt my emotionally fragile teeth) and pretty much every non lavender-bergamot-teatree whitening toothpastes on the market to less than stellar results. one man showed me the light: the Canadian actor Aubrey Drake Graham.

This post on Instagram changed my nightly tooth routine and it’s the only whitening procedure that seems to work for me. I did no due diligence outside of Mr. Graham’s post, so Ijust ordered the first one I found on Amazon, Premium Teeth Whitening Charcoal, and it came with a free toothbrush, so win-win. It is absolutely vital that you have a spare toothbrush to apply this product as it is messy and will destroy your nice toothbrush. As a rule of thumb, I spread a few paper towels out in my sink to catch the stray ebony powder that this shit leaves everywhere. Once the charcoal activates with the saliva in your mouth, it creates a weird solid ink that will make you look like an extra from an early 2000s Marilyn Manson video, but you will have noticeably whiter teeth.

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After gargling with water, I floss out the remaining charcoal, brush my teeth with the Sonic Care, and get rid of the whole The Ring look. Considering I showered post workout, I do a quick rinse of my face and then apply night moisturizer. I use Serenade Repairing Night Cream, which is really freaking expensive, but donates to animal shelters, so I’m all for that. (Unless they donate to cats, which I do not support.)

Full disclosure: Working with models who run The Root’s beauty site comes with a lot of awesome perks, such as getting this moisturizer for free. Price aside, this product is killer. It goes on smooth, one could say velvety even, dries well and my skin feels more hydrated after usage. I can not stress how great this product is and how much it helps my skin forget about the mentholated garbage clouds I destroyed my skin with for far too long. My teeth and skin weren’t the only thing affected by smoking—the bags and darkness under my eyes were dreadful. After quitting smoking I’ve seen a dramatic change, but I also use but ORIGINS Starting Over™ Age-Erasing Moisturizer with Mimosa (which after a quick Google search Ijust learned is also really freaking expensive). Full disclosure part 2: I have a friend who has a very special “gift” of “getting things” and she gave me a jar of this one day. I don’t ask how or where she got it from, but I could ask for a white tiger and a week later she will show up at my place with a pet carrier. One thing I learned recently from my friends at The Root is how to properly apply eye cream. Use your ring finger and gently pat the cream in. I was not aware of this and used to slather this crap all over my eyes, honestly if I had known the price, i would have been more conservative. Great product, especially once you learn the proper application process. After this I go to my room and what’s this I see, oh wow, a nicely made bed, what a treat. IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS. I hop in and generally watch Canadian reality TV on Netflix as I find it extremely soothing and calming, until I fall asleep, eh.

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Tl;dr: Don’t smoke cigarettes, drink your greens, use moisturizer, Aubrey Drake Graham offers wonderful dental advice, Kinja Deals, and “why, yes I have been working out, thank you for noticing.”