Retouch techniques vary with photographer and application. I definately feel that sometimes it can be over the top. However, to come to the aid of some of those overdone photos, sometimes it's not the photographers choice, sometimes it's the demands of the client. I have had clients ask me to retouch to varying levels.
My method is similar to what Douglas mentions. Essentially work globally and then come in for the finer details. So sure, tone, ect. is done first. Then I work from large to small blemishes. That, in my flow, is done with a combination of the healing tool and the clone stamp. It depends on a number of issues. For example, the healing tool does not work well in places close to a high contrast transition. For example, at the chin line if below the chin is in shadow. I like the healing brush in the later versions of Photoshop because it does a good job of maintaining detail. ie. It maintains skin texture.
I tend to "soften" less. ie. not blur the skin too much because, to me, a certain level of texture is needed for it to look real. If you go too far you get the plastic doll look. While some want that, it does not look real. Below is an example of light changes. Notice the skin texture is good even after tha changes.
The other thing I'd like to mention is that on the example photo from the opening post, the original image is soft to begin with. In other words, in trying to make the eyes pop, you need to start with a well focused image. Then when softening the skin, if needed, make sure to mask the eyes on the blur (as mentioned on another post) so that you don't soften the sharp eyes. However, in the case of the opening post, you would not be able to bring the sharpness into the eyes that is not there to begin with.
Another thing I'd like to mention is that, when possible, work "with" the subject in the stuido (location) more than "on" the subject in post process. In this case, the hair is well placed, the makeup is even, the shot is evenly lit, ect. For example, I don't have 30 strands of hair in her face to edit. Trust me, it's much easier to move the hair inthe studio than to remove it in photoshop. Bottom line...... it's a combination of a good shot and good post to get the right look in the final photo.