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Clean: The New Science of Skin
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Clean: The New Science of Skin

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,373 ratings  ·  341 reviews
The author of the popular Atlantic articles "You're Likely to Get the Coronavirus" and "I Quit Showering, and Life Continued" explains the surprising and unintended effects of our hygiene practices in this informative and entertaining introduction to the new science of skin microbes and probiotics.

Keeping skin healthy is a booming industry, and yet it seems like almost no
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published July 21st 2020 by Riverhead Books
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Crystal W He was on Science Friday on NPR today (9/11/2020). He reiterated that washing your hands with soap is a good thing. The 17 minute segment is worth lis…moreHe was on Science Friday on NPR today (9/11/2020). He reiterated that washing your hands with soap is a good thing. The 17 minute segment is worth listening to if you are not sure what you think of this guy.

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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  2,373 ratings  ·  341 reviews

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This was aggressively average, which was a tiny bit disappointing. I would say a solid 50% of the information is interesting, well-presented, and makes me want to revisit my skin routine. It's definitely written with a very basic audience in mind, constantly introducing topics gently and scratching only the surface of them, but enough to pique interest and make you wonder why some things we take for granted are the way they are.

However, if you have any basic level of knowledge about public healt
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Writing a book's first Goodreads review...always a little scary. I almost wish I could come back later when it's been talked about a bit and add my voice to the roar of others' rather than standing out, but I have a responsibility (thank you NetGalley for giving me a free eARC in exchange for this review) and I'm going to follow through.

As Ron would say, that isn't how adults handle difficult situations.

4.5 stars. I adored this book. It's written in a nonchalant way that makes it easy to re
Richard Derus
MAY 2021 UPDATE $2.99 on Kindle now!

There are three books in here. Any one of them would be very interesting to read sequentially; simultaneously, there is too much and too little information on each topic. I'm interested in all three books...history of "cleanliness", politics of "health", and research into the existence of astonishing worlds we haven't been able to see until quite recently...but am satisfied by none of them in this busily overstuffed and distracted narrative.

I use lots of quote
Lucas Jarche
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The amount of times something from this book has come up in casual conversation has astonished me. For a guy who has only a bar of soap in his shower and doesn’t really think about hygiene or soap much beyond the basics, hygiene and soap seem to follow me around nonetheless.

James Hamblin may describe himself as a doctor, or he may call himself a journalist, but he’s wrong. First and foremost he’s a supremely funny guy. I don’t think a non-fiction book has made me snort so much, I want to buy th
Shannon A
May 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We have all heard 'Less is more' In this new book, Hamblin takes this belief on in ways you wouldn't expect. He opens the book by telling the reader he stopped showering; which I admit, almost made me put the book down. I'm glad I heard him out & I think you will be too. The journey he takes to discover what our skin really needs will surprise you & save you tons of money in the long run.
I loved this book.
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Oh dear. James Hamblin is a lively and accessible writer. He's got a medical background. He's kind of a fun contrarian. He's a thoughtful researcher: I bet he's a great listener. His articles in The Atlantic are clear and cogent. What could go wrong? Sadly, this book is a lightweight. It's basically a series of short vignettes, sort of a tour of all the current issues in skin care. It's not conclusive. It's not deep. It's one of those books that a good editor would have taken a red pencil to in ...more
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fav-learning
Surprisingly an enlightening book on what it means to be "clean."

Hamblin looks at the science and culture of how we care for our skin today. He talks to dermatologists, microbiologists, allergists, immunologists, aestheticians, bar-soap enthusiasts, venture capitalists, Amish people, theologians, and straight-up scam artists, trying to figure out what it really means to be clean.

Our bodies actually rely on other organisms to keep us clean. Such as the Demodex mites which are all over our faces t
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book was good. I listened to it on Audible so I’m sure I could’ve gotten more out of it if I had read a physical copy but I enjoyed it. I said “hm!” a lot while listening to it.

My main critique is that I was hoping that it would be more of a commentary and lesson on what cleanliness means to different people around the globe as opposed to more of a history of how the modern skincare industry came to be but that can be another book, I guess. I also want to give the book grace because a book
Guilherme  Faria
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
Feels like reading an extended magazine article. Fun and informative little stories and characters, but very few conclusions or actionable suggestions - the new science of skin exists, but is mostly inconclusive at this point. In a nutshell: if your skin is not in a good state, try to put less stuff in it / wash it less, and let the microbiome do it's thing. If you weren't exposed to good microbes when you were a child, you're fucked forever. There's nothing really effective for skin problems, s ...more
Lady H
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
This is less about skin care than it is about hygiene in general; Hamblin tackles the history of soap and the soap industry, the beauty industry, microbiomes, public toilets, and the connections between our various bodily systems. I wish that he would have been a little bit more focused on skin care specifically, but as it is, Hamblin doesn't purport to tell you what to do; this isn't a how-to manual for minimalist skin care. He's also not particularly draconian about anything (and his humor is ...more
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The main points are that we, humans, overwash and kill off good bacteria in a pursuit of an unrealistic level "cleanliness"... and that skincare companies are producing overpriced, barely-tested products full of mystery ingredients (they don't have to disclose ingredients to FDA) with no substance behind their claims. Oh, and that overuse of skincare products is doing more harm than good. Some interesting information on marketing of the beauty products... such as the profit-driven benefits of th ...more
Sophie Pesek
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, audio, science
I am a long time skeptic of Big Soap™ and this audiobook reinforced everything I believe. Wash bacteria off your hands, for sure (especially now), but also respect the microbiome on your biggest organ. I love my face mites. ...more
Anna Groover
This is one of those books that takes commonly accepted wisdom--Cleanliness as we define it is GOOD! Get rid of all the germs!--and turns it on its head in regard to skin. Thanks to chronic cystic acne, I've spent a fair amount of time trying various remedies, all to different levels of success: Proactiv, antibiotics, topical treatments, and Accutane. While Hamblin doesn't disprove these treatments completely--and they do work for many people, myself included--this book suggests that skin-relate ...more
Jun 03, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, read-2021
In Clean, James Hamblin, a physician and journalist, observed that he had not showered in five years. I wondered what Hamblin does instead. Would I even want to be in the same room with him? What kinds of exercise, if any, does he engage in and what does he do instead? (Inquiring minds want to know). His tidbit, never expanded on to my satisfaction, kept me reading.

Cleanliness is a good thing. Cleanliness decreases the spread of COVID, the flu, diarrhea, pneumonia, trachoma, and cholera. When p
Tiffany Nakamitsu
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is a MUST READ for everyone. REVOLUTIONIZED MY SKIN. I have been struggling with severe eczema on my face for 2+ years (only doesn't seem like it because I was on steroid creams). Without my steroid creams on my face, my cheeks would have so bad of a flare that my skin would crack and ooze yellow pus and that pus would crack and ooze pus of pus. The only treatment doctors or dermatologists would provide were steroid creams. Once one type of steroid cream would stop working, I was presc ...more
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I AM THE TARGET AUDIENCE FOR THIS BOOK! We’ve really been working to reduce our family’s consumption of parabens, silicones and plastics. Both for the environmental impact and the impact on our body. So, I found the book informative and helpful. I wish it had been a bit more prescriptive and judgmental (ha- tell me why these cult products are bad!). But! I enjoyed it just the same!
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I was nervous that it would sound like a dude man-splaining how women are scammed into paying too much for face-goo that doesn't work. Instead, Hamblin does a great job of thoroughly investigating the history and current trends in skincare in a pretty non-judgemental way. He saves his judgement for the regulators and industry instead of making it about people and their choices, as it should be. And, as someone who works in public health, ...more
Emma Murray
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good read for anyone who participated in the ‘do you wash your legs’ Twitter discourse
Aug 25, 2020 rated it liked it

James Hamblin has written for the Atlantic, as he tells us multiple times. He has the values, concerns and tropes of an Atlantic writer; also has the style of an Atlantic writer, and this book reads like a series of brief Atlantic articles chaptered by theme (also, the chapter names are useless). Half this book I skimmed.

Some notes:

- Beauty products are heavy on marketing and light on proven benefit. Apparently Sunscreen (though I never saw him explain why), Vitamin C (even a pill or in food), a
Oct 10, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a pop science survey book on the subject of skin health plus a few other subjects the author has chosen to throw in, like the benefits of city parks to urban dwellers and public health issues which I think detracts from main subject of skin health. Instead of learning about public health and urban parks, I would’ve preferred to add a deeper dive into the why and how bacteria etc. benefit our skin health. In retrospect, it did read a bit like a series of magazines articles strung together ...more
Moses Hetfield
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book (and the Atlantic and New Yorker articles that convinced me to read it) really flipped the way I think about skin care upside down. I knew close to nothing about the skin microbiome (or skin in general) before reading this, but Hamblin makes it very accessible and fun to read. Hamblin's book includes a fascinating history of soap and other skin products, focusing on the intense marketing campaigns that soap companies launched. These campaigns persuaded people that they were dirty, ugly ...more
Cor T
The grown-up version of The Dirty History of Soap. The best time to release a book on how cleanliness can be a bad thing is NOT during a respiratory-droplet-spread pandemic. I listened on 1.3x speed and still didn't make it through.
Arc of my response:
- couldn't care less about this topic
- interesting about the commercial development of the soap opera
- check out Soapwalla
- no more Dr. Bronner's
- dogs can smell germs
- probiotic is probably just a marketing thing

Book group comments:
- This is a bo
Oct 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
The whole business of skincare has changed so dramatically. Dr. Hamblin just walks us through the premise and development of various soaps, creams, sera and other products. It is fascinating. It is like a history of skincare with a scientific perspective.

I grew up in India, when there were just a few soaps and a couple of shampoos for showering in my teens. Now seeing a vast array of products in the US (and now in India as well) just boggles my mind. After reading this book, I think it is just a
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I haven't been this excited to be annoying about a book since I read The Devil in the White City 10 years ago. This book was full of so many fun tidbits and facts that I cannot wait until it's safe to go to parties again so I can "Did you know...?" all over everyone.

I am also excited to never shower again. Hoping that doesn't bar me from any of the aforementioned parties.
Jan 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Most soap & skin care is a scam. My world has changed.
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very interesting look at hygiene, how it came to be and we may have over done it. Educational and an easily read style.
Joseph L.
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at:
Ben Rogers
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Intriguing read! Good way to save the earth. Been getting into this method during the pandemic.

Katie Hamilton
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Eye, mind, and pore opening!

A fascinating read about our largest organ, the skin, and all of the microbes that call it home. Laying both historical and biological groundwork, Dr. Hamblin provides insight into skincare culture, the human obsession with cleanliness, and that being “clean” isn’t necessarily what we think it is.
Jun 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Always enjoy James' writing style; informative and funny. Most novel/surprising sections of the book (for me) were the history of the soap industry and the way that parks influence our microbial communities and overall health. Also very interesting to learn about the latest skin micro biome science. ...more
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The last five years of world history have been nothing if not...eventful. When living in interesting times, there's nothing better for...
78 likes · 14 comments
“He explains that if you really wanted to kill all the bacteria on your countertop, you’d have to leave a disinfectant (like Clorox) in contact with the surface for ten minutes. The product isn’t “killing 99.9% of germs” in the way that anyone actually uses it—a quick wipe-down. This was, both in concept and in practice, misguided. And the magnitude of its effects on our lives is now starting to become clear. •” 0 likes
“The best advice right now is to think of hygiene as similar to medicine—extremely important in some scenarios, and also very possible to overdo.” 0 likes
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